Haven’t we all encountered situations where we’re left feeling deeply dissatisfied about the way things are? But while we may criticize the status quo, we drop the subject as soon as another issue or topic comes along and that becomes the reason for our dissatisfaction. And so, the cycle continues. But think about this: could dissatisfaction be the force behind you becoming a changemaker?

In this Ted Talk, Yvonne Aki-Sawyyer, the mayor of Freetown in Sierra Leone, shares what motivated her not to be a bystander, and how dissatisfaction served as the impetus to catalyze positive change. She tells us that even seemingly impossible situations can be changed to lead to better outcomes and that it can all stem from a sense of dissatisfaction within us.

Change begins with you

When the rebel invasion of Freetown in Sierra Leone broke out in 1999, Aki-Sawyyer describes a sense of frustration and helplessness at the lack of understanding or efforts made by international aid agencies to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the crisis. Taking matters into her own hands, she moved to Freetown and set up the Sierra Leone War Trust for Children (SLWT). The SLWT was able to help 130 displaced women with young children by providing them business skills as well as the financial support they needed to become independent.

Change is not a one-time activity

Rather than rest on the laurels of SLWT, in 2004 Aki-Sawyyer set up an agricultural training center for ex-child soldiers and a scholarship program for disadvantaged girls, which continues to transform the lives of several people even today. Clearly, when you aim for change of any kind, legacy and continuous efforts are crucial for the right impact. Even at work, ongoing short-term efforts lead to the achievement of long-term goals; thus, perseverance is important.

Simple actions, big impact

Being at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in 2014 allowed Aki-Sawyyer to look at ways to introduce interventions that would have an impact directly on the ground, which led to literally talking to, and not talking at, people "under mango trees." This came to be known as the Western Area Surge Plan that resulted in better prevention and planning measures to manage the outbreak from remote villages to urban slums.

In 2017 came another major achievement. It was around reforestation, sanitation, waste management and improvement of civic infrastructure at Freetown. With careful planning and impeccable execution, the city became cleaner and greener. Drawing inspiration from her, the citizens also eventually displayed commitment to bring about change with the least resistance.

What stands out from Aki-Sawyyer’s interventions is that they were not complex and gargantuan; rather they were simple, relevant and impactful within their context. Simplicity, relevance and impact are necessary factors and considerations for any change management effort. Otherwise, it is less likely to take off.

Aki-Sawyyer concludes that the path of transformation through dissatisfaction doesn’t magically appear. Rather, it begins with the realization that things can be done differently, which can ultimately lead to a state of satisfaction.

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