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How to get influential people on board with social change


20 November 2020 at 5:37 pm
Luke Michael
Bringing people along on a journey in a respectful way is key to advocacy success, Dr. Bronwyn King AO believes


Luke Michael | 20 November 2020 at 5:37 pm


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How to get influential people on board with social change
20 November 2020 at 5:37 pm

Bringing people along on a journey in a respectful way is key to advocacy success, Dr. Bronwyn King AO believes

Community sector leaders pushing for social change should take a “name and fame” rather than “name and shame” approach to their advocacy, a leading tobacco-free finance campaigner says.  

Dr. Bronwyn King AO, the founder and CEO of Tobacco Free Portfolios, believes taking a more positive approach when trying to influence people can lead to good-spirited discussions and better outcomes.

Through her work at Tobacco Free Portfolios, King has helped convince more than 40 Australian superannuation funds to move billions away from investments in tobacco.

Speaking at Our Community’s Communities in Control conference on Tuesday, King said advocates should “name and fame” the people they are trying to influence to build trust with them.

“This is actually the opposite of what a lot of people think. We’re sort of in the outrage generation where if something is annoying, the first strategy is protesting or calling people out or shaming them,” King said.

“But actually in our work, we’ve done precisely the opposite. We work very professionally [and] quietly behind the scenes with people. They trust us because we don’t name and shame.

“And if they do choose to go tobacco free, we are the first ones to congratulate them and make them aware of how important their contribution is.”

Speaking to Pro Bono News, King said this approach often led the people they won over to introduce them to the next CEO or leader from another financial organisation.

She said it really underpinned the concept of a respectful dialogue.

“It’s been a really important part of the way we work, which is to find the common ground with people and to bring them along on a journey in a respectful, professional way,” she said.

“And it’s very helpful to acknowledge those [supporting us] publicly if they wish, because that shows their peers it’s a worthwhile conversation to be having but also that we are a group that is good to work with.”         

King is an oncologist who began her medical career in the lung cancer unit at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

She founded Tobacco Free Portfolios in 2010, after she was made aware of her inadvertent investment in tobacco companies through her superannuation fund.

Over the past decade, she has helped encourage more than 150 leading financial organisations in over 20 countries to implement tobacco-free finance policies spanning the lending, investment and insurance sectors.

She said another key strategic tool she has used to cultivate this success is the “influence scale”, which she visualises using the image of a protractor.

This approach involves working out how open and interested the person you are speaking to is in what you are advocating for, and adjusting how you pitch accordingly.

“So in those first few minutes, I try to work out where they are on this scale. And then I pitch my conversation five to ten degrees in front because there really has to be some kind of magnetic tension that allows you to nudge people and pull [them] along that scale,” she said.

“And the underlying theory here is if you can just keep talking and keep the dialogue going, I have found that people invariably move along that scale. Some take weeks to move along, some take years.”

King said sometimes in advocacy people can feel quite overwhelmed because of how far apart they are from the people they are meeting.

But she said the influence scale helps to show people that every little step is important and that just moving them along a little bit is a good thing because it all adds up.

“I always say that it’s really important not to hear the word ‘no’, but rather translate that to ‘not yet’, because with time and reflection, many people do in fact change their views on things,” she said.

While King has focused her efforts on moving super funds away from investing in tobacco, there has also been strong campaigning to move the sector away from fossil fuel investments.

Rest super fund recently committed to net-zero emission investments after a Brisbane man sued them for failing to manage climate change risks.

And a campaign urging people to make the switch to super funds that invest money in clean causes, and to push for change within the industry by sending letters to funds and employers, is also set to soon launch in Australia.  

King said this showed just how powerful advocacy could be in making businesses act more sustainably and ethically.

“I think Australian super funds, by and large, are putting enormous effort into ingraining sustainability into the DNA of their businesses, and this has been a growing trend for at least a decade since I started my work with the superannuation sector,” she said.

“Spectacular progress has been made. There’s absolutely a long way to go, but I’m very optimistic that it’s a trend that is not going to stop.”


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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