The Stew BLOG

Stewards Continue to Seek Lasting Systems Change

Iueh Soh, Associate Director, Stewardship Practice | 12/15/2020

In a time fraught with ongoing national crises on multiple fronts, stewards are exhausted, but remain undaunted. Many see an opportunity to catalyze uncertainty into lasting systems change. These were two strong signals from ReThink Health’s recent Tracking Poll for Stewards of Well-Being, a bi-monthly survey launched in April to find out how stewards are navigating systems change in the midst of Covid-19, racial injustice, economic recession, divisive electoral politics, and ecological catastrophes.

Respondents to the October survey included 33 leaders working locally and nationally to drive systems change for equitable well-being. Their perspectives span many areas of practice (e.g., health, education, environment, economic renewal, and beyond), as well as many types of organizations (e.g., government, business, philanthropy, nonprofits, and more). Here are a few of the main findings and trends.

On the one hand, uncertainty, turbulence, and lack of momentum has dampened confidence that there will be lasting systems change

In contrast to previous surveys in April, June, and August, stewards were less confident in October that there will be lasting systems change. Fifteen percent of respondents indicated that they were not at all confident that there will be lasting systems change (compared to 5% in August), and no respondents indicated that they were extremely confident (compared to 11% in August). At the same time, the steady majority of respondents (now up to 58%) were somewhat confident.

Respondents cited various reasons for their shift toward pessimism and ambiguity. These included among others:

  • Exhaustion and too much uncertainty to move forward
  • Crises around electoral politics and division in our country
  • Disengagement from coalitions due to impacts of Covid-19
  • Well-meaning conversations about racial equity but little action


On the other hand, stewards see this as a catalytic moment to widen the circle of concern and connect across sectors.

In particular, it is clear that many stewards are connecting America’s reckoning with racial justice with other related forms of justice.

While the dominant policy proposals in response to Black Lives Matter have been around police reform, many stewards also see a catalytic moment to expand everyday experiences of justice in other sectors and institutions.

The top issues that respondents indicated they are connecting to racial justice included health care (82%), food (64%), and economic justice (61%). Additionally, a majority of respondents indicated that they are focused on multiple, intersecting forms of justice: 58% said they are working toward at least four different types, and another 15% are working on all eight forms of justice (i.e., health care, food, economic, housing, educational, safety and criminal justice, environmental, free and fair elections).

Join us for a virtual meeting on Amplifying Stewardship, Together

Whereas the tracking poll provides valuable, high-level clues about stewards’ experiences, we are also exchanging stories and spotlighting specific actions in a series of virtual meetings, which we are calling  “Amplifying Stewardship, Together.”

In the November session, stewards suggested that, to convert catalytic moments into lasting systems change, changemakers need to do at least two things. (1) Position current work within the legacies of those who came before and those who will follow. Stewards gain strength to make great strides or to persist through inevitable setbacks when we recognize that each of us are part of a long, intergenerational movement for well-being and justice. (2) Expand the “story of us.” Each of us can invite new people and organizations into this work and expand the circle of those who feel that they belong and can contribute to the movement.

The next virtual meetings in this series (to be held on January 19 or 26) will explore how stewards can become better at solving multiple problems. Register now. We look forward to talking together in 2021!