Changing the World, one Neighborhood at a Time
This is Nushreen Coutts’ answer to a final exam question in a course Gavin Andersson and I teach at the Graduate School of Business at University of Cape Town. First comes our question, and then her answer. HR
The seventh topic concerns specifically what you as an individual or as a member of a group or movement you choose to adhere to can and should do. We will suggest a general scheme for contributing to growth points where modern culture is already transforming itself to make a better adjustment to reality.
There are ways to jump on bandwagons that are already going somewhere. In religious terms: Do not ask what to do with your life. Ask what God is doing and join it. A first step is to ask where there might be an overlap between what needs to be done and what you can do. For what message are you the right messenger? For what followers, could you be a leader? A second step is to look for messages, or ways to frame messages, that people will understand. There is no point in talking to ourselves. If people cannot understand a message they cannot possibly act on it. A third step is to select from the many things that people understand the themes that have legs. What is there energy for? What initiatives are attracting resources? There is no point in me constantly pushing my own pet idea if I am not getting any uptake showing that I have found a growth point that moves the energies of others. The fourth and most important point is whether what you can do is really making a difference to solve the problem. We are not necessarily contributing to getting the human species off the endangered species list just because we find a way to run a profitable business, or get a large government grant, or win an award for being an outstanding citizen, or get rave reviews from people who say coming to our workshop changed their lives. All of the above may be indicators that we are meeting a need and performing a useful social function. But the physical bottom line questions are: Are we really meeting needs? Are we really helping our culture to function sustainably and joyfully in its physical environment? Are we moving toward a fully nurturant society where we align across sectors for the common good?
As an individual, I am a member of a group of neighbors which have formed a street association. I offer leadership, administrative support, and out of the box thinking and suggestions to find solutions to the problems not only faced by the neighbors, but also the problems of the surrounding neighborhood.
We supply employment to two asylum seekers and their extended families. We have “adopted” these families and rally support amongst the neighbors to cover these families’ needs. The two men who we employ maintain the cleanliness of our street and also fulfill a security function. Their wives do housework for different homes in the street. They bring their babies with them to work and one of the residents was honored with being asked to be the Godmother of the one baby, who was also christened with the resident’s first name. We have sponsored one of the men through driving school, and have taught both men to read and write English. (Their native language is French).
Additionally, we have adopted the park at the end of our street, and look after the maintenance and upkeep of the park, the kiddies play-ground, the massive old trees, the benches and tables and also the ablution facilities. Recently we have started vegetable gardens in the parks in our suburb and offer free produce for anyone in the neighborhood, including the people who live on the street, to pick whatever produce they personally need. It is not monitored in anyway, and we have not encountered any destruction or abuse of the facilities.
Additionally, in our street, is the Head-Office of an NGO, catering to the needs of homeless people. The residents in the suburb purchase books of coupons from various retailers in our suburb. When a beggar knocks at your door, you can issue the beggar with a voucher/s which entitles the beggar to a hot meal, or a paid for night at the shelter, or it can be exchanged for clothes, shoes, etc. This encourages conversation between the resident and the beggar, and restores some of the beggar’s dignity. It’s through the conversation that the resident determines which of the vouchers the beggar needs.
All residents in the street are in a Whatsapp group, which is used for security purposes, to inform your neighbors of any surplus products which you might have and are willing to part with, either for free or for a nominal fee dependent upon the product. This group chat allows us to assist each other in any way we can. To look out for each other’s pets, cars, homes, etc. and to celebrate or congratulate each other on any achievements or milestones.
The project has been so successful that property prices have increased in the street, and properties are now sought after by new home owners. Additionally, compared to the rest of the suburb, we boast the most secure street in the neighborhood.
Although our street is fairly short, we have eight of our residents who are neighborhood security observers. We patrol the suburb in pairs at night, on a voluntary basis and at our own expense for transportation and phone calls.
Our neighborhood hosts its own carnival each year. This carnival has grown in size and status over the past few years and has become the event not to be missed, on the annual calendar.
We hold memorial services in our parks, for neighbors who have passed on. We honor their memory by either planting a tree in their honor, or purchasing a bench with a name plaque in commemoration of the deceased neighbor. We host “Carols in the Park” during Christmas season, and share food treats with our Muslim neighbors on Eid. In essence, we have started developing inter-faith rituals of neighborliness and are transforming to make a better adjustment to our current reality.
There are three extended projects which I’d like to launch as an addition to our current neighborhood projects. They are:
- Developing old age parks within our current parks, to give the elderly in our neighborhood a safe, social, and physical space to allow them to exercise and maintain the health of their bodies.
- Our neighborhood has many restaurants and shops, which are all supported by the inhabitants. I’d like to establish a “Pend-It” program where those who can afford, can pay for either an extra meal, or an extra cup of coffee, or an extra garment, for someone else who is needy and cannot afford it.
- We are a neighborhood of many families with many pets, interspersed by many elderly folk, most of whom had grown up in the village. As these pets are generally left alone when their families go to work and school, and the elderly are sitting in their homes, lonely, I’d like to establish a buddy system, where the elderly can “foster” a pet for companionship during the day, and the owner-family collects the pet on their way home in the evening.
I believe that all our current projects in the village are growth points which are changing the way the people of the village interact with each other. The extended projects have not been implemented yet, but are on my agenda to tackle as soon as my studies are completed.
The projects which we have implemented in our village has contributed towards solving our security problem. Security issues were high as we have two railway stations running through the village. So, people were robbed or attacked and the perpetrators normally got away via the trains or the railway subways.
The increased neighborliness, care, empathy, sharing and cleanliness of the neighborhood were the unintended consequences of trying to cope with the security problem. We are helping our culture to function sustainably and joyfully in our physical environment, and I’m very honored to be serving an active part in this change.
A General Solution to Economic Problems