SABC = Social Art for Behavior Change

Causing cultural change is extremely difficult, especially in small communities where travel, international collaboration, and education are limited. Developing countries often align with areas that will be hit heaviest by climate change, and the Caribbean is no exception.

When it comes to causing cultural change, the arts can significantly influence change in behaviors and attitudes. Take for example the change over the last 50 years in attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community across most of North America and Europe. Artists and advocates found ways to educate communities to move from ignorance, to understanding and respect through stories, dance, theatre, and music. There is still a long way to go, but the change is happening and much of it is due to the arts motivating community influencers to take action.

Cirque De Soleil is a company that made the arts into a very successful business. Founder Guy Laliberté, went on to create a foundation – One Drop – that has taken the power of the arts one step further to what they have coined Social Art for Behavior Change (SABC). The foundation is one of the top 10 impact charities in Canada recognized by Charity Intelligence.* The focus of the foundation is to provide access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene to communities in developing countries. One Drop looks at the long-term sustainability of the communities they serve, and have recognised that behavior change is the missing link developing countries need to excel.

How can the arts create behavior change like hand washing with soap or cleaning latrines?

One Drop’s approach is to put people and emotions first. Through art they connect with the emotional part of the brain to foster the adoption of healthy behaviour around water and lay the foundation for long-term cultural change. 

One Drop has demonstrated that social art for behavior change also works in communities to improve individual leadership, involvement and empowerment within these communities.  

I spoke with Tania Vachon, director of Social Art for Behavior Change (SABC)at One Drop Foundation. She is a brilliant women who cares deeply about bringing positive change to communities in need.

Tania told me about their ABC strategy. A stands for access to clean water; B is for behavior change, and C is for capital (either human or financial) to drive long-term change in communities.  One Drop Foundation partners with organizations that build water infrastructure, like Water Aid or Plan International. Their role is to go into communities and learn what type of art appeals to each community. “It might be theatre, a dance performance, or a puppet show – whatever appeals most to the local community we create an art project around it” Community art projects attract influencers, pull people together to collaborate, and often work to build social cohesion and empowerment. 

The work Guy Laliberté and One Drop Foundation are doing is both innovative and effective.  Their strategy of Social Art for Behavior Change is brilliant in its simplicity. By reaching people on a human emotional level through the arts they provide emotionally driven education that can’t help working to cause behavior change within the community. 

When it comes to climate change and environmental issues the SABC strategy can offer significant contributions in places where enviornmental change is slow to take hold.

Heal Terra (a Canadian not-for-profit organization) is working with Canvas and Cave Barbados Ltd.  to create social art for behavior change initiatives that focus on creating sustainable healthy communities. 

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*My husband, Greg Thomson, is a director at Charity Intelligence

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