‘May you live in interesting times’, is an ancient Chinese curse.
With this quote Steve Clare from Scotland opened the LSA-meeting December 1st in Utrecht. His speech was about developments influencing current challenges of citizens in the western world. Clare called for more balance between globalisation and local orientation.
‘We live in interesting times, we all feel it. Times that worry me, but offer also many opportunities’, so Steve Clare. He pictures the current political situation in the western world. We are confronted with mayor internationally operating companies. They land at places of low taxation, offer jobs that in general pay little, in uncertain working conditions. Once another country offers even less taxations, they leave. Leaving the local community with large numbers of unemployed without additional qualifications.
‘We have 19th century governments’
‘We live with 21st century techniques, 21st century communications, but we are put up with 19th century governments.’ Clare stresses the need for new forms of democracy. ‘Governments do not really listen to the wishes and needs of the people.’ The large number of citizen-based social enterprises is rising year after year, in all fields of the economy. In the US the number of these social enterprises have reached the 500.000, employing millions of people, payed or as volunteer.
In the UK the estimations reach up to 100.000 social enterprises employing an estimated 3 million people. Interested in their combined yearly turnover? Perhaps its more important to focus or their social contribution to society. They contribute to local health, social support to the poor, training and education of unemployed, alternative energy, new forms of agriculture. More over, every penny spent on local business, social or commercial, means return of that money in the local economy.
‘BIG’ failed us…
Most of the earnings of the BIG companies never will be reinvested into the local community. The money follows the fast track to zero-sum tax paradises like the Ilse of Jersey or the Netherlands, where a part of the so celebrated Amsterdam ‘Zuidas’ makes money helping these companies to flee from any taxation. Doing so, these companies are undermining the funding of democratic states and local communities.
Small, local, open and connected
‘Resilient systems and sustainable qualities are two elements of an emerging scenario characterised by four adjectives: small, local, open and connected.’* It is Steve’s favourite quote.
With big companies taking care of their own interests, doing their utmost to avoid their contribution by paying taxes, in order to society that educates their employees, constructs the roads by which their goods are being distributed, we need more balance between the all out globalisation and local thinking. As governments functioning as if it was still the 19th century, withdrawn from essential functions of society, it is up to the citizens in cities, in villages, in remote area’s to take care of themselves. Citizens have to take back control over their local communities, over their own life’s.
The Cleveland model
Steve Clare showed an inspiring example from the US. Many will be surprised to learn that in spite of the corporate picture we have, the US counts some 500.000 social companies.
The ‘Cleveland Model‘ combines sustainable production, with solid and local financial funding. The model is based upon coalitions between local social enterprises and what the call ‘anchor institutions’. Anchor institutions are ‘cultural institutions (e.g., museums and community arts centers), libraries, hospitals, community foundations and other locally-focused philanthropies, faith-based institutions (such as churches, mosques, and synagogues) and community colleges.’ They spend in a constant flow millions of cashflow on products and services. And, just as important, the won’t move away from the city like most of the big companies do, once their profits dwindle.
By revolving loans from these anchor institutions and government programmes, returning by local spending by those institutions, the local economy gets a boost. The big companies transfer their profits to tax free havens worldwide, leaving the local community without any investments.
A similar project in the UK, in Preston, show impressive figures of an increase of local spending after introducing more social, locally rooted, enterprises, by doing so, increasing the number of jobs. In addition, local jobs reduces commuting traffic and congestion.
“Our challenge is therefore to nurture a new type of leadership that doesn’t depend on the illusion of extraordinary individuals. The leadership of the future will not be provided simply by individuals but by groups, communities and networks. And these leaders must “… work to create the space where people living with a problem can come together to tell the truth, think more deeply about what is really happening, explore options beyond popular thinking, and search for higher leverage changes through progressive cycles of action and reflection and learning over time.”
More about leadership by Steve Clare on his LinkedIn-account.
‘No. I won’t comment on this issue’. Thereby expressing his concern over the UK stepping out of the European cooperation. He did though express his concerns on his LinkedIn-account.
The presentation of Steve Clare shows how much people worldwide who think and act locally, have in common. Their passions, their interest, their thinking are similar.
The invitation by LSA-organisation of inspiration from the UK and more specific the Isle of Gigha in Scotland, is therefor well done. European citizens (and the beautiful initiatives from the US and Cleveland) must stay in touch. Current communication offers us all opportunities to do just that!
*Ezoi Manzini, Prof. of Industrial Design, Milan Polytechnic