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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Friday 12 April 2013

From handouts to handups - the Popuptalent revolutioin

Each morning at 7am a crowd gather in a neat, moving line beneath my Affinia Manhattan hotel window. It stretches to a hundred or more. As if from no where, people appear at the back of the line as fast as the front swarms away from view clutching the precious honey of small white bags dished out from a bin. What is so important at 7am that they stand in the rain to wait for? A new album release, the latest gizmo promo, another chocolate bar no one really needs? I watch them reach out for their plastic bags like marathon runners at a drinks station. As fast as they receive them, they disappear into the race of morning commuters that walks past the line. No one seems to speak. After years of watching people wait for freebies on their walk to work in London, it would be easy to think that this is just New York's equivalent. But it isn't. The people in the line are here to be fed. They are beneficiaries of the work of the church of Saint Francis Assisi, which since the great depression of the 1930s has offered a daily Breadline service that feeds around 400 people a day. It might be popular to talk about crowdsource solutions and popup phemonomena, but there is one crowdsourcing popup that goes on each morning in New York and other cities around the world: the wait for a hand out. Looking down at the faces below, I don't see the homeless stereotypes preached at us by the posters of disadvantaged thinkers. I just see a line of individuals, old and young, men and women, as diverse as the ticket line in the metro station. To this fate we may come. I'd like to think that the people who get their bag, can go to a block round the corner, a place where they can eat its contents while receiving the painstaking guidance and investment they require so one day they won't need to be in the line anymore. We are so used to the line for a handout, that people in New York just walk around it. But what about the line for a hand up? What talents would be in its bag? Who would be dishing it out? Where might it happen? The crowdsourcing popup of the food line needs a 21st century equivalent - and just like in the 1930s, it won't be from the state. It will depend on the innovation and vision of charities who want to lead direct action. That's why the launch of Popuptalent.org in the UK is so important. It is the beginning of where charity needs to go next, from offering the safety net of food in the stomach, to providing the springboard of skills, resources and opportunities in the mind for people to move on to a thriving life. I hope it will be appearing beneath a hotel window soon.

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