Research Paper By Lorena Jauregui
(Life Coach, NETHERLANDS)
Before analyzing the coaching application in Sustainable Social Change, the first step is to understand what is social work, and social sustainability.
“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility, and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities, and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance well-being.”- International Federation of Social Workers:
“Social sustainability occurs when the formal and informal processes; systems; structures; and relationships actively support the capacity of current and future generations to create healthy and livable communities. Socially sustainable communities are equitable, diverse, connected and democratic and provide a good quality of life.” – WACOSS, Western Australia Council of Social Services
The field of social work is quite broad and creating sustainable changes presents many challenges. Non-Governmental and non-profit organizations are required to understand in depth the needs of the community, the culture, the community support system, the impact of any proposed change and others, to provoke sustainable change. The community and individuals alike, go through different stages when facing changes and can potentially get stuck at any of these specific stages if the social project is not managed adequately and the appropriate partners are not involved.
Based on a case study in Vietnam, staff members of different organizations shared their viewpoints on the challenges faced to ensure sustainable development. The main points identified were:
- Community needs vs sustainable goals– in many occasions social projects are needed and run in developing countries, which may result, in a significant gap between community needs, and the proposed sustainable change including budget restrictions and understanding of the relevance of the topic/goal. This gap can create frustration and resistance to sustainable development. The challenge is to identify how to move the community forward and towards the exploration, and acceptance, of sustainable development.
- Financial needs vs limited resources– as mentioned in the above bullet point, many projects are run in developing countries where several social issues require attention, such as education, poverty, health, etc. Often the budget for social change projects in these locations is limited and needs to be shared between several needs and priorities.
- Immediate results vs continuity - as any organization, non-governmental and non-profit organizations are required to present concrete results to the organization stakeholders (i.e. board of directors, donors, project managers) and ensure funding for sustainable projects. This relevant aspect of managing social projects may result in overlooking the long-term goal of creating sustainable change in the community. Social change can take time and present challenges, like not falling back to the old ways, which is not aligned with the short-term results required by many organizations. The difficult question is how to meet the requirements of both; organizations and the community.
- Awareness and recognition should be the mission of organizations to motivate adherence vs just charity - sustainable development is a relatively new concept that is not known by many communities, especially in developing countries. For many, sustainable development is just another way of charity, in which the community does not have an active role. On the contrary, the community is a key element, change from within is required for sustainable development. Without the appropriate knowledge and clear mission goals, adherence to the project is difficult. The community must believe in the project, to mitigate resistance.
The International Coach Federations“defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.
According to the International Coaching Community “the essence of coaching is:
- To help a person change in the way they wish and helping them go in the direction they want to go.
- Coaching supports a person at every level in becoming who they want to be.
- Coaching builds awareness empowers choice and leads to change.
It unlocks a person’s potential to maximize their performance. Coaching helps them to learn rather than teaching them.”
Following on from the above definitions, there are a couple of words that stand out; help and support. The coach is not the expert, the coach supports the person to become the best one can be, without attachment, assumptions, and preconceptions. A coach needs to enter the coaching relationship like a white canvas, without any vested interests other than helping the client, nor preconceived ideas to understand carefully what the client is communicating.
To support the coaching process, the coach needs to develop different skills. Listening is an important skill in any coaching relationship to understand and process what the client is communicating. The coach is required to listen actively, interpret not only what is being said but also what is not being said, to support the client in understanding themselves and achieve what they desire. Additionally, the art of questioning is equally important, to allow the client to search deeply within themselves the answers to the outcomes they are seeking. As mentioned above the coach should not provide any opinion, but instead, use strong questions to facilitate the client’s learning and development. The questions need to serve the client in achieving the client’s desired outcomes, not the coach’s own interests. To be able to listen and question the client effectively, the coach also has to have high emotional intelligence, without being able to relate to others and truly have the desire to help others, it could be challenging to understand and support the client.
