The Four C’s of Social Justice: Creating a Foundation for Change


“Maybe their hearts were in the right place. Maybe not. Either way, these are solid contenders for the title of “worst attempts at helping others since colonialism.”[1]

In the last few weeks, I have discussed four components of any successful social justice project – Consult, Collaborate, Clarify, Commit. These four concepts build on each other, and work together, when engaging with any marginalized community. A failure to address any one of these concepts can easily result in a failure of the entire project.

People sometimes use a pneumonic to help them remember complex things.  A popular pneumonic is the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Smart-folks! At home, we have taught our daughter the value of THINK before speaking.  Is it True?  Is it Helpful? Is it Important?  Is it Necessary?  Is it Kind?  Our daughter understands that if she thinks about each part of THINK, and the answer is NO… It might be better to not say what she was going to.

The four C’s I have been discussing can work like THINK.  Each ‘C’ provides a kind of check list which social justice advocates need to think about in each and every stage of a community project.

Am I consulting with each community partner, in a way that fully includes their knowledge and needs in the project?

Am I collaborating with my partner(s) – making sure that they have full power to make important decisions?

Am I clarifying the goals, responsibilities, and outcomes of the project – and making sure everyone understands the part they play?

Am I committing to the promises I make, and making sure that my partner(s) are committed as well?

There have been many International Development projects which have failed, and even harmed the communities which were involved.  Here is a small list of some of these projects, and where they went horribly wrong when applied to the Four C’s Checklist

  • With the One million t-shirts for Africa[2] campaign, Jason Sadler attempted to provide free t-shirts to over one million Africans. In 2010,Sadler ran a company called I Wear a Shirt, where companies paid him to advertise by wearing their logo t-shirts.  Despite the fact that Sadler had never been to an African country personally, he decided to get rid of his excess t-shirts by shipping them off to ‘needy’ Africans.  He then went one step further, by running YouTube campaigns to get others to send him their old t-shirts for the small fee of $1.00 USD.  This campaign ultimately failed, and caused an onslaught of very valid criticism over how African communities did not actually need these used shirts and how the effort was harming communities and local economies.  Checking the Four C’s Checklist – failure occurred at the first C… Consult.
  • In 2012, rapper 50-Cent visited refugee camps in Somalia. Afterwards, he began a Facebook campaign to donate meals to needy children. Check this out: The catch was that you had to ‘like’ his Street King energy drink in order to have him send money for the meals. If his page received one million likes in a short period of time, he would donate one million extra meals. It was clear from this campaign that the money for the meals was already ear-marked and ready to go.  In order for the money to be sent, however, Facebook users had to check that they liked 50-Cent’s energy drink.  Simply stated – this campaign was less about helping impoverished refugee children, and more about promoting and advertising for 50-Cent.  Ultimately – this campaign was nothing more than a form of tied aid[3]designed to further 50-Cent’s cause.  Following the Four Cs Checklist, this campaign was doomed to failure.  While it is not clear whether 50 Cent consulted with Somalia families, it is very clear that there was no engagement in collaboration
  • Moving a little closer to ‘home’: in 2015, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), made the decision to open commercial herring fisheries on the BC west coast. This was despite the concerns of First Nations communities that current herring stocks could not sustain large commercial harvests.  The DFO refused to listen, and held to their belief that their methods of measuring herring populations were superior to First Nations scientists and knowledge-holders.  The DFO opened the commercial fishery in Heiltsuk territory with less than 24-hour notice.  The Heiltsuk retaliated, and blockaded DFO offices in Bella Bella and Vancouver, BC.  The conflict resulted in the DFO being forced to close the Central Coast fishery for the season. This conflict could most likely been avoided if the DFO engaged in meaningful consultations from the beginning. DFO efforts failed from the first ‘C’ – Consultation.  For more on this issue, check out

In each of the above cases, the project failed before it ever reached the final stages of implementation. By remembering the Four C’s each step of the way, complex issues can be simplified.  Engaging a community with each “C” ensures that important foundations of social justice are achieved – integrity, inclusion, equality, resilience, sustainability, innovation, and accessibility.  These foundations are critical toward achieving real social change, and are, after all, the foundations of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) discussed in my first blog post of this series (

This is the work that Spatial Integrity commits to with every one of its partners:

Consult – Check

Collaborate – Check

Clarify – Check

Commit – Check!

For more information about Spatial Integrity and the services we offer, check out  Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s