Making Trouble to Make Change

If I could, I would spend the day with Cecile Richards. As a young woman professional, I aspire to be like Cecile. For those of you who don’t know, Cecile Richards is the former CEO of Planned Parenthood, a grassroots organizer, and a certified badass. She spent the first 10 years of her career as a labor organizer, fighting for workers’ rights in the janitorial, the garment, and the nursing home industries. She later served as the President of  America Votes before becoming the CEO of Planned Parenthood in 2006.

I had the pleasure of seeing Cecile speak a few weeks ago. The theme of the conversation was “Make Trouble”; a phrase Cecile uses as a metaphor for encouraging change and inspiring conversation. This phrase was familiar to me, as I myself have been a political organizer for Planned Parenthood, where we learned that calling on politicians to speak about crucial issues was the first step to influencing real change.

I came to Cecile’s talk excited to listen and learn more about how we can all start, or continue, making trouble.

Cecile addressed this in a few ways: She first emphasized that in order to be successful in making trouble you must build partnerships. Synergy between sectors facilitates change and scales the intended impact of one’s mission or purpose. Now more than ever, she explained, we need collaboration and constructive communication; otherwise, the impact we intend to have will stay within a small sphere of influence.  

The inclusion of all voices was the second critical point Cecile made. She explained that a good leader doesn’t try to speak for everyone but instead leaves room for others to speak. As a society, we do ourselves an incredible disservice if we give only the most privileged voices the power to speak. Real troublemaking starts when we recognize the power of the people different from ourselves, allowing differences of opinion to spark conversation and then, resolution.

If Cecile and I were to spend the day together, I would tell her how my personal commitment to making trouble is inspired by leaders like herself, and has led me to work for a company that encourages local, national, and global nonprofits to collaborate in an effort to influence real change. I would share with her the ‘troublemaking’ grassroots organizations in the Bay Area that I have had the opportunity to work with: Oasis For Girls, The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, and The Oakland Museum of California, to name a few. These institutions are working amongst us to ensure marginalized voices are heard, and I have had the pleasure of supporting them in doing so.

So, thank you, Cecile,  for inspiring people like myself to pursue this path of becoming a strong female leader; armed with an unwavering passion to facilitate change, arouse controversial conversations, and most importantly, make serious trouble.


This piece reflects the opinion of the writer.

Jane Symmes is an Associate at Schaffer&Combs, a consulting firm based in the Bay Area that supports purpose-driven organizations with services in the following areas: strategic planning, talent and search, governance, and impact evaluation. 

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