Persuasion and Influence for Leading Societal Progress

Persuasion and Influence for Leading Societal Progress

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by Madeline Ong 



The most pressing challenges in society, like providing universal access to education, poverty alleviation or labour rights protection, call for innovative solutions from today’s leaders. As a leader, you certainly possess the energy and creativity to come up with brilliant solutions to solve these critical social problems. However, no matter how novel or useful your ideas, you will need buy-in from others in order for your ideas to be successfully implemented.

For your social innovation solutions to come to fruition, you must pitch it to potential supporters: investors who will provide financial resources, experts who will provide specialized know-how, and partners who will collaborate with them. One of the key steps in converting your idea into reality is getting support from the right people. Leaders who are able to build a strong base of support for their initiatives are often able to do so not just because of the quality of their ideas, but also their ability to craft persuasive pitches.


Make a Business Case
When leading initiatives targeting societal progress, making profits may not be your primary objective. However, you will still need to be able to speak the language of business and economics. What are the estimates for start-up costs, annual revenue and annual costs? How will these figures change over the duration of your proposed project? A detailed and realistic financial plan, supported with data and metrics, will signal to investors that you have done your homework and spent time considering the feasibility of your ideas. This gives them more confidence in your credibility and the practical aspects of your plan.


Tell a Story
Besides using a business case when trying to gain support from others, it is also important to tug at their heartstrings. Using personal stories when talking to others is one way to appeal to their emotions. When trying to illustrate a particular social problem, it might be effective to tell a story about a specific individual who has been a victim of his or her social circumstances. For example, a young child born into extreme poverty or a garment factory worker hurt by labour rights abuses. These personal stories paint a captivating picture of the societal challenges that you are trying to address. Using stories allows your audience to imagine how the day-to-day lives of needy individuals would vastly improve as a result of your proposed solutions.

A combination of hard numbers and gripping personal stories will allow you to reach out to the head and the heart of your target audience, mobilizing them to support your idea or cause.


Be Flexible
Leading initiatives for societal progress often involves interacting with partners across multiple sectors, such as social work, education, healthcare, public policy, and business. This means that as a leader, you need to be aware of how your idea may be perceived from multiple perspectives. Being able to communicate effectively about your idea with people from various backgrounds requires a high degree of preparation, perspective taking and flexibility.

While displaying familiarity in multiple areas can be beneficial, it is also important to be willing to admit your limitations, rather than feigning expertise. Being honest about your limited knowledge in certain areas demonstrates an openness to learn from others and collaborate with subject matter experts.


Build Alliances
No one person will know everything and be able to speak confidently about every aspect of a project. However, one can always establish collaborations with others from different disciplinary backgrounds. If you are able to rally a group of like-minded people who possess a variety of skills and expertise, you may be better able to pitch your solutions to a wider audience than you would be able to alone.

Cooperation and alliance across multiple sectors will bring us closer to solving the 21st century’s most prominent social problems. However, developing relationships with cross-sector partners can be challenging given the differences in each sector’s priorities and goals. Being open and transparent about your own values will help others better understand where you are coming from. In addition, being willing to let go of entrenched beliefs from your particular sector or industry will allow you to better reap the benefits of cross-sector collaboration.

If you are a leader hoping to make a positive impact in the world, you must be able to persuade others to pitch in and help turn your ideas into reality. Through appealing to both their logical and emotional sides, and showing them that you are open to collaboration, you will be able to generate a strong base of support for the social issues that you care passionately about.


Madeline is Research Manager at The HEAD Foundation. Her research focuses on how organisations can develop responsible, reflective and effective leaders. 

The HEAD Foundation Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views expressed by the authors are solely their own and do not reflect opinions of The HEAD Foundation.


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Mr Ho Swee Huat

Mr Ho Swee Huat is the Founder and Managing Director of Abacus Assets Advisors Pte Ltd. Before starting the company, he had an established career in the banking industry, with 20 years of experience in Singapore, Hong Kong and New York.

He was an Independent Director and Chairman of the Audit Committee of CapitaCommercial Trust Management LTD from 2004 to 2013.

He is the current Chairman of Autism Association (Singapore) which he co-founded with a group of parents in 1992. He is also Vice-Chairman of Eden School, a special school for children with autism.

Mr Ho holds a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Liberal Arts degree in Economics from Hamilton College, USA.

He has been a member of the Board of the Foundation since its incorporation.