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6 types of social-change agents

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Positive social change occurs when individuals strongly believe they have the power to make a difference — and they take action. On average, 92% of adults say they have done something to engage in positive social change at some point in their lives. But who are these people creating and contributing to positive social change?

Six distinct types of social-change agents exist around the world.

As revealed in Walden University’s “2013 Social Change Impact Report,” released this past week, six distinct types of social-change agents exist around the world:

  • Ultracommitted Change-Makers,
  • Faith-Inspired Givers,
  • Socially Conscious Consumers,
  • Purposeful Participants,
  • Casual Contributors and
  • Social Change Spectators.

Each type of social change agent is unique in terms of engagement levels, motivating factors and issues of importance.

Commissioned by Walden University and conducted online by Harris Interactive in April–May 2013, the third annual survey includes perspectives of more than 9,000 adults in Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Jordan, Mexico and the United States. A continuation of the 2011 and 2012 social change impact reports about the state of social change around the world, the 2013 study was designed to discover more about people who are involved in positive social change, ultimately putting a face on social change agents.

“Everyone has the power to make a difference, whether big or small or local or global,” said Dr. Cynthia Baum, Walden University president. “Our study has now identified the different kinds of individuals who are doing important work around the world.”

Baum explained that by segmenting these groups in the 2013 survey, researchers found new insights to understanding the ways in which social change agents are alike and different.”

Ultracommitted Change-Makers

True to the name, Ultracommitted Change-Makers have been known to dedicate their lives to leading positive social change. They may be interested in many different causes, believe strongly in their ability to make a real difference in their communities and feel happy as a result of their involvement.

Ultracommitted Change-Makers have been known to dedicate their lives to leading positive social change.

Plugged into technology, these Change-Makers often can be found initiating conversations about social change to others online and feel social change should be taught at a young age. When growing up, many in this profile probably had parents who were active in social change.

As adults, many members of this segment now engage in a social change activity at least once a month. Compared with social change agents overall:

  • Most say it is very important to them personally to be involved in positive social change (71%, on average, of Ultracommitted Change-Makers vs. 39%, on average, of social change agents overall).
  • Nearly half do something to engage in positive social change at least once a month (46%, on average, vs. 30%, on average).
  • Most say they engage in positive social change because it is a lifelong commitment (74%, on average, say this describes them completely or very well vs. 45%, on average).
  • They want to make a difference in people’s lives because others have made a difference in theirs (92%, on average, vs. 74%, on average).

Faith-Inspired Givers

Religion is a driving force behind Faith-Inspired Givers who cite their faith, not work or school, as a major influence in their commitment to social change. Many sharing this profile tend to be older than other social-change agents and tend to be less likely to connect online.

Religion is a driving force behind Faith-Inspired Givers.

Like many others, Faith-Inspired Givers’ parents participated in social change when they were growing up, and now they want to set an example for their own children. They may feel blessed in their lives and want to give back to their community, attend a religious service regularly and feel a moral obligation to participate in social change. Compared with social change agents overall:

  • Three-quarters say they engage in positive social change because it is part of their faith or religious beliefs (75%, on average, of Faith-Inspired Givers say this describes them completely or very well vs. 39%, on average, of social-change agents overall).
  • Nine in 10 attend a religious service at least once a month (92%, on average, vs. 35%, on average).
  • Faith-Inspired Givers are less motivated by websites (23%, on average, vs. 47%, on average).

Socially Conscious Consumers

Supporting others who support social change, Socially Conscious Consumers often seek out products and services from companies they perceive as behaving responsibly toward the people and the environment in the communities where they operate. These social change agents tend to be influenced by a sense of social justice and drawn to the environment or “green” issues.

Socially Conscious Consumers often seek out products and services from companies they perceive as behaving responsibly.

You can often find this group connecting online, educating others about causes both local and global. For many, social change can be a lifelong commitment. Compared with social change agents overall:

  • Nine in 10 report that when purchasing a product or service, they make an effort to choose a company that behaves responsibly toward the people and environment in the communities where it operates (91%, on average, of Socially Conscious Consumers vs. 82%, on average, of social change agents overall).
  • Eight in 10 say that social justice (e.g., anti-discrimination, tolerance, civil rights, etc.) is among the social-change topics that are most important to them (81%, on average, vs. 71% on average).
  • Three-quarters say that the environment and “green” issues (e.g., global warming, climate change, pollution, etc.) are among the social-change topics most important to them (76%, on average, vs. 60%, on average).

