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Giving hope & improving life chances – making vision a reality

Friday, 21 August 2015 13:51


Is it time to forget about policy intervention bringing about the changes we are after? Should we be connecting and directing the vision and ideas of the think-tanks to the practitioners who are active in local communities and who are making a real difference on the ground to people’s lives? Why not let communities put the theory into practice? They are doing it already.

 Running a representative body for 100s of UK social-economy organisations is often an odd position to be in. You are member-led but also leading on behalf of your members – they are the customer and change-makers in their local communities. They are actively changing society, the environment and the economy in their communities – and they deserve so much credit and respect for their continual efforts to reduce poverty, improve resource use and change people’s lives for the better. The Re-use sector, who are members of the FRN, save 1 million low income families £340 million per year, trains and supports over 30,000 people to improve their employment and life chances, and also reduces carbon dioxide levels by more than 380,000 tonnes – these are huge annual impacts, and more can be done with well-founded ideas and evidence for practitioners to follow and put into action.

 We see, hear and read so much theory and discussion about what should be done to create a better society and environment from think-tanks, academia, journalists and consultants. However this discourse appears disconnected to, or unaware of, the work of these community organisations who put leadership into practice. Sometimes, as a representative body, the FRN takes these new and innovative ideas that we hear and put them into practice; other times we find that we and the members are way ahead of the theory and have already reacted to the visible societal need evident in the community and created their own solutions to address the problem. We may not solve the cause of problem but we can certainly deal with the symptoms.

Whilst our thought leaders are debating and critiquing the vision of humanising economic policy, are discussing theories to tackle income and wealth disparities, resource scarcity and social justice through new models, innovation and jobs – there are individuals and organisations out there who are making these ideas real. 

The fundamental ideals of moving from a high consumption market system to the idea of a sharing economy with increased public wellbeing is possible and is happening at the local level. The UK’s social-economy sector and charities have long embedded these values and ideas into providing goods and services to people in need in their communities while helping people improve their lives and engage with society once more. The sector can and wants to do more. The response from community organisations to the failure of the state is the backbone of the sector’s history – they act to meet the need in our societies and will continue to do so in practical way.

So while visionaries talk and theorise over human nature versus the current economic system – there is practical leadership that just gets on with it and makes the change. The human perspective and the wider social benefits are difficult to measure and are left out of the priorities of the government when managing the economic accounting system. Evidently when the state is absent in leading on such change, the people and community groups across the UK strive to help people out of poverty. They are addressing the income and wealth disparities and are using resources to lead the change in people’s and society’s chances of a better future. The community sector is busy sorting society’s ills in a practical sense – what is needed is help to address the vision and gain the authority and evidence to do the next best thing to make a real difference.

The term volunteer is mentioned less these days and replaced by people wanting to be socially active and wanting to make a real difference. Local people and groups are taking ownership of the issues and wanting to intervene to balance the inequalities, help create opportunities and change for people, and collectively reduce the harm to their society and environment. The sector we represent enables this intervention and introduces services to make impact and deliver change. To date the social-economy reuse sector has looked mainly at three core impacts – poverty alleviation, economic activity, and the environment. In truth, using these labels hides the true and more holistic motivation and intent – that of giving hope and improving peoples’ life chances.

A recent publication from the World Economic Forum posits alternative scenarios for the future of civil society and investigates these in the context of the shift that could take place in terms of critical impacts and what we will have to consider for the relations between society, business, governments and other stakeholders. The scenarios are possible, challenging and diverse; so too are the options for government and business to either engage or disengage with solutions; all appears dependent upon whether they choose to adopt and champion societal challenges or whether they choose to concentrate on managing their fiscal and corporate survival. In the worst case scenario of either becoming disengaged, WEF states that civil society will have to step up to the challenge.

So what is the social economy re-use sector after? In part recognition that there is practical leadership and active solutions going on every day to improve people’s chances and their economic involvement in society.  But most importantly we want the thought-leaders out there to work with practitioners, the FRN and our members - we will use your vision and your belief that something can be done and we will make it real.

Craig Anderson OBE

Chief Executive of the Furniture Re-use Network

Twitter: @CraigAndersonUK

LinkedIn: Craig Anderson OBE

Read 6036 times Last modified on Thursday, 24 September 2015 15:39

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