Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

When social change begins with changing the conversation

Sunday, October 30, 2011


I had lunch recently with my friend Jim Down, a wonderful strategic thinker who led Mercer Management Consulting until retiring at age 50. Since then he has played a critical role in the nonprofit sector, advising organizations ranging from OxFam to the Centers for Disease Control. Jim is on the board of OxFam and I asked him what he thought their most impressive accomplishment was so far.

“Changing the conversation. Changing the dialog. Whether with the coffee industry, or mining, the most important thing we’ve done is to get people to think and talk differently about what the real issues are in the developing world, and to help them understand that there are policies that can be put in place to enable people to have the means to support themselves.

That squared with my own sense of the most important thing that OxFam or any social change organization could be doing, as well as our experience at Share Our Strength. With our No Kid Hungry campaign we shifted the conversation from emergency feeding and how we can afford to feed more people to actually ending childhood hunger once and for all, and how we ensure that people access existing, already paid for federal food and nutrition programs.

As an example, the government official in charge of the food stamp program in Arkansas told me how No Kid Hungry’s focus on access caused them to shift from focusing mostly on compliance with regulations to access and outreach, with the result being an increase in enrollment from 71% of the eligible population to 84%, and a workforce of state employees a lot more fulfilled in their jobs.

Once you change the conversation you’ve won more than half the battle. The rest becomes execution, and “how to?” not “whether to?” As soon as I heard those words from Jim Down I knew it was the perfect affirmation of how we think about our goal at Share Our Strength.