Facing the Big Questions

The current global economy is dependent on infinite growth but based on finite resources that are fast running out. There is increasing polarisation between rich and poor across the fast swelling world population. Climate change over the next century will restrict the areas of the planet’s surface on which life will be sustainable. The outlook for the direction we are heading is bleak.

It is hard not to feel small, powerless and a bit depressed in the face of these things. I was sitting in the auditorium at Scotland’s Civil Society Summit last Friday being faced by these big questions and plunging into round table conversations with others who were there ‘with concern but with no formal authority.’ (A definition of ‘civil society’)

Here are a few highlights of the thoughts that emerged.

· People working together within civil society – NGO’s, trade unions, faith and community based organisations – can change the world. The end of apartheid is an example to draw inspiration from. Global communications systems increase the potential. But we need more great leaders, like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, for our day and our global issues.

· Small changes can make a big difference. Fairtrade is an example from which to draw inspiration. Again, global communications offer the platform for exchanging ideas and building support. Part of the challenge to those of us involved in small change is to have the vision and alliances to scale it up. Imagine Cyrenians CORE worked with the Transition Towns movement to establish large community owned anaerobic digestion plants?

· While the magnitude of the Big Questions induces feelings of powerlessness, getting active and involved on a community level is in itself empowering. I have been so encouraged and inspired by level of interest and energy people have shown for the new Community Gardens – converting 15 acres of derelict land into a great place for communities to grow together

· Civil Society does not possess an innate moral supremacy over state or businesses. Leaders in those sectors tend to be trapped within a paradigm. Apparently at Davos a Coca Cola big-wig said: ‘I know we need to change but I don’t know how.’ In Cyrenians experience, businesses are our allies making better communities, and this comes from respecting that they need to do business.

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