Author Lilian Kiefer, May 27 2015 In a society faced with high poverty levels, and limited participation of poor and marginalised people in productive activities, social challenges arise. These include wide economic inequalities, exclusion, HIV and AIDS, adolescent pregnancies, high levels of child defilement and human trafficking. Yet, the existence of rich natural resources presents opportunities for economic growth. In such circumstances, the society identifies a responsive reaction in which people change their way of doing things and relating to each other and responding to dynamic economic trends.


Social transformation occurs when these societal changes are sustained over time where attitudes and values are held in a new context, laws are developed and enforced based upon mutually agreed norms, assumptions and beliefs that may differ from those in place in time past.


Evidently, regional integration, advanced information, communications and transportation technologies and services, increased migration and the movement of peoples, have led to increased trade relations, social exchange and globalisation. These have created a dynamic environment to which society must adapt. Social transformation involves how society and culture responds to dynamic factors such as economic trends, climatic changes and political contexts. The transformation necessitates change in norms, values, and relationships over time in response to the changing socio-economic and natural environment. It affects how various aspects of the society interact with each other. The changing interactions manifest in the spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society that influence lifestyles, and ways of living together.


For instance, Zambia is witnessing an increasing debate on ‘withholding tax on rental income’. It is important to note that although the law has been in existence for many years, the debate has arisen at this time as a reaction to the growing need to diversify revenue from taxes, and the growth of property ownership in Zambia.


However, social transformation is not simply a way of moving away from a particular perceived negativity, neither does it imply progression towards a pre-fixed goal such as a particular way of lifestyle. Neither does it imply any predetermined outcome, nor will the process always lead to a positive outcome. Unless deliberate efforts are made to positively influence the change processes, circumstance may lead to widening inequalities, increasing vulnerabilities and social exclusion.


There are situations whereby, the economic landscape creates inequalities between men and women, with men enjoying more access to resources, and women featuring in subservient positions. The gender relations and power relations that emerge out of this lead to gender-based violence, which can in some instances be tolerated to the levels of impunity.


This is the reason various social and civil movements intervene through public dialogue and debate, awareness and sensitization to stimulate positive, rights-based debates and discussions. The aim of such interventions is to influence positive transformation, respect for human dignity and empowerment. Interventions also emerge to create a balance in the gender and power relations to access resources, either by increasing the ability of women to compete equally, or creating accessible opportunities for women.


Critical questions remain as to how society should positively adapt to avoid making the poor poorer and the rich richer. It is therefore critical to make deliberate efforts to positively influence values-adoption such as inclusiveness, respect for human rights and human dignity. Only then, will positive change occur.


Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has been working to ensure that in social transformation processes, ordinary, poor and marginalised people are agents of change, not objects of change. PSAf does this by creating people-driven dialogues and debates around community structures and media particularly community media. PSAf holds a view that people are part of the change processes and it is critical that they participate in influencing the direction and the result of the change.


For example, current environmental trends require adoption of climate resilient agriculture; it is important that people fully participate in the discussions for the identification of solutions, how it will improve their lives, and why they should support the transformation in adopting this desired change.


Positive change once achieved, must be sustained. This can only happen if the people are part of the change process, and are part of the driving force and not just as objects of change. It is empowering for people to feel and be a part of change processes that affect their lives rather than be passive objects of fate and misfortune. Participation and control of processes is empowering. Without this empowerment, progress remains a dream.


Lilian Kiefer is the Executive Director of PSAf. For feedback, email: