Empowering Outside Agitators and Supporting Established Leaders

Empowering Outside Agitators and Supporting Established Leaders

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Becky Buell and Sophia Tickell were honored as Ashoka ChangemakeHERS, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find their fellow honorees' voices here.

Becky Buell (BB) and Sophia Tickell (ST) are co-founders and co-directors of Meteos, a globally networked non-profit company which works with institutional investors, governments, global companies, NGOs, labour unions and entrepreneurs.

Who are your favorite changemakers?

ST: The people that most inspire me are unsung heroes – people like the human rights workers I met in Colombia - but they tend to be the ones that don’t get recognition and publicity.

BB: The waste pickers in Sao Paolo, for example. They’ve actually managed to make an economy out of recycling, and they are incredibly enterprising, politically influential  people. But the people who get the awards for this kind of work are the ones that attract financing, the ones that have a business model. The waste pickers are invisible, but are the true changemakers.

So you don’t consider yourselves to be social entrepreneurs?

BB: No. Although I have been part of starting several social enterprises, I consider myself more of a social activist, within which enterprise is just one element.

ST: I’m more of a social agitator, really.

What is the underlying strategy behind the work that you do?

BB: We create structures for conversations that don’t happen in people’s day-to-day lives and work—conversations that shift the way people think about what they do. We probe large systemic issues – the future of our energy system, the promotion of urban resilience, the failure of global healthcare systems. 

Tell me about your theory of change.

ST: There are two primary models that we use to create change. One is the outside-in model, which assumes that incumbent institutions are not going to change fast enough. So, instead of working with incumbents, we create a space for insurgents or agitators to experiment with new models.

BB: What we’re really doing is connecting the dots so individual initiatives and innovators start to look like an alternative system that could emerge.

ST: Exactly. Then there is the inside-out model, which is when we work with people who are already in positions of leadership and power. It’s a process of legitimizing the views of people they don’t usually meet up with – about providing them with a space for alternative interpretations of what’s going on.

Which model do you have more faith in at the moment?

BB: Both.

ST: Absolutely, both. Incumbents find it hard to change, and new innovators find it difficult to grow and to scale.

How do you support innovators to scale-up their initiatives?

BB: There are lots of different models for scale. But at some point, you need to engage in a bigger infrastructure that allows that innovation to spread.

ST: Our model at Meteos, for example, isn’t scalable. It’s not an industrialized dialogue. But through the people we reach, we try to have this ripple effect on the institutions they are a part of.

Meteos dialogues are based largely on convening networks. What kind of collaboration is possible now?

ST: There is more potential for collaboration now than ever before. People understand that the level of complexity we’re experiencing can’t be dealt with by any sector or individual actor.

BB: People are exploring the question of how can we generate value for society in a totally different way. And no single entity can figure that out on their own. The next generation of value creation is only going to come from collaborative approaches.

What have you learned from younger generations?

BB: The relationship to institutions for this generation is totally different. Youth today don’t abide by institutional boundaries, so they challenge us to think differently about the best kind of spaces for learning and action.

ST: You can create change and have fun at the same time.



Becky Buell is a Founder and Director of Meteos and specialist in strategy, innovation and cross-sector partnership development, with an interest in climate change, social enterprise and equity.

Sophia Tickell is Founder and Director of Meteos, with specific interest in healthcare, climate change and food. For the past fifteen years she has worked to bring social equity and environmental considerations into the board rooms of global companies.