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Konstantin Bespalov
Konstantin Bespalov

Example Change The Way

Your genes play an important role in your health, but so do your behaviors and environment, such as what you eat and how physically active you are. Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.

Example Change The Way


Smoking can result in epigenetic changes. For example, at certain parts of the AHRR gene, smokers tend to have less DNA methylation than non-smokers. The difference is greater for heavy smokers and long-term smokers. After quitting smoking, former smokers can begin to have increased DNA methylation at this gene. Eventually, they can reach levels similar to those of non-smokers. In some cases, this can happen in under a year, but the length of time depends on how long and how much someone smoked before quitting (2).

Yet the 15-minute city of today represents a major departure from the past, responding to climate change, Covid-19 and globalisation. While past initiatives focused on ease of travel, walkability and public services, Paris has taken an all-encompassing approach to bring a greener take on those aspects as well as including workplaces, cultural activities and the more ephemeral nature of social connections.

With Paris leading the way, other cities around the world have been enticed by this model for resilient, vibrant communities. Madrid, Milan, Ottawa and Seattle are among those to have declared plans to copy its approach. Melbourne has adopted a long-term strategic plan for 20-minute neighbourhoods. C40 Cities, a city-led coalition focused on fighting climate change, has gone as far as promoting the 15-minute city idea as a blueprint for post-Covid-19 recovery.

Social change is a concept many of us take for granted or don't really even understand. No society has ever remained the same. Change is always happening. We accept change as inevitable, and it is, end of story, right? Well, not exactly.

Sociologists define social change as changes in human interactions and relationships that transform cultural and social institutions. These changes occur over time and often have profound and long-term consequences for society. Well known examples of such change have resulted from social movements in civil rights, women's rights, and LBGTQ rights, to name just a few. Relationships have changed, institutions have changed, and cultural norms have changed as a result of these social change movements. That's pretty heady stuff. Don't you think?

What interests me, and what I hope interests you, is our collective power to influence social change. While we accept that change is constant, we do not have to accept that we are powerless in its wake. It is the extent to which we care about the direction of social change that we can try to shape it and help to create the kind of "change we wish to see in the world." Whether or not Gandhi actually uttered these words doesn't matter. What matters is that the phrase begs the question, what kind of change do we wish to see in the world?

As executive director of the 43+-year-old nonprofit, Global Citizens Circle (GCC), I think about this question every day as I work to carry forward the mission of the organization to foster constructive change in our communities, our nation and our world. I imagine that our partner and host institution, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), also thinks about this question on a daily basis as it seeks to "transform the lives of students." And surely, our Belfast-based partner, The Social Change Initiative (SCI), thinks about it as it strives "to improve the effectiveness of activism for progressive social change." We, all three institutions, care and understand that we can influence social change for the better. We may exercise our power to influence change in different ways. GCC does it through discussion among people of diverse opinions and backgrounds. SNHU does it by offering affordable and innovative educational social science degree programs online and similar campus majors, and now even in refugee camps in Africa. SCI exercises its influence by bringing together social activists with philanthropists around the world.

These are lofty goals to be sure, and they demand our constant attention and unrestricted imagination to envision a better world. You may think that's great, but wonder why you should care, why you should take time out of your incredibly busy schedule to take action and more importantly, how you can even go about helping to create positive social change. I'd like to suggest that it's not that hard if we begin at the most basic level, that of relationship building.

When we listen respectfully to others who have different opinions and life experiences than our own, we take the first step in listening; we accept that there are myriad perspectives and points of view on most issues of concern. If we truly want to be a participant in real change, we cannot stop at acceptance, but we must have conversations that push and pull, that asks us to give and take. And if we are willing to do that, we can find those points of agreement and come together on them. We needn't concede those points that define our values but find ways to work together towards positive change that reflects our shared values. It is the art of principled compromise that has the power to create a more lasting change.

Global Citizens Circle has for over four decades brought together diverse groups of people for challenging discussions on issues ranging from conflict resolution and reconciliation to education reform and economic equality. We've seen Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland sit down together and discuss their shared hope for peace. We've hosted South African exiles who were once labeled "terrorists" in their own country and who later became leaders of that country. At our discussion circles, we've seated powerful business people next to the homeless and disenfranchised, and activists next to academics, and we have born witness to the change that has occurred.

The conversation topics often were, but listening and learning from others was not. Change begins this way. We must nurture civil discourse and work with intentionality to bring together people with different perspectives. Convening gatherings of people, educating students in classrooms and online, and supporting activists who put themselves in the forefront of advocating for social change are how Global Citizens Circle, Southern New Hampshire University and The Social Change Initiative use their influence and power to direct change towards a more equitable and inclusive society. Ultimately, however, it is not the programs that each of our organizations offers that create lasting change, but it is the relationships of trust and respect that do.

Building those kinds of relationships, even when, no, especially when, it seems impossible, is the key to cultivating constructive social change. So take the lead, start now and stay at it.

Theo Spanos Dunfey is the executive director of Global Citizens Circle, a nonprofit partnering with SNHU in a shared mission to listen, learn and take sustainable actions to create positive social change. Dunfey is a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University and Brown University. She has a wealth of global experience, most recently overseeing the Office of Citizenship and Civic Engagement at the University of New England, where she also taught courses in Citizenship and led several student groups on Global Citizenship service learning trips abroad. Prior to that, she'd led the World Affairs Council of Maine and produced numerous global editorial conferences for The WorldPaper.

CEOs could make things easier for themselves if, before embarking on complex performance-improvement programs, they determined the extent of the change required to achieve the business outcomes they seek. Broadly speaking, they can choose among three levels of change. On the most straightforward level, companies act directly to achieve outcomes, without having to change the way people work; one example would be divesting noncore assets to focus on the core business. On the next level of complexity, employees may need to adjust their practices or to adopt new ones in line with their existing mind-sets in order to reach, say, a new bottom-line target. An already "lean" company might, for instance, encourage its staff to look for new ways to reduce waste, or a company committed to innovation might form relationships with academics to increase the flow of ideas into the organization and hence the flow of new products into the market.

Workshops that draw on transpersonal psychology, a progressive branch of the discipline, can speed up cultural change and make it more enduring.1 1.Transpersonal psychology developed in the 1960s, when Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof, and others began integrating the classical Asian traditions of Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga into their theories and the practice of humanistic psychology. To develop the workshops described here, the authors have also drawn on ideas from cognitive, behavioral, and gestalt psychology; neuroscience and quantum physics; emotional intelligence; and adult learning. Transpersonal psychology suggests that the innate desire to develop and grow infuses human beings with energy. Employees will not put sustained effort into a new kind of behavior if they have only a rational understanding of why it matters to the company; it must mean something much deeper to them, something that they know will have an effect on their personal growth.

Giving them an emotional connection to the new behavior can trigger that shift in perspective. The workshops help to change behavior by establishing these connections and thus giving change a personal meaning for participants. When large numbers of managers go through such transformational workshops within a brief time frame, small group by small group, the graduates create a critical mass of individuals who willingly embrace the new behavior and culture so that both are more likely to be sustained. 041b061a72


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