We’re all getting very excited about Big Society, following yesterday’s Downing Street launch.
If you’ve got more interesting things going on in your life, and haven’t managed to keep up with all the ins and outs of it all, have a look at Patrick Butler’s excellent round-up in today’s Society Daily.
I’ve been having a bit of fun with it all on Twitter, but, of course, this all really matters. That’s why I made this pledge earlier:
I hereby pledge to engage with Big Society. I also assert my right to remain sceptical (not cynical) and take the piss where appropriate.
Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I know that plenty of people whose opinions matter read this blog. It therefore matters to me what you think about what I think. So the pledge is my tongue-in-cheek way of making a serious point.
I spend my life trying to work out ways to make society better. With fellow social entrepreneur Gill Coupland I’m currently setting up a social business which will work across sectors to help people and organisations to have more social impact. We’re setting that up with our money, at our risk, with our free time. We don’t expect big pats on the back for that, and I hope we’re rewarded handsomely and fairly as and when we make a difference and make some money. But I do want to make the point that we are setting up this social enterprise at our own personal risk.
So I think that my opinions count for something. And whilst that doesn’t mean I’m always right, it should mean that those opinions – particularly when they challenge the Big Society agenda – shouldn’t just be dismissed as cynicism. If anything has wound me up about Big Society, it’s the sense from some Big Society evangelists that those of us who aren’t fully convinced yet should just get over ourselves. One commentator suggested that I’m just annoyed that the left didn’t come up with the idea. Another suggested that I was far too quick to criticise something that was “clearly a social good”.
I believe that constructive scepticism – particularly when it is informed by years of experience – and constant reflections on that experience – is vitally important. If we just replace one dogma – that the State knows best – with another – that Big Society knows best – then I think we’re in trouble.
That’s why our new business will focus on working with people who want to make a difference – regardless of what sector they work in. I believe social enterprises have a big role to play in changing society – and I’ll continue to do what I can to help them to achieve more. But let’s remain realistic about what a more active civil society might achieve – and remain honest about some of the challenges we will face.