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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 26 October 2014

Doing charity differently

'Charity begins at home’ has long been a refrain associated with selfish detachment. Of ignoring social and international responsibilities to focus on ourselves and our personal economic wellbeing.  It’s a hackneyed expression, but one that has a hidden truth to be cherished. We have, for too long, mistaken charity as an act of giving alms, rather than its original association with acts of love.  There are many things to be said against piling up the pennies for one’s self, as an individual or a country; but the absence of love in our own home is something which makes us all less able to shape a thriving world.

As I reflect on my own career in charity, and look over a Berlin-wall of branded fences into the living rooms of other youth charity families, I am left with a horrible feeling that we have become homeless through the disassociation of our love from the causes we are meant to be working for. We develop our skills as project managers, budget holders, communication and relationship experts; we become coaches, counsellors, trainers, mentors; and we all want to be entrepreneurs, innovators, the next big thing.  We go on team building days, we explore our Myers Briggs and other personal and team profiles, we develop a culture and a way of working, we express our values. All this, while we work on programmes and campaigns to improve the lives and prospects of the young people we care for, with the promise that they themselves are the opportunity to transform the narrative of disadvantage which has challenged their lives.

What we don’t do is open up the engine to look into the deeper reality of who we are, where we have come from, and the potential that exists in and between us to recycle and transform our personal narrative into something that can create a different future.  While we might be moved to consider that as a programme to invest in for young people, we are less likely to consider that as worthwhile for ourselves. Which is where the problem exists: we are not authentic, and can never be so while we grapple with or blankly ignore our own inner narratives of being and conflict that we project out through our work onto and with others.  Until we realise that, we will forever be talking about making a breakthrough in the changing paradigm without achieving it, free-falling through space without realising the parachute cord is held between our hearts.

Charity does not do charity, because it is lost in a model of working and organising that is from a different world. Walk into an office, look around the people inside it; see beyond the computer-screen eyes to a hidden place of feeling, experiences, ancestral conflict, secrets, and the huge possibility to connect and shape all that into a new energy to thrive from.  How can we be so complacent to miss that; how can we not see the obvious connection between who we are and the challenges we are trying to address in our society?

There is a fusion to be had, within the home of charities, and between the homes of different charities, that would profoundly change the shape of the sector into a revolutionary community. Just imagine – a charity that is a home for human development; that authentically lives how to transform narrative and maximise personal potential through others in itself; that has abandoned the restrictions of replication for the abundant energy of continual innovation; that can be a philosophers stone to turn disadvantage into advantage.

Perhaps I feel this more strongly than ever in a week when the past has collided with my mind in the form of Lorna Sage, the wonderful teacher and writer who was the subject of one of my former blogs  Her name came up this week in conversation, and with it memories of something important she was trying to tell me one night in 1992 about the concept of ‘bad blood’. Lorna’s turned on its head the idea that we were left to hand down the bad blood of our ancestors - because the power of language and literature for her was something that could genuinely transform personal and social narratives into something new. In the book that idea would became in 2001, Lorna left us a well of good blood to nourish the future.  She also left us, perhaps, something of a challenge; not to neglect the personal history of who we are, and the importance of taking back control of one’s story in order to escape from it. 

That is a challenge which charity is to busy 'doing alms' to begin to see. Charity is failing in its responsibilities to begin charity at home. It urgently needs to wake up and start again, reclaiming its narrative from campaigns and contracts into something more beautiful.  Like the young people our sector is meant to represent, we are in danger of becoming a lost generation of missed potential to change and transform the story we all own part of in our self.  Let’s spill some shared blood and paint the canvas differently.

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