Just back from the inaugural meeting of the Global Social Economic Forum (GSEF) meeting in Seoul, Community Links Chief Executive Geraldine Blake looks at how social economy is transforming communities across the world
In the community we serve in east London needs are rising. Housing is becoming unaffordable, jobs are more insecure, services and support are being withdrawn. Yet we can see at the end of our road the towers of Canary Wharf and beyond to the City of London, the heart of the global financial system. Speaker after speaker at the Global Forum on the Social Economy in Seoul - including the UN and the OECD, not traditionally seen as radicals - told us that our current economic system no longer works. In every country in the world, inequality is increasing, environmental damage is picking up speed, social problems multiply. Here in east London, the combination of a return to 'business as usual' following the crash of 2008 with a severe austerity programme from government has increased inequality and multiplied the challenges faced by the poorest communities.
At Community Links we believe that those who experience a problem understand it best. We also believe that everyone has the potential to do great things.
Every day, we witness how, with just a little bit of support, the people living in the poorest communities can come together to build a brighter future, helping themselves and helping each other. This happens faster when organisations like us work alongside local government and far-sighted businesses to create the conditions which enable neighbourhoods to flourish. When we don't or won't work together, opportunities are lost that would benefit the communities we all serve.
Working together is not always easy. Having the time and space to share and think is not always possible. Sometimes we are prevented by money, sometimes by legal frameworks.
Championed by Mr Won Soon Park, the inspiring Mayor of Seoul, the Global Social Economic Forum brought together over 1,000 people from 18 countries. What was exciting was the focus on place - neighbourhoods, towns and cities - and on how local government and social economy organisations can together do something really different, something that can transform the poorest places in a way that conventional economics has so far failed to do without simply moving the poor out and on.
We all need to learn new ways of working. In Setagaya, Tokyo, after the earthquake residents began to open their own houses up for community use. One woman gives her living room three days a week as a school classroom, another her garden for mothers and toddlers, others host performances and events. Disabled and isolated older people make their houses available for community meetings - that way they get to attend the meetings as well. Some families have remodelled their own homes to make space for other families to live with them. The local government has simply created a matching service to enable this sharing economy to thrive.
In Paris, a public-private partnership called Semaest takes on the revitalising of neighbourhoods. So if your high street has lots of boarded up shops, instead of knocking it all down for a new development, Semaest renovates the shops and invests in the development of local enterprises to fill them, creating vibrant neighbourhoods once again.
In Indonesia 'urban acupuncture' is used as a way of applying pressure (usually in the form of community arts or architecture) to a few key places to let the energy flow around the whole city.
In Canada cities like Quebec and Montreal are improving outcomes through a strong social value framework for local government procurement. This approach had been extended in Brazil so that schools must buy at least 30% of their food from local and social producers, strengthening the economy of the local community at the same time as improving the health of its children.
And for proof of impact, look close to home and the Basque region of Spain which has become the highest ranking place in the EU for economic productivity and quality of life through a 10 year programme of investment in social enterprise and innovation.
The common link here is the joint action between local government and social organisations focused on the neighbourhood or town or city. It's about growing solutions from the ground up, and trusting that together, we can build a better world.
That's why the Global matters - because it's all about the Local.
So the establishment of a Global Forum on the Social Economy, that shares lessons from around the world, helps us to refine the model and demonstrate the evidence, and enables us to stand together in solidarity is an exciting and important thing for all of our futures.
Geraldine was participating in GSEF 2014 as a representative of Locality, a movement of independent neighbourhood organisations across the UK. Locality has over 800 members working in the poorest communities which have been failed by our current economic system.