I am now officially a fan of the big society, although I think I probably need to add a caveat to that before I am accused of selling out.
This week I received a letter and a certificate from David Cameron to say he had been aware of CREATE for a while and was delighted to announce that we were the second winner of the Big Society Award, a scheme he launched a couple of weeks ago. Well when I say that I received the letter, I actually found it with some suppliers invoices in our production kitchen where it had been signed for and placed on a pile with the bakers and grocers invoice. Oh the joy of social enterprise.
Anyway I finally got it and it started me thinking again.
I have talked about the Big Society in blogs and conferences over the last few months but as I looked at the letter I realised I was officially a big part of this big thing, and that gives you a different perspective I guess. So are these Big Society Awards a PR gimmick and whitewash and am I a willing accomplice? Well probably yes but for very good reasons. I think the Big Society Awards are a great idea, not because we won one, but because they make the concept real.
Society needs politicians and policy makers, academics and statisticians…but it also needs poets and story tellers. Poets and story tellers in the sense that we need to communicate our aspirations for social transformation in a way that connects with people. I believe that the heart of the human challenge is the challenge of the human heart; and only when people feel the burning desire for change in their hearts (and not their wallets) will the motivation for change become the determined reality to deliver.
The Big Society or Big Idea goes back further than Alinsky, further than its US precedents, back through collective association, mutuals and co-ops, back through Tory Victorian philanthropy. Even back beyond Aristotle’s Ethics and Plato’s Republic…
The problem with all of these is that it is hard to see what the theory means, what it looks like. The Big Society Award doesn’t diminish our ability to debate the issues, to wrestle honestly with the problems, but it does hold out a picture. It says that this is what this concept looks like in practice; these are the communities and people who are supported and are flourishing when social enterprise, local and national government and big corporate business act together.
I think that might be called PR, but it works, it gives real flesh on the bones and challenges society to think again and act. I think that is good, really.