On such a grey Monday morning I opened the newspapers with a predisposition to gloom. They didn't disappoint. Our politicians seem to have decided green politics was a fad (neither David Cameron nor George Osborne have delivered a speech on environmental issues since the General Election), but according to the latest sea ice maps, Arctic ice levels have fallen to their lowest ever recorded levels. If the trends suggested in the latest survey are borne out, the loss of ice is substantially faster than that predicted in the last IPCC report.
The famine in the Horn of Africa is worsening. Political choices made by the West have clearly contributed to the chaos in Somalia. The ceremonies yesterday to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11 were moving and a vital part of the process of remembering and moving on. So perhaps it is unrealistic or churlish to wonder whether more could have been done to use the international focus on yesterday's events to engage nations and citizens in tackling a humanitarian crisis which, it is estimated, will kill more people every day between now and the end of the year than died in the Twin Towers attack?
The famine puts our domestic problems in context. But there is little at home to lighten the mood. The trade unions are threatening civil disobedience in protest at public service cuts. The IFS says that a decade of falling living standards will hit the poor particularly hard, and most experts predict very grim unemployment statistics later this week.
I can't pretend it's a particularly coherent or commensurate response, but at times like this it feels desperately important that people who want to use their talents to make the world a better place combine their resources. States may be buffeted by global forces and economic vulnerabilities, the markets too, but in the face of growing needs and threats civil society needs to mobilise. The good news, I believe, is that there is huge untapped capacity in communities and organisations which could be released if only we could find smarter and more generous ways of working together.
Which is why I see a connection between global and national problems and an initiative taken by RSA Fellows in Leicester. Yesterday saw a hugely successful ‘Our Leicester Day' taking over the city's market. Over 100 local organisations set up stalls and the day was packed with people coming and going from morning to late afternoon. Apparently the day seemed to carry three big messages. First that Leicester is full of great people doing great things to make their city better. Second that the civic life of the city reflects and celebrates its diversity. And third, that even some of the most active local citizens had no idea there was so much going on and so many useful connections to be made.
The Leicester Fellows who organised the day were able to call on an RSA Catalyst grant to help with promotion and I very much hope the Society can continue to support their efforts. But the organisers are also pragmatic. They want to evaluate the day carefully and only then decide if and how to do it again. Such thoughtfulness is, in my experience, a vital but underestimated ingredient in successful civic action.
With our brilliant Fellows and a staff totally committed to enabling the RSA Fellowship to be a powerful source of civic innovation, we may not be able to solve the world's ills but at least we can try to make a positive difference. So, 'thank you' Leicester Fellows for making Monday feel better and - I hope - for inspiring other Fellows to follow your lead.
Hannah Breeze Aidan Daly (Researcher)
Read about the winners of the RSA Pupil Design Awards 2021 – 2022. The teams have provided us with a range of innovative ideas that tackle challenges in the food, education and built-environment systems.