Purposeful Participants

While other social change agents may be motivated by personal beliefs, Purposeful Participants tend to engage in social change primarily to help them succeed at school or work. Perhaps more pragmatic in nature, many place less importance on being personally involved in social change and are less likely to donate money or services.

Purposeful Participants tend to engage in social change primarily to help them succeed at school or work.

Among social-change agents, Purposeful Participants tend to report the highest levels of personal sacrifice or risk in pursuing social change. Compared with social change agents overall:

  • Six in 10 say it was important for applying to enter a college or university (58%, on average, of Purposeful Participants vs. 29%, on average, of social-change agents overall), it was to fulfill a requirement for a class, school or education program (63%, on average, vs. 33%, on average) or their employer or job encouraged it (60%, on average, vs. 37%, on average).
  • Two-thirds say it was important for their resume or applying for a job (65%, on average, vs. 31%, on average).
  • More than half have had relationships with friends or family suffer because of their beliefs about positive social change (52%, on average, vs. 31%, on average).

Casual Contributors

For Casual Contributors, local community issues are most likely to drive their social-change activities. While they see social change as important, this group probably is not likely to make it a lifelong commitment or typically act on it.

For Casual Contributors, local community issues are most likely to drive their social-change activities.

Many are older adults without children and often are not influenced by work or religious beliefs. Compared with social change agents overall:

  • About one-quarter say it is very important to them personally to be involved in positive social change (27%, on average, of Casual Contributors vs. 39%, on average, of social-change agents overall).
  • About one-quarter do something to engage in positive social change at least once a month (24%, on average, vs. 30%, on average).
  • Casual Contributors are less likely to have participated in positive social change because they were motivated by something that they learned about on a website other than a social-networking site (27%, on average, vs. 47%, on average) and because it was important for their resume or applying for a job (9%, on average, vs. 31%, on average).

Social Change Spectators

While Social Change Spectators have engaged in social change at some point, they may not be active participants. In general, they do not see their actions as impacting positive change in their community and had little experience with participating in social change in their youth.

While Social Change Spectators have engaged in social change at some point, they may not be active participants.

Typically Social Change Spectators do not believe it is important to be personally involved in social change — whether in person or online. Compared with social change agents overall:

  • Hardly any say it is very important to them personally to be involved in positive social change (4%, on average, of Social Change Spectators vs. 39%, on average, of social change agents overall).
  • About one in 10 do something to engage in positive social change at least once a month (9%, on average, vs. 30%, on average).
  • Very few say they engage in positive social change because it is a lifelong commitment (6%, on average, say this describes them completely or very well vs. 45%, on average).
  • Social Change Spectators are less likely than other social-change agents overall to have participated in positive social change activities or volunteered when they were in high school (46%, on average, vs. 74%, on average).

Furthermore, in each country a segment of the population says it never engages in positive social change.

In addition to establishing these profiles, the 2013 survey also found that participation in social change has maintained its importance, is widespread and is moving forward as a result of people working together to address the issues most important to them.

What’s more, findings reveal that education continues to play a vital role in providing opportunities for social-change engagement, which, if modeled to children and started at a young age, may lead to more involvement in adulthood.

For more detailed findings, visit Social Change Impact Report.

About the study

Walden University first commissioned this annual survey in 2011 to discover the current state of social change around the world. Designed to provide a barometer of who is engaged in social change, what is important to them and how they work together to advance social change issues of interest now and in the future, Walden’s Social Change Impact Report includes attitudes, behaviors and motivations from members of the international community.

The 2013 Social Change Impact Report was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Walden University between April 9 and May 8, 2013, among a total 9,097 adults within Brazil (1,010 adults ages 18–59), Canada (1,010 adults ages 18 and older), China (1,010 adults ages 18–60), Germany (1,013 adults ages 16 and older), India (1,008 adults ages 18–64), Jordan (1,005 adults ages 18 and older), Mexico (1,021 adults ages 18–64), and the U.S. (2,020 adults ages 18 and older). Data for each country were weighted to the general or online population within each country.

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