Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Steps Towards Resourcing Transition at the University of Cumbria

Five years into the financial crisis, and the impact is being felt in so many aspects of society, including in our very own sector, higher education. In that context, how can we work towards a transition to a fairer and more sustainable economy? This challenge of “resourcing transition” is a key focus for the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS). We are researching how professionals, including entrepreneurs and community leaders, can employ novel ways to resource their activities to enable the transition to sustainability, social justice and prosperity. We have found in last few years there has been an explosion in the use of alternative means of sharing, giving, swapping, exchanging and financing. In the past six month establishment phase of our Institute, we have therefore been developing our programme to provide useful knowledge, education and advice on this important field, both locally and globally.

In October 2012 we hosted the world famous expert in community credit and currency systems, Tom Greco, from the United States. He presented in Lancaster and Ambleside, to local and international students and stakeholders, in events run in collaboration with local organisations. He returns in July to participate in our one day training for local authorities and development organisations. That builds upon our booked-out training day in March, which was delivered in collaboration with the UN NGO Liaison Service (UN-NGLS), the New Economics Foundation (NEF), and the EU’s Community Currencies in Action Project (CCIA). That event also launched an “Expert Working Group” on community currency systems, with the aim of developing practical projects for professionalising the field worldwide. In February, IFLAS hosted the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) at our campus in the heart of the beautiful Lake District, and explained community currency systems to the participants, who work on economic justice issues across the UK. 

The New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) Retreat in our Lake District Campus
At the international level, our director, Professor Jem Bendell, helped draft a report of the World Economic Forum‘s Young Global Leaders on the “sharing economy” which will be launched at their East Asian Summit in June. “Asia presents a huge opportunity for the sharing economy, to help countries leap frog resource-intensive development models” suggests Bendell, who will be continuing this work at the Summer Davos in China this September. Professor Bendell also aided the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) to develop a session on community currencies, the first ever such event at the UN, in May

Professor Jem Bendell speaking at the UN in Geneva
The UN hosted the 2nd meeting of the expert working group that convened for the first time at the University of Cumbria. Bendell has also shared the hopeful message of breakthrough innovations for sustainable development in keynotes at Spain’s top business school ESADE, and at the ASEAN Sustainability Summit in Manila. Given the grip of the financial crisis in Spain, its national media reacted positively to the of breakthrough innovations, and covered the speech in depth. To better understand the differing philosophies and approaches of entrepreneurs in the sharing economy, Bendell is also keynoting at the Berlin conference of the P2P Foundation in May

Professor Jem Bendell keynoting at the ASEAN Sustainability Summit
One aim for IFLAS is to promote understanding of the importance of resourcing transition. That includes publishing research, and in April a joint chapter by Bendell and Greco was released by a leading business publisher, made available for free online. Our team have been active in the media. Professor Bendell’s article on this topic was one of the most popular on the Guardian’s sustainable business hub, and the Al Jazeera programme he appeared in was repeated in January due to popularity. Our associated scholar, Will Ruddick, is developing a community currency in Kenya. He also presented IFLAS’ approach on Al Jazeera, and debated this with UK’s development minister Alan Duncan. He also wrote the first article the UN has published on the role of community currencies for sustainable development. To follow up, Bendell is running a workshop in Oxfam for them to explore how they might utilise community currencies in the development programmes.  

How larger firms can relate positively to these developments is the focus of a research project currently underway by Professor Bendell, and which will be reported on in his forthcoming co-authored book Healing Capitalism. As part of this, Bendell has been discussing with community-focused banks, telecommunications firms, and software companies, about socially responsible business opportunities. As part of this work, IFLAS will run a session at the Next Bank conference in London this September. 

In order to develop this work programme so it meets the speed and scale of our times, through action research and relevant trainings, the Institute is seeking financial support. A major funding proposal has been submitted to the EU, with leading European business schools. However, the novelty of this field makes it suitable for venture philanthropists, who seek to support original and potentially breakthrough approaches.  The Institute welcomes inquiries on this theme, either from funders or from other organisations with complementary capabilities. 

Professor Bendell will continue the outreach in the North West of England through an open lecture on the money system, in collaboration with the local association Sustainable Carlisle, on June 7th at our Carlisle campus.  The next open course for developing community currencies is on July 12th in Lancaster, and the next Expert Working Group on July 11th (also in Lancaster). Bendell explains “our work on community currencies reflects the ethos of our new Institute. That is, to pursue an ambitious interdisciplinary agenda, that examines what may lead a transformation. It’s a bold agenda that we are also hoping to convey with our launch event at the RGS on May 28th called Adventures in Sustainability.” The theme of innovative sustainability leadership also underpins the Institute’s first international conference scheduled for November 21st and 22nd, in the UK’s Lake District (more details will be released in July). 

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To engage on these topics, please join the IFLAS Linked In group. For more information on any of these activities, please contact the Institute manager philippa.chapman@cumbria.ac.uk