…Those words from Julia Unwin powerfully capture the spirit of the Change Convention, hosted by Corra Foundation on 9 October in Edinburgh. The day brought together around 300 people, mainly from the voluntary sector, and offered a platform for conversations about how we can create positive change in times of uncertainty.
Illustrator Amber Anderson spent the day listening and encapsulating the themes, questions and ideas that emerged.
In her opening address, Julia talked of the fundamental shifts taking place throughout many aspects of our society. This included the world of work… demography… the use of digital… the role of place and civic space… the trust people have (or increasingly do not have) in institutions… where power lies (increasingly in the town square, rather than the tower). And, amidst all of this, the question of where people find their sense of belonging and identity, and the crucial role civil society plays in enabling them to do so.
Julia spoke of civil society as being “how we show our best selves”, particularly in turbulent times. When communities experience shocks (for example the Grenfell Tower fire, the impacts of climate change or the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London), it is civil society that enables people to connect, organise and respond quickly to emotional and practical needs.
Civil society can help nurture a sense of community identity and belonging, for example through local arts and culture organisations that support a deep sense of local history and connection to place. This in turn can build confidence, resilience and the circumstances in which communities can exercise power and agency.
“Strong, resilient places welcome new people”
While times of great change and uncertainty present real and immediate challenges, they also offer the chance to fundamentally question and transform. Julia suggested that civil society must challenge, change, create new ways of doing things and convene around difficult issues and that this is what will make the difference between a future in which communities are atomised, and one in which people are really heard and social justice can be achieved.
“History shows this sector is very good at getting through difficult times… change has always brought about new energy and drive”
This idea of working towards fundamental, lasting change was explored in detail through a breakout discussion in partnership with Lankelly Chase. People talked about the need for collaboration, recognising that outcomes are produced not by each of us in isolation but by the whole system of which we are all part.
“Everyone is right, but only partially”
“Don’t just invite them to the party, invite them to dance”
“Charities are the lifeblood of society – they knit together the fabric”
Another theme explored (in partnership with The Robertson Trust) was about how civil society organisations access the financial resources they need to do their work. The fundraising environment continues to change and evolve and much of the discussion centred on the need for greater collaboration between funders and funded groups and for relationships that go beyond a financial transaction.
Reflecting and looking forward
In closing, Change Convention participants reflected on what the discussions might mean for the future and what their role might be. Themes of collaboration, trust, belonging and human relationships ran throughout the day. People clearly recognised the deep and challenging issues that people face now, and indeed many of those in the room were directly involved in supporting people and communities. However, there was also a sense of hope and of the possibility for us to collectively, proactively work to shape the future. This will hinge on the ability of civil society to support, connect, enable and above all be bold in responding to change.
For more information please visit www.corra.scot