By Gareth Hart, Director Iridescent Ideas CIC and Plymouth Social Enterprise Network

The State of Us Conference: bookings and information

Throughout history, people have striven, fought and sacrificed for self-determination and for enough freedom, power and choice to meet their needs and create meaningful futures. Citizens with agency, hope and ambition can create wider, comprehensive benefits for society.

A growing sense of inequality and unfairness was apparent even before COVID struck. A handful of people own half the world’s wealth and many of the richest have got richer during the pandemic. The poorest have been hit hardest by both redundancies and COVID itself. We desperately need to rethink our economic models to address this imbalance.

We need to revitalise our high streets, the public realm, and green spaces. We want better health and wellbeing. We want decent and meaningful work. We need to meet our basic needs and, at the same time, not overshoot and destroy the environment we rely on to create our and our planet’s wellbeing. To do all this we need active citizens, robust communities and more purposeful businesses.

There are cities and towns around the world like Plymouth (UK), Barcelona (Spain), Cleveland (US) and Jackson (Mississippi, US) that are developing vibrant, greener and fairer economies. Using concepts like municipalism, community wealth building and social value; and economic models such as social enterprise, community business and co-operatives; determined activists are creating alternative forms of power to advance and expand a more democratic, regenerative economy. People are building powerful communities with greener, economic democracy at the core.

In Plymouth alone – the UK’s first ‘Social Enterprise City‘ – we have seen the social enterprise, co-op and community business movement expand dramatically over the past few years alongside witnessing growth in local spending and a clear aspiration to create a more inclusive economy. Plymouth is now home to around 200 social enterprises, co-ops and community businesses. These organizations employ over 9,000 people and spend £600 million a year – all for social purpose. If you include the voluntary, community and education sector, the wider social economy is nearly twenty percent of Plymouth’s economic output and jobs. This new economy has been driven by an inspired partnership of a leading local social enterprise network, a pioneering council, the world’s first certified social enterprise university and an engaged private sector.

We need to create new alliances and build a wider platform for progressive change. Too often the social enterprise, co-op, union, environmental, food and other movements operate in isolation and sometimes even with friction. Yet we are all ultimately joined by a similar, high level purpose and vision.

The impact of COVID is ongoing and there is a real risk that pre-existing inequalities will intensify. The reality of Brexit is hurting business. Hard-won employment rights are under threat. The effects of climate change increasingly being felt. Digital opportunities abound but how are artificial intelligence, machine learning, driverless cars, 5G, data platforms, cryptocurrencies and the rest going to deliver a more equal world?

It is timely, then, that a ground-breaking group of social enterprises, co-ops, think tanks, networks and funders ask you to join them for four focussed online sessions exploring these themes. These events will look at The State of Us and ask: what role do community-focused, economic actors have in building powerful communities? What is best practice? Who are our allies and who shares our values? And how can we organise better? What does democracy look like in everyday areas of our economy such as work, public spaces and the production of the goods we consume? How do communities actively create power, within and beyond authority?

The State of Us will explore work, resilience, places and spaces and more. It is for anyone working on social, environmental, racial and economic justice and democracy and power across the UK. Whether through local enterprise, community organising, activism, third sector, or local government, these events are for you.

Fundamentally, what is The State of Us? And how do we make it better? Join the debate now!