What is Systemic Change?

The Vincentian Family of  North America has defined Systemic Change as:

Systemic Change among those living in poverty aims beyond providing food, clothing, shelter and alleviating immediate needs. It enables people themselves to engage in the identification of the root causes of their poverty and to create strategies, including advocacy, to change those structures which keep them in poverty. Systemic Change requires transforming attitudes.

Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are committed to examining those structures in our communities that are keeping people in poverty. We are particularly committed to listening to the voices of our neighbors who are experiencing poverty while also making sure that they have an opportunity to actively engage in the programming and advocacy to "change those structures keeping them in poverty."

SVdP Conferences throughout the Columbus Diocesan Council are engaging in a variety of systemic change programming. Be sure to check out our SVdP Microloan Program and Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin' By World Program. If you are interested in participating, be sure to contact us to learn more about how  to get involved!


What's the Difference Between Works of Charity and Works of Systemic Change*

Systemic Change Organizing

  • Aims at root causes, not symptoms.
  • Builds collective responses, not individual solutions, to problems.
  • Changes attitudes, behavior, laws, policies, and institutions to better reflect the values of inclusion, fairness, and diversity.
  • Insists on accountability and responsiveness in such institutions as government, large corporations, and universities.
  • Expands democracy by involving those closest to social problems in determining their solution.

Examples of Systemic Change and Charity when Approaching Issues

  • Charity: Donate to a food pantry to provide supplemental food for working families with lower incomes.
  • Change: Raise the minimum wage so people can afford to purchase the food they need.


  • Charity: Send money to a shelter for homeless families.
  • Change: Send money to a housing coalition working for affordable housing.


  • Charity: fund a scholarship for one high school student to attend college.
  • Change: Fund a student association organizing to ensure that higher education is affordable for everyone.


  • Charity: Give to a telethon for services for people with differing abilities.
  • Change: Give to a group of people  with differing abilities and their allies pushing for their elected officials to make public buildings accessible.


*Adapted from Robin Hood Was Right: A Guide to Giving your Money for Social Change, by Pam Rogers, Chuck Collins and Joan Garner, Norton 2001