Vivienne Duke

When asked to write this, I immediately began thinking about all the legislation, policy and statistics around this agenda. I imagined myself writing an article, cleverly quoting and referencing all of the above and linking this to a compelling business case for treating people fairly, then, something stopped me. I’m not entirely sure that it was one thing that stopped me doing this, but perhaps more the experiences I have had over the last few months and the important things I have learned about myself and others. It might also have been the answer to my question, “How many words would you like me to write?” The answer that was given was anywhere between 1 and 800. The opportunity to write just one word was tempting and the more I thought about it, quite powerful. I thought of my word instantly and I am sure many readers of this blog will also think of one word instantly. I bet there are many different words but many similarities in terms of what these words mean. This concept intrigued me so much that I posed this question to a room full of delegates at a ‘Social Value’ conference my company recently ran. We got people to write the answers on post it notes and stick them on the walls around the conference room. I have to say, it set the scene for what was an amazing morning. It almost felt like it flicked a switch in people’s minds. They could only think of one word, so it had to be a BIG word that encompassed everything they wanted to say about ‘What Makes a Fair Society’. Here’s the result, with the size of the word indicating how many times different people wrote the same word. This little exercise created a real buzz in the room and set the scene for the rest of the day which, evaluation forms suggested, was the best conference people had ever been to in terms of atmosphere and collaboration. Imagine if we could get people together like this on a huge scale and ask them this question every day, then inspire them to act on it. Do I think it would make radical changes in society? YES, I do. Why? Because I now firmly believe that it doesn’t really matter which legislation is driving us to look at this issue; it doesn’t really matter that organisations have put policies and procedures in place to try and support this; it doesn’t really matter that we have statistics coming out of our ears to prove or disprove whether things are getting better. What matters is ‘people’. What matters is what every one of us feels we can do to help others in our communities. Whether they are a relative, a friend, a neighbour or someone we help through volunteering/community work it is US that makes the difference. It is people ‘down on the ground’, ‘at grass roots level’. I believe a fair society will only ever be created and sustained through people caring right in the heart of our communities – and caring enough to get their sleeves rolled up and pitch in with all the skills they have, being led by their hearts. The next question we asked at the conference was for delegates to list three things they did personally that they felt contributed to a fair society. Again, another excited buzz travelled around the room, followed by contemplative silence where people began to realise just what they did on a personal level to contribute to a fair society. You can see the answers in our conference report. What was my one word? HUMANITY. I did think of this word before we ran our conference and what I saw in the room was a bucket load of humanity going on, in terms of what people around the room already did. I have seen lot of examples of humanity recently. A ‘fair society’ is about helping anyone who feels alone and excluded from society for whatever reason. In the last few weeks I have seen a team of people work tirelessly to stop wrongful deportation of a lady and her two young daughters back to Nigeria where they risk FGM. When this still happened, the team did not give up. They ensured the family were safe and have raised enough funds for their safety and security. The public support for this has been humbling and astonishing. People care. I have seen a video on a window cleaner’s phone. He heard a little old lady playing a piano in a community centre where he was cleaning windows and went in to listen. She was sat on her own and he asked her to play more tunes and listened to her and chatted. Both got so much out of that experience. People care. I have seen a high flying business man go from paying a lot of money to be a crew member on a catamaran to going on that same catamaran with a group of lads who were out of work and disillusioned with society. He saw them transform into happy, self-confident, disciplined young adults. People care. I have seen a stressed out business man who felt he could not admit to not coping with the changes going on around him, gradually opening up to someone who cared enough to listen and show him it was OK to feel that way. People care. Now that is what begins to create the shift towards a fair society but it cannot be done through legislation and policy. It is done through humans collaborating and showing humanity towards each.

Vivienne Duke, Founder, People Help People