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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 24 March 2013

The real Secret Millions

Weekend television has a new star in C4’s fascinating series, Secret Millions.

The title and format for the series follows in the footsteps of Secret Millionaire; only the source for the cash investments this time is the Big Lottery, and its beneficiaries are a group of charities working to solve complex social issues through some genuinely innovative ideas. The Foyer Federation is one of them, so I have a vested interest, but my reason for writing is to reflect on the more general message behind the series.

Watching the first stories about London Youth and the Papworth Trust, it is clear that the title Secret Millions has another, more profound meaning. It would be a mistake to believe that the potential ‘millions’ revealed to us by the celebrity presenters is just the funding (or not) from the Big Lottery to replicate a charity idea. The secret millions has a human side too.  I think the real millions are the amazing individuals the public is being introduced to each week, people trying to get on with their lives in the background of challenges that would defeat many of us.  The first two episodes alone are a reminder of the million or so young people struggling to find work at the same time as dealing with complex situations, whilst an equal number of young adults experience disabilities that challenge the independence of their lives and those of their families.   

These are the secret millions to celebrate. People in our communities, living right next to and alongside us, that many of us don’t speak to or care about. People who are normally made invisible under the weight of negative stereotypes used by politicians, the media, and – let’s not forget – the charity sector itself, whose communication departments are too often involved in ‘selling’ deficits to the public for cash. In each case, the so-called ‘disadvantaged’ are neatly packaged into problems for 'pennies in a bucket' or discriminative policy sanctions that keep the individuals involved distanced from our hearts and minds.  

Not so in the C4 series. The Secret Millions is re-introducing us to the people behind the headlines.  In each case, what we find is a mirror back to ourselves.  The episodes seem to have at least one moment where you are genuinely touched and personally involved by a word, a look, a conflict, a failure or success; where we feel and share the humanity that is no secret to our real sense of values and beliefs.  It is the TV version of what Participle call 'Relational Welfare' - where the focus is on forming and being part of positive relationships geared around people building the assets and networks required to thrive in life. Which is why, in these first episodes, the adult mentors, parents and helpers, the connected cohorts of young people, and the links forged between the celebrity, the viewer and Big Lottery, are all important to suggest a different type of relationship is possible to create social change.

There are millions of people who have talents and potential that is being lost to us all. The crime is that it has been kept a secret for far too long. Government after Government, we have been prepared to pay huge amounts of money as a society to keep these secret millions hidden from view, lost in state systems of welfare, care and punishment that simply do not work.  C4’s series, and the funding of the Big Lottery, offers something of a revolution.  Each week, the public can see how positive, flexible, personalised approaches, that are prepared to take risks and develop new relationships, bring about real changes in perception and possibility. We see people beginning to flourish through environments and opportunities where they can explore their real selves in meaningful ways. We see charities doing what they are meant to do best - being radical, shaking up the status quo.
Many of us in the sector have been saying this for years. Well, now the secret is out. It’s time to get back from inside the positive-thinking closet, crawl out from behind the aspirational sofa, and stand up with confidence for what we truly believe in. The days of ‘disadvantaged thinking’ about supporting problems and coping with deficits is numbered. The days of acting in isolation, of charities being secret about their solutions to go it alone with funders, must be drawn to an end. There are millions of people with assets we just need to find the right way to invest in, so we can all benefit as a society.  C4’s series with the Big Lottery is showing us how we can do it together. 

For more information about Secret Millions, and to watch the episodes, see http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-secret-millions