`As I’m responsible for it, let me explain the title. `Blast from the past or new vision?’, was how I opened the debate held by the RSAWSN in association with the Big Society Network on June 28th at Somerset House. To me, to have opposing ideas is an effective way of freeing up speech and hearing a variety of views—like the event which took place at Somerset House on June 28th in the Model Room. It’s the same venue used by David Cameron to launch his ideas to the press on his grand vision and it was useful for our host CEO Chief Exec Steve Moore to hear back on those from the female perspective. To read my opening speech.
Though there are just as many fans, the Big Society is not without its critics, and many of them were amongst the audience. It is quite clear that people affected by the public sector austerity cuts have linked—rightly or wrongly—their lack of job with the vigorous drive for volunteers to fill the gaps. However, in question time Steve made it clear that the growth of the network was unrelated—more borne out of a strong genuine desire for more social enterprise, and members of the concerned public wanting to `save the UK’ for themselves by, quite simply, helping out more.
It was great to hear from Patti Boulaye who set up the charity Support for Africa and has through that built no less than five health care clinics and one school, and the social affairs writer Mary O’Hara (trustee of Stand for Reason) who made a strong case for the unsung heroes in society. Green and Black’s founder and Jo Fairley, who is a great supporter of this initiative, described her charitable work when she organised her contacts in the beauty industry to do make-overs on vulnerable young women as a self esteem boost. She made the point that giving should always remain that way, and not be complicated by putting a price on it, though there were others who felt that social help should indeed be financially recognised. `It’s ok if you’ve got the money to work for nothing,’ was one of the remarks from the floor.
The Big Society Network has launched a scheme which encourages social entrepreneurs and several were there this evening to speak about their successful projects including Shireen Irani who had just that week won the Law Society’s Junior Pro-Bono Lawyer of the Year for her work with i-Probono , Michelle Clothier who has won a plethora of awards for Livity, Servane Mouazan who started up the Women’s Social Leadership Awards and is CEO of Ogunte.
There is no doubt that women take a shine to social enterprise as a way of working. Says Joana Picq, COO of The Next Women, `Women have long been the silent pillar of the country’s economy, but no more: they have evolved beyond CEO of the household and volunteer within their community to create jobs and value through their fast growing enterprise.