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The Activist Whisperer: Identify your Circle of Influence

Award-winning activist Sarah Corbett is an author, the founder of the global Craftivist Collective and a pioneer of the art of ‘Gentle Protest’. In her weekly Agony Aunt column for Lush Life she tackles those issues that may be stifling someone from being part of the change they wish to see in our world...

Dear Activist Whisperer,

I really want to be more politically active and engaged, but feel politically 'homeless' and alone. I find the party system very alienating and neither Labour nor Tories speak for me, and neither share my concerns for the Planet and our communities. My local MP is a Conservative Brexiteer and holds opposite opinions to mine, and I have no idea how to get her to listen to causes that matter to me, and to truly represent me. I don't want to stand in an election myself, so I am at a loss of how to get involved in campaigning for positive changes in my local community and the wider world. Any help and advice would be appreciated.

Politically Homeless Tim


Dear Tim,

I could start offering you tactics to try to attract and engage your  MP on a particular issue… but my gut feeling is that the most useful action for you is first to take some steps back and analyse where you have influence with people who could possibly help change policies, laws, hearts or minds.

I often meet people who spend a lot of time and energy campaigning at someone in a position of power that they have little influence over: a World Leader, a celebrity they have never met or the CEO of a company that they have never bought products from. Or, like you Tim, they might have an MP who doesn't budge on an issue they care about and they feel stuck. We have limited time: So we should strive to work smarter.

I was recently teaching at a Masters Degree course in the UK. My objective was to help the students to turn their political theory into strategic practical actions. The students were from all over the world: Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australia. Some students had  been in education full time, some came from high flying corporate jobs and others had been civil servants or worked for charities. None of them had ever drawn a ‘Circle of Influence’. I gave them an A4 piece of paper to draw their circle (like the image above) with a little doodle of themselves in the middle. I want to encourage you to do the same.

Find a quiet space to sit alone for 15 minutes (no shorter) and think through the relationships you have, big and small, with individuals and with groups. Don’t put complete strangers down. Start with those you have a strong relationship with and write their names down close to your doodle of yourself. Your next ring around your sketch of yourself may be people in your physical location such as neighbours, any community groups you are part of such as school governors, religious groups, sports groups or shops you buy from regularly. Then the next ring might include hobby groups you are part of, online or offline.

Part two of the exercise is thinking about people you know well or have the potential to know better who have some power that could be harnessed to improve our world. Do you know any respected journalists? Does your uncle happen to run a successful business? Is your neighbour a respected expert on finance? You might be surprised at who ends up on your piece of paper!

At the end of the 15 minute session with the Masters Students, we had a room of people with a lot of influence to harness and they hadn’t even released it!  We discussed our results. One student’s niece had been named one of the top five most ‘Fashionable Muslim Women on Instagram’ and has hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide; the student decided to invite his niece for a meal to congratulate her, tell her about his Masters Degree and sensitively see if she would like any help researching and explaining the ethics of fashion to her followers in an accessible and positive way.

Another student had worked in Human Resources and was part of an independent committee of experts in the field; she was keen to put diversity on the agenda of their next meeting, particularly discussing how HR staff could do better at reaching out to invite people to apply for jobs, not just wait for them to come in.

One of the staff (I always get the lecturers to take part too!) was responsible for the database of the alumni of the course, many of whom are in high positions in politics and business around the world. Before we started the class, she and many of the students and staff had told me how passionate they were about stopping the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) from happening. We discussed how it could be impactful for students to write an open letter to those instigating TTIP, signed also by high profile alumni and to ask in the alumni newsletter if anyone knew of economists or business leaders who also wanted to sign the letter against TTIP. Other people of influence from the group’s circles included philanthropists, politicians, a You-Tuber and a big landowner.

At the end of the session, some people realised that although they might care about one issue, they had more influence on a different issue, resulting in some difficult decisions to make. All of the students seemed to head off to lunch inspired, empowered and a little surprised at how much influence they potentially have to improve our world for the better in big and small ways.

I hope this activity puts a spring in your step too Tim.

In solidarity,

The Activist Whisperer


Additional reading:

1. Ross was struggling to engage his MP too Tim. Here is my advice to Ross that might help you too:

2. Don’t forget that your daily actions are worth reflecting on too. Here is one column on how to turn despair into practical action:

If you have a question for Sarah, email her at: [email protected]

If you're quest is chosen you will receive Sarah’s one-off hand stitched fabric post-it note created for your question to keep


You might be surprised at who ends up on your piece of paper!

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