Co-Creating the Way: Changing Social Norms

Elena  0:00  

I would like to move us forward to the second practice question, which is actually going to dive a little bit deeper on something that we already touched upon, and in particular the scalability element. That of course, we are all interested in amplifying our impact with the systems change approach and also the sustainability one. And these are both of course, very well interrelated. And a Tostan we are we already doing our approach to scale, but I think the next exciting stage of life will be about really exploring those two components together, and make sure that that that we bring it to the next level and so I would like to ask your question about these two components together and actually, how do social norms and a system of beliefs shift actually to allow for sustainably scaling systems change? Over to you, Sanjay, first please.

Sanjay  1:02  

Sure. As we are experiencing our work at scale in education, healthcare in different sectors, we’re realizing that when we come to this question of belief and norms changing at the root of this are habits of people, habits of different actors, habits of different participants of the society. And many of these habits have gotten coded into policies, regulations, norms, processes. And out of reflex, people do many things on a habitual basis. And one of the things that we realized as we were working in early days in education and then subsequently in the urban space, and then into livelihoods, is finding what is that plus one change is a very important quest. What is that one thing that has a massive shift in habits? I’ll give you an example. When we are working in education, we are going to these multiple pathways. Should be great at content? Should we put devices into the hands of people? Should we look at interactive things, gamification, all the good stuff? And at the same time, we had a question. How do you make it work for 200 million people, right? So it is not easy to think of a very sophisticated answer. And then on the same side of the brain, you say, how do we do it for 200 million people. And through this entire journey, the team, an amazing team led by Shanker was CEO of EkStep Foundation, they came to a very interesting conclusion that the habit of the education system every day was come to the class, open the textbook and read or make the children read, or just write this down on the on the blackboard. And keep doing that again and again and again, across one and a half million schools, by 30 million teachers – keep doing that. And so we said, we have to find a place in that habit. And so we did some very interesting work on inserting QR codes into textbooks; India prints, by the way, about 2 billion textbooks a year. So working with the government, an amazing run with the ministry and education system to actually insert QR codes and change that moment. So I come into class, I open the textbook, I see a QR code and my routine changes. What is this? I scan, I start learning and that plus one change Slowly, slowly, slowly starts bubbling out and changes so many things around it. Like it’s like once humanity discovered the GPS, that was a one thing change, it answered only one question, where are you? Right? And then after that question, if you could answer that question, then you could answer many questions beyond it, right? Where do you want to go and Google Maps were born. When you want to get there at what price and Uber is born? So the same thing, we’re looking at education saying, What are you learning today? If I can answer that for 200 million children, then I can figure out what’s the next question. And so this aspect of changing beliefs now sometimes is rooted in our routines and our habits. And we talked about not only scaling what works but working at scale. Plus one change or what we call this plus one thinking, which is strangely familiar and yet mind opening at scale, really works. And now where we are entering into an altered future, I think it’s time for us to apply that thinking to three important facets. How do we reimagine responsibility of the different actors, the society, the government, the civil society, the private sector? Because there will be change in responsibilities in the world like the internet, how do we reimagine or rethink responsiveness? And most importantly, how do we reimagine, rethink the resilience? So what are those routines that can make the system more responsible, more responsive and more resilient. And doing a plus one change at scale, sometimes leveraging technology sometimes leveraging networks of people sometimes  leveraging different kinds of policy and non structures. But the important thing is how do we orchestrate this layer by layer by layer. Change at scale is what I believe is an important question and we are experiencing that as we work in different sectors. The urban work that we do has now scaled to more than 1000 cities in the same question. How do you change one thing at scale? The second thing at scale and keep doing that again, and again? We call them the plus one thinking cycles. Because that is the change that sticks. A plus hundred on five schools never sticks, a plus one on a million schools, sticks. And then you figure out what’s the next plus one? So I would pause here, and I’ve seen a lot of this actually in the history of Tostan, by the way. Elena is also here and when you look at the work that you’ve been doing, changing the world a step at a time, I think has been amazingly demonstrated by the work you do at Tostan, because that’s how beliefs and norms change at scale. So let me pause here and Sybil, you have some amazing perspectives on how we’ve been working on the women’s empowerment area and changing the beliefs and norms. So over to you. What have you been seeing?

Sybil  7:08  

Thank you, Sanjay. I totally agree with your plus one thinking and this quest that you’re undertaking. Maybe from my experience, community driven, citizen driven efforts helped cultivate the necessary pathways for norm shifts to truly take hold in a sustainable manner. It isn’t just about working on the individual, a woman and her negotiation skills, but also looking to the gatekeepers and power holders in the most remote rural locations to walk on the multifaceted journey of understanding why certain harmful social norms and beliefs are upheld. And just like you Sanjay, organizations such as Tostan or even those working with savings groups, I’m aligned with that thinking. Take that journey with the communities to perhaps shift to a more current example of beliefs and social practice shifts, scaled sustainably. For systems change. Let’s look to the news and this really resonates, I think with the work that Tucson has been doing over the years. So recently we heard on May 1 that Sudan banned female genital mutilation across their country. And through Tostan’s efforts in Senegal, we know that a law passed at the highest level is often not enough. Newsweek reports that female genital mutilation has continued unabated in many communities as an underground practice. Due to long held though wholly baseless cultural beliefs regarding inclusiveness and virginity. Even in the UK with its highly developed human rights and legal structure, one successful prosecution has been brought. So FGM is notoriously difficult to prosecute with a culture of fear and secrecy protecting perpetrators and failing their victims. The World Economic Forum report, The Case for Gender Equality, highlights that studies have shown that a one year increase in health expectancy could raise GDP by up to 4%. We all know the complications that FGM causes for women. Once cut, these are lifelong and debilitating consequences preventing women from their full economic participation. So the news out of Sudan reminds us that citizens and communities themselves must and sometimes in their own way, find ways to change the long held practices and beliefs and small social norms shifts such as this one at the community level can have contributing power to the overall systems change sought for women. However, tackling beliefs and social norms is one of the biggest barriers to systems change. Changing beliefs and practices to time takes education, knowledge and leadership. community empowerment initiatives that look at providing the space knowledge and engagement of key traditional local religious leaders provide, in my opinion, the greatest opportunity for social norms to be shifted. They empower their communities to lift themselves, enabling their voice to be heard by local government and other leaders and build strong bonds of social cohesion which is fundamental in African societies. So putting a focus on addressing beliefs and norms that exist in communities can help make lasting changes that also promote adoption at scale. And for me, the sustainable aspect can only happen by building the capacity of all citizens to use a lens applied to any scenario challenge or asymmetries in human development that presents itself. And in Tostan, we know they use the lens of human dignity. And that has shown to resonate across cultures and help communities tackle a number of asymmetries that present themselves ,even 10 years down the road. So I do think fundamentally, in terms of social norm shifts, it’s not something that can be done from the top down. Rather, it’s something that needs to be done in concert with policies, laws and systems that currently exist, and really looking at communities trying to rethink and reimagine their societies for development, for change, for growth. So thank you. Back over back over to you Elena.