Circles of influence

18 September 2023

In the fourth of his series of articles re-presenting our eight Festivals of Governance, Jaco Marais asks why we’re so fixated by global issues when we have so much more agency over local ones.

Warlords of sorrow and queens of tomorrow
Will offer their heads for a prayer.
You can't find no salvation, you have no expectations
Anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

No Time to Think by Bob Dylan

What do Rosa Parks, Greta Thunberg and Jason Jones have in common?

They all took a stand against threats personal to them. And the effects of their action had global consequences.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, she had no idea that her subsequent arrest would spark a boycott that had consequences far beyond public transport segregation policies.

When teenager Greta Thunberg began a protest outside the Swedish parliament building demanding action on climate change, who could have predicted the strength of reaction from millions of people all over the world?

And Jason Jones’s decision to take action after being abused by his family and pilloried by the media in his native Trinidad & Tobago for performing drag resulted in winning a landmark legal challenge in the country’s High Court, which decriminalised adult consensual same-sex intimacy and had implications throughout the Caribbean and beyond.

These injustices went far beyond the focus of the protests, but those protests were all the more effective for being concentrated at a local level.

Why do we pay so much more attention to big global news stories when it’s local issues, such as what’s happening at our local school or hospital, or disruptions to bin collections, that have a far greater impact on our lives?

Make it personal

I've crossed deserts for miles
Swam water for time
Searching places to find
A piece of something to call mine (I'm coming)
A piece of something to call mine (I'm coming)
Coming closer to you

Pure Shores by All Saints

Much of our attention is devoted to issues of scarcity. We worry about dwindling natural resources. We wonder how we can possibly make ends meet – at a personal, domestic, organisational, national and global level – during challenging economic times. We hear about the resourcing crises in our health service and question how we will ever reduce the elective care waiting list.

But there’s one kind of scarcity we rarely acknowledge – and it’s the kind where we can make the biggest personal impact. We rarely think about the lack of time we give ourselves to take a moment and reflect on who we really are, what really matters to us, and how we can make a positive difference to the world we live in.

Circles of influence can appear restrictive when we only see them working from the outside in. That makes us nothing more than victims of distant, untouchable powers. But when we reframe our perspective and see those circles as operating outwards – seeing ourselves as the source of ideas and actions that can spread to our families, friends, communities and then the wider world – a whole new realm of personal freedom and agency and influence opens up.

Reframing governance

Many people associate governance with rules. And aren’t all rules associated with limiting personal freedoms?

But we’re not like that at GGI. For us, governance is about creating more freedom, and of being assured and reassured that the individual actions taken by everyone within the organisation make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing while the organisation performs to its mission, vision and strategy.

Good governance creates safe spaces that give people the freedom to be whoever they want to be, to get involved, and to make a difference.

We have seen many eyes glaze over at the mere mention of the word governance. It feels distant and disconnected from real life. It’s a top-down discipline, people think, with no relevance to grassroots issues.

But these are exactly the times to get involved. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? After all, as Plato said, one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. Don’t be tripped up by the word ‘politics’ here – it’s about getting involved in the things that affect the lives of your friends and family, your neighbours, and your wider community. These are the issues that really matter to us and although our involvement may begin on a small scale, we already know many examples of local initiatives that rippled out to have a regional, national or even a global impact.

The process begins by looking within ourselves to consider who we really are, how we really feel and what we want to create in the world. The questions we must ask ourselves are: do I have the capacity to reach past the quotidian and find a new purpose that helps others? (The irony being that helping others magically creates capacity). Do I understand what the need is? How can I help to meet that need?

More often than not, it’ll be something very close to you that triggers this change. Just like it was for Rosa Parks, and Jason Jones. But then people will see you living your values. They will witness your personal power, which will start to ripple out as community power, and then regional, national, maybe even global power.

I'll stand by you
I'll stand by you
Won't let nobody hurt you
I'll stand by you

I’ll Stand by You by The Pretenders

Festival 2023

We’re re-presenting the Festivals of Governance, not just looking at where power lies but now also where responsibility sits. In 2018 we said …communities define collaboration; in 2023 we say: good governance because transformation starts within us.

Listen to the public good podcast as we explore eight societal themes depicted in past Festivals:

Meet the author: Jaco Marais

Director of Corporate Communications

Find out more

Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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