Have a weekend? An afternoon? An hour? Improving where you live can start with the smallest step. Local leaders and accidental activists share 15 strategies that made a difference in the real world.

By Melanie Mannarino
August 04, 2017

You’ve thought about it before, haven’t you? If you were in charge of your block, your neighborhood, your town, you’d make some serious changes. Here’s the secret: You don’t need to be in a position of power—or have untold amounts of free time—to make a difference. All it takes is the right idea and follow-through. “The popular myth is that those who make change reach some big, massive tipping point,” says Nilofer Merchant, author of The Power of Onlyness. “But it’s a myth. Real change makers simply say, ‘I see something that I think matters.’”

Once you’ve zeroed in on what matters to you locally, Merchant promises that doing something to improve it isn’t a huge leap. “We have to grant ourselves permission to take the first step,” she says. When you think, “What difference could I possibly make?” you’re trying to imagine 38 steps ahead. Instead, Merchant suggests asking, “What is the first thing I could do?”

Think of it as micro-activism. “Doing things on a smaller level feels good,” says Ashley Ford, a New York City essayist whose own micro-activist moment—a tweet encouraging others to pay off kids’ delinquent school lunch accounts—blossomed into a nationwide movement that raised more than $150,000. “It makes you feel connected to your home and the people who live around you.”

Use this list of ideas as inspiration, as motivation—or even as a checklist to work down. And don’t be shy about amplifying your efforts through social media: Tap your network for help, post photos of your accomplishments, and give a shout- out to others who get involved. The more you use your voice, the more your neighbors will want to join in.

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