I have been promoted to write this blog for a number of reasons.

First was the email I received this morning from a very close friend with the words, “We cannot lose a single day in changing the world“. Second, was another email I received from an amazingly passionate person asking for suggestions for how he could put his desire to help others to practical use. Third, with today being the Anniversary of the opening of the London Olympics, it reminds us all of the invaluable part played by the volunteers – the amazing “Games Makers” – in making the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics the greatest sporting event the world has ever seen.

And last, I took a look at my mantlepiece – on which stands a card given to me by one of my closest friends a few years ago. On it is a quote from Ghandi – “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. It reminds me that every step we take and every action we undertake, however large or small, can have an impact on the world around us.  Whether or not this is a positive or negative influence is in our hands.

Apologies if this blog may seem ‘preachy’. It is isnt meant to be – I simply wanted to write down some of my thoughts on how the person I mentioned above (and others who may be asking similar questions) can “be the change they may also wish to see”.

We are constantly bombarded with images and tales of war, of famine, of financial meltdowns, of hurricanes and other natural disasters. It is unsurprising that many of us feel daunted by the complexity, scale and frequency of these problems, and even paralyzed to do anything to change things.

But history is replete with examples of individuals, and small groups, who’s words and actions have helped make a difference, and in some cases have effected a sea change in policy and practice around the world: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Ghandi, Jody Williams. They were all confronted with problems that were no less formidable or momentous than those that exist today, but their ‘one small step’ challenged the status quo and inertia, paving the way for a better tomorrow.

We all have the power to make a difference, collectively and personally. YOU have that choice.

So, ask yourself these simple questions. What am I passionate about? What causes are of interest or concern to me personally and why? The environment, climate change, senior citizens or children, certain diseases or illnesses, sex trafficking, domestic abuse, natural disasters, animal rights, social inequality, obesity, pollution, sustainable energy, organic farming….the list is endless.

And you might also wish to think about what skills, abilities, talents and experiences you have that would be of value to others.

For example, I feel that having suffered from and eating disorder I have the first hand knowledge and experience that might be of use in helping others to overcome this illness. My nanna died of cancer, and so action to fight this disease strikes a strong personal cord. I feel that children are our future, and so activities and programmes that focus on empowering children and youth around the world, especially through sport, is a deep passion of mine. And as World Champion, I believe that I have a unique platform  – however small – to inspire, encourage and empower people of all ages and abilities to reach their goals.

You don’t have to make huge changes or sacrifices. The smallest stone creates a ripple that will spread across a pond. Think in terms of what you CAN do, rather than what you cant.

And you don’t have to travel half way around the world to undertake development work. Your own community is the best place to start, just as I did when I was a child growing up in a remote Norfolk village organizing litter collections or ‘bring and buy sales’ and writing impassioned letters to ‘Blue Peter’.

Development and philanthropy should not be about giving hand-outs.  It is about striving to improve our own lives and the lives of those around us, in order to address the underlying causes of the problems that exist. We need to empower ourselves, our friends, families, and members of the local and global community to take control of their own destinies and achieve a better quality of life, now and for future generations.

Here are a few suggestions for how you could help to “Be the change you wish to see in the world”:

  • Volunteer…anywhere. Your passion, your time and your energy are invaluable. Help out at a local race or event (such as parkrun – www.parkrun.org.uk), work at a charity shop, serve meals at a homeless shelter, play card games with senior citizens, build trails, plant trees or dig ponds, sit down with a child and listen to them read, mentor a disadvantaged youth, create artwork for your local hospital. It may seem small, but these individual acts make a huge difference.
  • Make your voice heard. And this doesn’t have to mean participating in marches or protest rallies. You can spread awareness or garner support for important causes through your website, in blogs, through social media like Facebook and Twitter; in discussions with friends/family/work colleagues or even by adding a logo to your race jersey, wearing a charity ribbon or wristband or rolling across the finish line in memory of Jon Blais. http://www.waronals.com/

  • Write articles for your school/village/university/company/sports club newspaper or newsletter to raise awareness of the issues that concern you, and call for action. Arrange meetings at these venues to discuss the issues you have raised – create or join a group of people who share similar ideas and beliefs.
  • Write letters to politicians, the CEOs of corporations, the media, your local major…. outlining your views on issues that concern you, and suggesting actions to tackle them.
  • Read, read, read and read some more. Empower yourself with the understanding about issues that concern your local community, your country and the world. Knowledge is power.
  • Vote – the majority of us are privileged to live in a democratic society. Exercise that right whenever the opportunity arises. not just governmentally, but also in signing things like petitions that enable you to express your own view.
  • Be a conscious consumer and consider your footprint: try to tread as lightly as possible through the choices you make regarding travel, the food you buy, and the clothes you wear. Think carefully about the legacy that you would like to leave future generations.  This can mean buying organic produce; being part of a shared community farmers scheme; shopping at your local market; purchasing goods at a charity shop, rejecting products with excess packaging; biking/running/walking whenever you can; using public transport or car pooling; harvesting and using rain water; turning off unused electrical appliances; showering rather than bathing; supporting companies that adopt fair trade principles; recycling unwanted possessions; growing your own vegetables….
  • Talk to your employer or school about providing opportunities for you to do voluntary work. A growing number of employers recognise the commercial benefits of engaging with communities and customers, and developing the skills of employees. This offers real potential for large numbers of people to experience volunteering, often for the first time.
  • Supporting a cause that is close to your heart doesn’t have to mean providing a financial contribution, and can involve any of the actions listed above. However, if you do wish to raise funds for your chosen project/cause then there are a plethora of ways to do so, beyond simply asking family and friends for donations – organizing ‘bring and buy’ or car boot sales, organise events  and charge a small; entry fee (plays, concerts, festivals, fashion shows, sports tournaments, quizzes); sell your own photos or paintings; wash cars/bikes… you could even ask your employer to match the funds you raise.

And to all the athletes out there, remember to keep your chosen cause at the fore of your mind when you train and race. It will help lift your spirits, give you a mental and physical boost and be the wind beneath your wings as you pursue your goal!

Remember, one step, however small, means you are making progress and moving forwards. This is true in training, in racing and in life. So take that step – you never know where it may lead!