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How do we sustain social change?

This was the question Tessa Boyd-Caine was asked to consider in giving a keynote at the Northern Territory Council of Social Service conference in early May.

It was a privilege to be back in mparntwe, on Arrernte country, thinking about how we sustain social change. That question took me right back to the fundamentals of the work. What drives us to work towards social change in the first place? For me, it’s a deeply held commitment to social justice; to working for the communities that are so often excluded from the discussions and decisions that affect them.

It’s also about connection and relationships. People make the difference in working for social change: people who sustain me in the work; who I learn from; who motivate me; who pick me up when I’m down. Probably no surprise that I’m drawn to work that is – at its heart – about helping people, services and systems work together.

That recognition underpinned my key message at the NTCOSS conference: that partnership is a key foundation for sustaining social change.

But for partnership to be effective, we have to know why we’re partnering. What problems are we trying to solve that are bigger than we can address on our own? What motivates us individually and what is our shared purpose? What capability do we need to build, support and sustain working in partnership? What investment is needed to support working differently? And alongside our own commitment to being good partners, what change is needed in the environment around us, including from policy-makers and funders?

Some of these questions are really obvious. But the obvious questions are often the most important. There’s a lot we can do to collaborate for social change but understanding how we need to work differently and what difference is needed around us are essential ingredients to achieving and sustaining social change.

Storyboard of Tessa’s keynote address by Sarah Cook Creative.