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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Begging for Ideas

Journeys home from work are often occasions to tune back into the silent conversation with one’s inner self, or tune out into sleep and the newspaper’s reordering of our ever complex world. Then there are days when the world performs in front of you and pulls your brain back onto the stage.

Tonight’s show began on the tube from work, with an incident – ever more common these days – where someone had been asking for ‘change’ of the small kind: the 1 pound or 10p that fills a momentary need endlessly repeated.  I might be bored by the lack of innovation in such asks (I want to give to ideas), but I’m also acutely aware that a sector’s encouragement of small change – adverts that ask for pennies to support a life rather than to change it  – is understandably replicated through a social web of diminishing asks, right through to the ‘I just need 10p to buy a ticket home’. At least the latter isn’t the result of a large communications budget, but a more human reflection on the ‘disadvantaged thinking’ that blights our time.
 On this occasion, my attention was grabbed by a gentleman who was prepared to ‘give back’ in a different way: by explaining why, in a welfare state he was paying for that day at work (though that might be seen increasingly as a luxury), he wasn’t prepared to hand out any change, except to suggest that the asker show more manners and respect for others.  It was an unusual exchange. I half hoped we were about to begin a debate on proposals for welfare reform - with visions of future train carriages offering conversational hubs to interact with the evening headlines - but instead the ‘change asker’ bowed out to leave the train with what for me was a poignant apology.  We live in an age when few of our so called leaders are able to say sorry for things that have had a massive impact on many lives, and yet here was someone genuinely sorry for the annoyance he felt he had caused to a couple of homeward bound workers, however worthy or not they were of an apology.  That in itself was worth far more as a 'give' than money can buy. The human factor of care is the greatest source of optimism from which change, and human evolution, will occur. 
I’ve been promising for some time to pick up the notion of ‘real change’ over ‘small change’, so perhaps the above story helps to begin the theme.  At the outset of our writing on Open Talent, back in 2009, I gave it the strap line: ‘A big change for young people, not small change’.  The idea was to help illustrate that just a part of the investment society wastes on deficit interventions could be spent to greater effect by focusing on the real solutions required to change lives and social circumstances. Then, as Open Talent took off, some of the initial early ideas around investment and the meaning of Talent were taken over by others – a polite way of saying dropped or forgotten about. I remember the poet Paul Farley explaining this in terms of how a writer’s first sentence or verse is very often just the engine that launches the rocket, to be expelled into the ocean. Though sometimes I still think the rockets I sweated over looked rather beautiful even as they vanish into history’s shredder.

I was delighted, therefore, to discover during a visit to the wonderful organisation Gwalia in South Wales that someone else had made much better use of the ‘change, not change’ approach, using the stereotype image of a person begging for money to ask for ‘change’ of a different value .  His name is Meek, an Australian pencil artist, who, influenced from his exposure to Banksy in London, went on to produce the 2004 stencil graffito entitled "Begging for Change" in which you can see someone holding up the slogan: "KEEP YOUR COINS. I WANTCHANGE.”  There must be  a radical spirit in Wales at the moment, as I have since noted that the Cymru Homelessness Network use that image on their twitter account too.  
I’m still waiting for the day when someone goes on a tube to ask for social solutions, or holds a bucket out for social networking name cards instead of coins. ‘I just need an idea to help me get home…’ That will be me one day. And when it is, you might like to signpost me to the most advantaged thinking tube line of people to pester... 

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know the art work was entitled 'begging for change' - love it :)