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Mapping Our Social Change Roles in Times of Crisis

Deepa Iyer
Mar 27 · 3 min read

When crises such as the pandemic or violence against Black people catalyze us into action, how do we make sense of our roles, purpose, and ecosystem?

Before You Read Further! Thank you for visiting! If you want to skip the intro, you can find the ecosystem map, meanings of the roles, and a reflection guide all here (separately and together in one document). I’m so grateful to folks who are sharing the map widely. Please note the Creative Commons license parameters and the attribution language (in the image below).

I am a rapid responder but over the past few weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has spread across the world, I have felt disoriented and lost. In the wake of 9/11, I built my rapid response muscle, and over the past twenty years, I’ve relied on it to spring into action and respond to crises by supporting community-centered campaigns, interventions, and mobilizations. But lately, I’ve been stuck in a fog, cycling through periods of motivation and stillness, outrage and exhaustion, determination and grief. Even though I’m connected to various networks, mentors, and organizations, I couldn’t figure out where I fit in, what my lane was, or how to begin.

What is slowly awakening and centering me is my broader ecosystem. As I listen to and understand what others are doing and how they are (re)imagining what is possible in this moment, I have been reflecting and asking myself: what are my values, how can I be aligned and in right relationship with them, what are the needs of the communities who anchor me, and what can I offer with my full energy?

Identifying the right actions in times of crisis requires reflection, and it’s in that spirit that I’m offering a new version of a mapping exercise that helps us identify our roles in a social change ecosystem. The map (below and in PDF here) includes new roles that I’ve learned about through workshops and trainings. I’ve also developed a reflection guide (PDF here) that goes with the map. Together, the map and reflection guide can be used at an individual level to reflect, assess, and plan, as well as at staff and board retreats, team-building meetings, orientations, and strategy sessions. This exercise can especially be helpful to re-align ourselves when we feel lost, confused, and uncertain in order to bring our fullest selves to the causes and movements that matter to us.

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As the pandemic crisis unfolds, I am inspired by the healers on the front lines of emergency rooms and triage stations, the weavers who are connecting the current crisis to the climate, the economy, and racial justice, the builders who are organizing mutual aid collectives, the caregivers who are sewing homemade masks and dropping meals off to elders, and the storytellers who are reminding us of how our planet and our people have survived over time.

Please feel free to adapt the framework and guide to suit your individual and organizational needs and goals. Duplication permitted with attribution (Deepa Iyer, SolidarityIs and Building Movement Project). I’d love to hear from you if you’ve used this framework; you can reach me at Deepa Iyer (diyer@buildingmovement.org) and @dviyer on Twitter. Gratitude to Shelby House for her help with this framework.

Deepa Iyer

Written by

Author of We Too Sing America; Host of Solidarity is This podcast; Senior Advisor at Building Movement Project; South Asian American activist/lawyer. @dviyer

Deepa Iyer

Written by

Author of We Too Sing America; Host of Solidarity is This podcast; Senior Advisor at Building Movement Project; South Asian American activist/lawyer. @dviyer

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