However, unless we do something, the problems will remain. People really CAN change the world. Their creativity and energy can be channelled to benefit their communities and their cities. And we should try to find ways of encouraging this.
Robin Kevan, a 59-year old retired social worker was fed up with the rubbish on the streets. He started picking it up. Then he started cleaning up the hiking trails in the mountains nearby. Word spread. Now known as “Rob the Rubbish”, he was invited to clean up Ben Nevis, the UK’s biggest mountain and most recently Everest Base Camp. (see www.robtherubbish.com)
Ryan Hreljak was six years old when he heard that one billion people did not have access to clean water. So he started raising money to build a well in Africa. With his parents help, he set up the Ryan’s Well Foundation. He has now built over 300 wells, and made a difference to the lives of nearly half a million people. Ryan is an inspirational water activist encouraging other young people to get involved. (see www.ryanswell.ca)
Rob and Ryan are quite ordinary people; who have done extraordinary things. Each one of us has the same power to create a better world. To harness this energy to make the world a better place, I suggest that we need to do three things:
- get involved – start by doing small things in our daily lives so that we see that we can make a difference to the issues we really care about.
- get active – by giving our time, using our skills or raising money, either on our own or with friends or colleagues, either through an organisation or on our own initiative.
- get creative – have our own ideas, and a new-found confidence to turn those ideas into action.
Having fun is important
Whatever we do, we should be enjoying it. There’s no point trying to change the world if you are not having fun. For anyone concerned about the future of our cities, our strategy should be to encourage active communities – which means encouraging people to take that crucial first step, to pick up that one piece of litter, to get started on mobilising resources to build that first well. Once started, you never know where your journey might lead. Small actions will lead to bigger actions.
We need people with ideas and enthusiasm if even the simplest problems are to be addressed. I believe that planners and policy makers should be INVESTING in INDIVIDUALS and their IDEAS. I call this the three I’s of social change. In the UK, I was instrumental in establishing a foundation, that was endowed with £100 million of lottery money, which makes awards to individuals with ideas where there is some public benefit. We operate only in the UK, but we are keen to encourage others elsewhere to start something similar. In 2008, we will be launching something similar in India.
People come to us with their ideas; we assess the person rather than their idea; but the idea must be feasible. We then give them up to £5,000 towards their project costs, plus six days of support from our staff team. The support is often more important than the money, as is the networking of our award winners who find, perhaps for the first time, that there are other crazy people out there with their own crazy ideas!
I want to end with these two thoughts:
- active cities are better than passive cities, so do what you can to encourage people to get active.
- Margaret Mead the anthropologist said: “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”