Hand in hand with emotional intelligence skills is empathy. It is as important for the coach to understand the client’s feelings as well as the client feeling they been understood; building a relationship based on trust. Another relevant skill is communication, the coach needs to be direct, simple, concise, and precise when providing feedback and asking questions to the client. It is important the coach knows their client and delivers the message in a language that is clear for the client to understand and respond to. Again, there must be no directive or intention behind what is being communicated by the coach.
This is not an extensive list of skills, just the essence of a good coach. 
Both coaching and social sustainability are relatively new fields, therefore not much research has been done on the impact of coaching in organizations that promote social sustainability. However, literature can be found on the positive outcomes of utilizing skills-elements of coaching in preparing a community for change, transferring knowledge, education, gathering information, and others.  The organizations could potentially benefit from applying a coaching approach to tackle the many challenges that arise from promoting sustainable change. As previously reviewed, the challenges are diverse and continuously evolving, as well as coaching skills and techniques. As an example of the coaching application, below is the analysis of the challenges identified in the case study of Vietnam.
Community needs vs sustainable goals – Not necessarily the gap related to opposed interests, but more the significance of the needs versus the goals of the sustainable project:
- A community that is under pressure with high unemployment rates trying to incorporate environmental behavior changes may be challenging. The community perspective of the importance of the project will be different from a community without the pressure in employment. Understanding the community needs can help focus on what the change provides, and what represents in the specific community besides the clear one of being environmentally friendly. For example, for an unemployed person being helpful may be more relevant than being environmentally friendly, the focus on how the project is presented is different but the result is the same.
- By using coaching skills, the team putting together the project could potentially reduce or eliminate the gap between community need versus sustainable goals. Active listening and questioning the community can be used to understand their perspectives and goals and consequently communicate more simply and effectively the focus and goals of the project. This can also facilitate the first stages through the change curve by the community being able to express themselves.
- Financial needs vs limited resources - On many occasions organizations maintained the focus on the variety of the community necessities and the resources needed to create positive and sustainable change, without taking into consideration the strengths that the community has to support sustainable development:
- “Strengths-based approaches concentrate on the inherent strengths of individuals, families, groups, and organizations, deploying personal strengths to aid recovery and empowerment. In essence, to focus on health and well-being is to embrace an asset-based approach where the goal is to promote the positive.”
- Coaching, similar to other fields, believes that every person is resourceful and can achieve any goal that the person desires. Coaching focus on what is possible? what can be? as well as utilizing a strengths-based approach. Applying this vision could help to find what we do have and less financial resources may be needed.
Immediate results vs continuity – the duration of sustainable change projects have a limited duration but the intent is to create durable changes within the community:
- On many occasions’ changes are not maintained over time once the project support is finished or ended, therefore the change is no longer sustainable.
- A key element in tackling this challenge is creating accountability of the project goals within the community together with an effective method of learning transfer.
- Concepts of the role of coaching in education and learning transfer could be applied in supporting the sustainable social change proposed, such as creating an action plan with steps to hold the community accountable, and a tracking system or encouraging people within the community to support each other providing feedback. The possibilities are endless and certainly worth exploring. 
Awareness and recognition of the organization’s mission; to motivate adherence vs just charity -to bring awareness and recognition to the organization’s purpose and mission, communication is vital:
- Coaching can enhance the way the message is delivered by being able to focus on what needs to be communicated and being aware of oneself on how we deliver the message.
- Coaching can help to read a situation and become dynamic to adjust to that situation, receive and provide feedback on whether the message is concise and clear, understanding the audience, etc. to deliver an effective and relevant message. 
I believe that having coaching programs in place within organizations that promote social sustainability change, can have a positive impact on the results of the projects that are being managed by those organizations. The possibilities are endless, however, a lot of research is still required.
“Global Definition of Social Work | International Federation of Social Workers”. ifsw.org. Retrieved July 19, 2017.