We created and launched a digital platform that is all about neighbours connecting face-to-face in groups, so that we can build and measure social capital over time and prepare our communities for shocks and stresses.
Then COVID-19 arrived.
Growing up in South Korea in the 80s, the possibility of the Korean War ceasefire being withdrawn at any point was quite real. The occasional, but abrupt, radio warnings got people to stockpile ramen and the basics, war drills at my primary school was a regular exercise. ‘’We hid out in the bush, but your youngest aunt, just an infant, would wail so loudly – we had to cover her mouth’’ my aunt would say, about their experience during the Korean War. My extended families survived the war because the strangers they came across were kind enough to shelter them and feed them, as they walked south away from their homes and the attack. Would they have stockpiled then, if they could? Maybe. But probably not as much. Today’s systems enable us to behave more individualistically, because there is less need for collaboration. If you have money, you can buy things and services. And buying is easier than building relationships, or building ‘generalised reciprocity’ as Putnam puts it: ‘’I’ll do this for you without expecting anything back from you in the confident expectation that someone else will do something for me down the road’’. (p21, Bowling Alone)
Our society has created a system where we expect empathy and compassion to just be there, without investing in developing and nurturing it.
I'm frustrated, but I am still placing my bets on empathy because of the people who have reached out to me to discuss how they can contribute. When all of this is over, I hope that more people will pay more attention to loneliness and isolation -- physical, cultural, chronic. Connect with their neighbours long-term, triggered by doing it once during the outbreak.
I’ve thought about where I can make a difference and this is what I am up to.
1. I am co-ordinating postcard drop-offs with my neighbours so that we can reach out to those who are not digitally connected. (Using 100+ leftover Hey Neighbour postcards by Small Shift, but simple paper notes would do the job perfectly)
2. We are changing our idea cards on Paper Plain so that the communities can create virtual community activities – story time for kids, share a gardening tip, host a jam session…Ideas are boundless.
3. We are offering pro-bono services and the use of the Paper Plain platform during the outbreak to place-based community development charities, NFPs and social enterprises, especially those working with communities with multiple disadvantages. As an early stage start-up our resources are limited but we will do what we can to build community cohesion and alleviate inequality.
With innovative business models, social enterprises and for-purpose businesses deliver social impact simply through procurement. So potential investors, clients and partners – get in touch to talk to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) about Paper Plain, or social enterprises and for-purpose companies that are kicking goals in building social capital.