Introducing our new Director (and a chance to shape our research priorities)
My name is Mabli and I’m very pleased to introduce myself to you all as Social Change Lab’s new Director! As you will know, our founder James is moving on from the role, but will continue to be involved in our work as an adviser and member of our board of trustees.
I was previously Deputy Director of the charity Asylum Matters, campaigning collaboratively with grassroots groups across the UK for reform of the asylum system. Before that, I worked in politics as Chief of Staff and Research for the political party Plaid Cymru in the Senedd and in campaigns, policy and research for LGBT charity Stonewall. I have experience of a range of social movements and campaigns, and was Chair of the direct action and campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society) between 2020-2022. I’m based in Cardiff, and am thrilled to be joining Social Change Lab at such an exciting time for our work.
If you’d like a chat about our work, please get in touch as I’d love to meet you. If you want a refresher, you can see the rest of our team on our About page. In the meantime, James sent me some questions to introduce myself a little bit more via the Q&A below!
Q: What made you want to join Social Change Lab?
I truly believe in the power and potential of social movements to change the world, and that they are essential in responding to the huge challenges we face. As someone who has participated in social movements myself, I know that activists face real challenges when it comes to questions of strategy, tactics, mobilisation and organisation, and are up against huge forces with often very little resources. There’s not been much high quality research on these questions before and the role of social movements has often been undervalued, so I was really drawn to Social Change Lab’s work, which takes these issues seriously and has the potential to really support more effective and sustainable movements.
Q: What is the most inspiring or successful campaign of the past 20 years?
It’s very hard to pick just one, but I’m going to choose an example that’s close to home here in south Wales. I’ve been really inspired by campaigners against Ffos-y-Fran coal mine in Merthyr Tydfil, who have campaigned tirelessly for 15 years against the mine and and ensured that planning permission was not renewed for the site last year, and have recently been taking direct action to highlight and prevent the company’s continued illegal mining of the site. It has now been announced that the mine will close for good later this year. In an area such as the south Wales coalfield, which has such a long and complicated relationship with heavy industry and its decline, it’s been inspiring to see a coalition of local residents and environmental campaigners come together to declare that ‘coal is our heritage, not our future’, and I think it can give a good model for successful local campaigns against the fossil fuel industry — which will be crucial in the years ahead. This piece interviewing some of the campaigners at Ffos-y-Fran gives a great overview, including the interesting observation from one local resident that ‘this is proof that tackling the climate crisis won’t come from above. It’ll be led by ordinary people’.
Q: Is there something related to activism you’ve changed your mind on recently?
Something I heard Jane McAlevey discuss on a podcast really stuck with me. She said that when asked to identify the most effective leader in a group, many people would point to the person who does the most work, is the most visible or the best spokesperson, but in fact the best activists and leaders are those who ensure that they’re recruiting and developing others to work with and come after them, and that people who try to ‘do it all’ can be counterproductive as the movement becomes overly dependent on them. As someone who has tried to ‘do it all’ or admired others who seemed to do so, this shifted my perspective on what makes a good leader and activist — which is a focus on supporting and developing others. It can be hard work and is often unremarked upon, but so many movements suffer from being overly dependent on a handful of individuals, that I think this gives us a different perspective on what skills we should value most in ourselves and in our movements.
Help shape our research priorities
We are currently planning our research priorities for the next 6 months and we’d love to hear your thoughts about which topics would be most impactful for us to explore. You can see our potential projects in this document, including some interesting topics on the role of ‘action logic’ in protests, Insulate Britain’s influence on policy and the effects of polarisation. Please share any feedback you may have by responding using this form.
All the best,