“‘What structures really change the world?’ To address this question, we need to define structures as more than physical structures made of brick and mortar… Structures are also more than infrastructure, organizations, or institutions. Structures are the ideas, concepts, and strategies that form our communities and societies.” Jeremy Heimans & Lee-Sean Huang of purpose.org tell us about three structures they believe can help change the world.


What structures really change the world?

To address this question, we need to define structures as more than physical structures made of brick and mortar or glass and steel. Structures are also more than infrastructure, organizations, or institutions. Structures are the ideas, concepts, and strategies that form our communities and societies. There are structures help maintain the existing power dynamics, inequalities, and injustices of the status quo, but there are also structures that give us the tools to create progressive change in the world.

I would like to talk briefly about three “structures” that I believe can help change the world and that are central to my life’s work: storytelling, networks, and movements.


Stories themselves have structures. A story structure includes a beginning-middle-end, context, conflict, and resolution, etc. But we can also think of storytelling as a structure that has the power to shape our world. Stories are more than products or artifacts of our society, they provide the structures for understanding our shared identities of who we are, and offer us a vision for where we are going. Stories help us make sense of the past and to shape the future. Religions, movements, and entire societies are founded upon and shaped by stories.
Yes We CanStories have power. We fight wars based on (mis)interpretations of religious or cultural stories. The success of Barack Obama around the rallying cry “Yes We Can,” was about more than a campaign slogan. Obama’s story, from his multicultural background, to his determination to succeed and rise to the highest public office in the United States, reminded people that change is possible and inspired them to get out and vote to make it happen.

The great movements of the last centuries, from abolition, to women’s suffrage, to civil rights and LGBT rights, have been about telling a story of shared humanity. We are different, but also the same, and all worthy of rights, respect, and full citizenship.

We need to not only tell each other the stories of what we want to hear, but also stories that challenge us to make a difference.


AvaazNetworked online and mobile communications technologies have enabled changemakers to reach out and engage new audiences. Networks have changed the way we share stories and coordinate collective action. Networks also provide us with a new model and metaphor for organizing ourselves, from top-down hierarchies to flat lattices of interconnection and collaboration.

But networks are more than online social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Our offline clubs, associations, neighborhoods and cities are the original social networks. These networks have brought humans together for mutual shelter, support, and trade. They enable us to cooperate and thrive. As communications networks proliferate and become increasingly complex, diverse, and diffuse, we must take care to counter our natural propensity to cluster with those most like us and ignore those who may seem different. We must avoid living in networked “echo chambers” where we preach to the choir and sequester ourselves in what Eli Pariser calls the “filter bubble” of the internet.

Networks are powerful tools, but they are not ends in themselves. We must use our networks to create real world impact.


Movements are communities of collective action united by a common commitment. They are networks with a purpose. To create change, it is not enough for us to merely connect and share stories, we must also organize ourselves and take action. Movements are dynamic social structures that aggregate our voices, leverage and tap into institutional power while resisting the pressures to become institutionalized and static. Movements provide a model structure for organizing and coordinating ourselves in a way that is agile, lean, and responsive.

Movements that I have been involved in founding, such as GetUp, Avaaz, and All Out, depend on people telling each other compelling stories of shared struggle and support. They depend on free and open networks that allow people to participate without fear of persecution or reprisals. Movements help create and cement new identities and new forms of citizen and consumer power. They provide a structure that allow us to come together and advocate for new and better public and corporate policies, and also to tell stories that can shape our culture and reframe our understanding of the possible.

Structures surround us. Some are visible, some are not. Structures shape us, our identities and our institutions, so we must be observant and vigilant in understanding structures, questioning them, and “hacking” them to create the kind of change we want in the world.

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This article was written by Jeremy Heimans & Lee-Sean Huang from Purpose.org.

Featured Image Credit: Diego3336 via Compfight cc

Written by Jeremy Heimans

Jeremy Heimans

Jeremy Heimans (@jeremyheimans) is co-founder and CEO of Purpose.com, the world's leading incubator for social movements and new experiments in mass digital participation. Jeremy co-founded Avaaz.org, the world's largest online political movement with more than 15 million members, and GetUp.org, the Australian political movement with more members than all Australia's political parties combined. Purpose currently supports LIVESTRONG, Allout.org and with Jamie Oliver on food culture. Check out Jeremy's TEDx talk.