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In response to my asking yesterday whether the new army of redundant consultants might be willing to do good works, Sarah Grant poses the very reasonable question:

What  kind of incentives might be used to encourage you to offer your skills freely or very cheaply?’

I also got an e-mail from a friend who is a part time academic and consultant and who has, as it happens, done some work for the soon to be defunct Sustainable Development Commission. It’s not, he tells me, that there isn’t lots to be done - he has a constant flow of pro bono work requests, it’s just that the work doesn’t add up to an adequate income. This is from someone whose green values lead him to live frugally and aspire only to earn the average wage. 

‘Perhaps’ he says ‘it is time to revisit Charlie Leadbeater's Demos booklet of 1997 or so, The Employee Mutual - a mutual network organisation acting as an all-in trainer, retrainer, placement agency, mutual support network, LET scheme and supplier of project staff on contract?’.

Going back to Sarah’s question, I imagine that for many in the older group of professionals the big finance issue is reducing costs. If they are homeowners they will typically have some capital, especially if kids have left home and they no longer need a family house. They may not be extravagant in their consumption desires (this does seem to be something we do get over as we age) but they may worry about meeting bills. On this basis they might be tempted by a local authority or community organisation that made this offer: move out of London/South East into a nice house in an mixed area with lower prices. We will help with relocation costs and – if you agree to do twenty hours a week pro bono consultancy - we will pay your council tax bills. We will also connect you to a variety of networks so that you are over time more able to find paid work alongside the unpaid.

This is a big change of lifestyle and people may be more willing to do it if they feel part of a group. So the host organisation might set up a mutual structure (of the kind it sounds like Charlie was advocating) for people to join when they arrive in their new location.

There are, of course, lots of objections to this idea. Perhaps none of the people I am describing would be attracted to the idea of  ‘social down-sizing’ As there are cuts everywhere, won’t there be a national glut of under-employed public service professionals – why would anywhere want to import more? Also, would these people really have the skills necessary to increase capacity and develop initiatives to improve run down areas? I’ll rely on my readers to tell me whether the objections kill the idea.

But if anyone thinks there is something to this I will see if we can explore the idea a bit more. I know I am getting carried away, but imagine a whole network of RSA Social Consultancies working in disadvantaged areas, drawing on the wider RSA Fellowship, swapping skills and insights, applying some of the Society’s own research into civic innovation and social networks. What a brilliant symbol that would be of twenty first century enlightenment.

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