That’s right, whether you’re interested in poverty alleviation, health, inequality or halting climate change, wisdom included here within could get you started. Of course, said wisdom is by no means my own, but learnt from Dr Danny Hutley. As, on Monday 8th October Global Health society Medsin invited recent Southampton graduate Dr Danny Hutley to answer the question ‘how can students change the world?’ Danny’s experience includes seven years of student campaigning, his work for social change platform ‘change.org’ and being part of a youth group that significantly influenced UN climate talks.
Danny’s talk outlined both the importance of student campaigning and social action and also exactly why we are in an exceptional position to undertake the task of changing the world, or at least little bits of it. We live at a time when 1% of the global population owns something like 40% of the world’s wealth, climate change is wreaking havoc in communities everywhere and the occupy movement highlighted the moneyed world we live in is an alienating one. In the UK alone we are facing problems within our healthcare system, inequality is growing and trust and community seem to be breaking down. Not only this, those making the decisions about how to change these things will be long gone by the time the consequences are fully realised.
Today’s students, on the other hand, will fully realise them. Moreover, these same students are also living through a period of a growing international desire for self-expression along with an increasingly cynical view of the state of democracy in our own countries and communities. Danny pointed out it was this very discrepancy between expectation and lived experience that gave rise to the Arab Spring. Furthermore, the talk demonstrated shifts in how and who we trust. A ‘collapse’ of trust in both business and government, along with the ever increasing role of social media in our daily lives, has resulted in a shift towards trusting people like ourselves and ‘the regular employee’ over traditional sources. These shifts allow an interesting and unique opportunity for us. The talk claimed we are a generation that has been so far unable to identify itself in a ‘rapidly changing world’ and Danny seemed to insinuate that this unique opportunity makes way for us to define ourselves as a generation of change makers.
So what kind of social change could you be affecting? Well, Danny outlined a critical public campaign he was part of with the UKYCC (UK Youth Climate Coalition); a delegation of young people that attempted to stop politician Chris Huhne from ‘screwing our generation twice’. He (Chris Huhne) was at international climate negotiations in Cancun when he was asked to fly home to vote for the change in fees structure (and then fly back). UKYCC decided people should know about this. So, recognising how much time young people spend watching videos on Facebook, they made a video to ‘blast this information open.’ They realised that knowledge alone won’t change anything and asked for specific action: retweet the video to Chris Huhne, 2500 people did just that. They then publically divulged Huhne’s personal mobile number and 100 people phoned him and asked him to stay in Cancun. He stayed.
Closer to home, students across numerous universities forced text book publisher Elsevair to withdraw its connection with the arms trade. They tried writing, then meeting and protesting to no avail. So they pretended to be dead, still to little avail; that is until the campaign spread to other student groups. Even though it never reached mainstream media it was featured in over 150 small papers and Elsevair took note, withdrawing from its arms fayres commitments. Even here in Southampton a simple model for social change meant that medical students initiated the campaign that brought every student on campus the opportunity to study global health within their curriculum.
Each of these campaigns started out as a conversation and the fruition of each depended on nothing other than human connection. Danny outlined the key model all of these examples follow, a model of three simple steps;
- Open out information
- Establish a human connection; make friends, socialise, share and talk
- Start local; start with people you know, then people they know…
Change can spread from person to person, especially among those who are well connected and with social media achieving that crucial well connectedness, we have never been in a better position to have an impact. So, get talking and start something and then keep talking to more and more people. This connection will be the mobilisation you need, online and off, to quite simply change the world.
Medsin is not exclusive to medical students and hold regular thought provoking events. To find out more drop them an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or find them on Facebook.