Catalyzing Social Change With A Punch

Catalyzing Social Change With A Punch

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Heather E. Cameron was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.

by Heather E. Cameron, Founder of Boxgirls International, Professor of Education at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, and University of the Western Cape, South Africa

Creating and seizing opportunities – that is what Olympic boxing is about – and social change. Boxgirls uses amateur boxing as a tool to help girls and young women discover and develop their strength to become leaders in their communities.

At Boxgirls, we train the girls and women to know what conditions are favorable for them to win a point, and what are conditions to avoid. We teach them to identify chances and to be ready to take calculated risks to convert those opportunities into clear wins. 
These skills transfer beyond the ring to being a social activist. Being a social activist, a changemaker, requires careful study and understanding of the social context that you are working in, and clear mapping of your potential realm of influence (the ring)—and then tireless planning and preparation to take advantage of unstable situations as they come up to create a new balance of power. 
Systems are unstable and contradictory – there are always new opportunities to leverage, if you can react quickly and have already thought through what you want to do.  You need to have tactics, strategy, and the stamina to be patient and see it through.
Boxers learn to identify tactical situations and train to exploit them. Social activists, changemakers, innovators need to understand our theories of change, and be on the look out for ways to advance them. 
Ask yourself: “who are our dream collaborators?” and find ways to get on their radar. Ask “what situation would focus attention on our issue and make new coalitions possible?” and work towards creating those conditions. 
Ask “what skills and capacities would we need to have to take advantage of the opportunities coming to us?” and prioritize and build them. Boxing teaches tactics and the need to seize the initiative, but not be foolhardy.  
Same lessons for changemakers: know how you are effective and play to your strengths – and don’t be afraid to be first. As Goethe said, boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Cameron earned a PhD in Social and Political Thought and creates opportunities for girls through sport to become changemakers.