Global change starts with individuals, author says

In 1977 Wangari Maathai planted seven trees in Africa. Only two of those original trees survived, but something else began to grow from her actions, something far bigger than she had originally imagined. Maathai didn’t give up. She saw the desertification of Africa and knew the importance of planting trees to keep Africa’s lands and communities healthy and thriving. She began passing her botany knowledge on to other women who spread that information to even more women. This shared knowledge and planting of trees became known as the Greenbelt Movement. Maathai became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, at which point the Greenbelt Movement had planted 30 million trees in 600 communities within 20 nations. Today, the movement has expanded beyond Africa and into a global effort.Maathai died Sept. 25 of cancer, leaving her legacy behind.”People are now being encouraged to plant a tree for Wangari, which I will go home and do this week,” said Margaret Wheatley, author and co-founder and president emerita of the Berkana Institute. Wheatley talked about how individuals become leaders of change and how women will shape the future of the world at a guest lecture at Utah State University Tuesday afternoon. The event was sponsored by the USU Center for Women and Gender. Most leaders don’t set out to be leaders. Wheatley said most leaders just decide to help make a change and become accidental leaders. Wheatley calls this the “new math of change,” stating that first a person or a small group of people will take note of an issue and then set out to find a way to resolve it. What starts out as a small movement can quickly gain momentum. “There is no power equal to a small group of committed and dedicated people to change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever does,” she said. Wheatley outlined her “four simple steps to change the world.” First is noticing issues that make inspire a need for change.”It is the issues that pull us forth from patriarchy and oppression that cause us to walk out so we can walk on,” Wheatley said.Second is getting started to make a change, and not wasting a moment on hesitation. Next comes learning. Over time, there is a lot a leader will learn and have to change about their approach. This learning isn’t failure, but a part of the process. The fourth and final step is staying together as a group of individuals working toward change. Wheatley said it can be easy to let personal prejudices get in the way of change, but that it’s important to keep those attitudes separate from the work that needs to be done. Wheatley also talked about two basic types of leaders in the world: the leader as a hero and the leader as a host. While these leadership styles are not gender specific, Wheatley said men and women generally follow a specific leadership type. Men tend to be hero leaders, taking on the responsibility themselves. Women tend to be host leaders, taking in the needs of the community and opening up a dialogue. In leadership positions, women generally think more about the future and how decisions will affect others in the community and future generations, Wheatley said. Hero leaders work more independently, while host leaders focus more on other people. “When we’re willing to bring together people and rely on them to do the work, we discover lots and lots of potential,” Wheatley said. Reports from the United Nations state healthy societal changes occur when women make up at least 30-35 percent of a government. Women leaders tend to create strong social programs and take care of a community’s educational needs, Wheatley said. Women currently make up 16 percent of the United States Congress, which is an improvement from the past but is still “not nearly good enough,” Wheatley said. “We need leaders who pay attention to what’s happening with people and that is more easily available right now to women,” she said.-

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