The Role of Families in Promoting Social Change

Living Well Now; Planning for Tomorrow; Securing the Future

A presentation by Sue Robertson of ImagineBetter, New Zealand to the International Initiative of Disability Leadership (IIDL) Manchester 2014.

What’s the role of families in promoting social change? It’s about Changing the World, One Person at a Time; it’s about one family at a time changing the social fabric of their communities, and it’s about communities of families standing in the shared space and being the change we want to see.


Influencing society to change involves not just being a parent and citizen and building strong families and strong communities, it’s also about going to work, paying the bills and feeding our families. There’s other work involved and it can involve the hard stuff, being involved not only in our wider communities but also default membership in the micro disability world. It’s also about being advocates for our family members, standing up and speaking out, challenging, being members of school committees, not for profit Board members, focus groups, advisory committees and family governance groups, doing audits for not-for-profit groups, and staying in touch with family and friends.

Creating social change is about being active members of communities that can include and embrace us, reject and exclude, rejoice and support us, and it’s about parents and families turning up, partnering with and challenging people, policies and systems. Promoting social change is also about expanding access to community-based services for people with disabilities that support people to get the support they need in the communities where they live.

sue-2Promoting social change involves families being visible and present, speaking up and speaking out, sharing their thinking, supporting and lifting up other families and demonstrating leadership. And at the end of a short simple day of work, home, fun and family, or at the end of a very long, busy and complex day, it’s simply about families with lived experience of disability getting on and doing what families at their best, do best, and that’s about being there for one another and for other families, and at times unconsciously and at times consciously, being the change we want to see in the world.

I’ve just come from Dublin where Rachel and Mary our IIDL friends from LEAP, invited us to spend time with Cormac Russell thinking about citizen led change. Cormac believes that change comes when we have new stories to tell about what is possible.

When the invitation arrived to speak on this topic, I asked families if they thought they had a role in promoting social change. In the following 15 minute New Zealand made movie, you’ll get a glimpse of three New Zealand families living in a small town, a city and in a rural community. You’ll hear from our very own IIDL international family who came to New Zealand in 2013. The producer of this movie is a family relative and clan member.

You’ll see and hear from family members using small precious moments as they reflect on their different roles in bringing about social change. You’ll hear a brother talk about his changing roles, you’ll see the quiet hand of a sister in the making of a home video starring her brother, you’ll see loving grandparents who stand shoulder to shoulder with their adult sons and daughters and their grandchildren, all of them at the very heart of Family, and getting on with the business of getting on with family business. What’s our business in the business of Community? As John McNight said, “Change begins with People and their surrounding networks.” We need to make space for everyone so that we find ourselves standing in the same social space.

What’s the family’s role in promoting social change? You’ve seen and heard families say that their job is to look out for and be there for one another, to be involved with a wider network of other families, visible and active in building the very fabric of our communities.

So, what support do families need to be active members of their communities? In Imagining Better and more, we talk about investing in families. We call it the Family Prosperity Agenda. What’s our work to do? It’s about encouraging families to have ambitious, strong vision for their family members and communities, and to be supported to extend this vision through exchanging our knowledge, sharing and growing wisdom. It’s about supporting families to: Live Well Now, to Plan for Tomorrow and to Secure the Future. As the sign in the airport said as we passed through: “If we can be certain of anything, tomorrow won’t look the same as today.”


This presentation began by asking you to reflect on the role of families in promoting social change and I will end by asking the question: What’s your personal and professional role in supporting families to promote social change, and what are you going to do about it?