Creative solutions to social problems
22 November 2010
Last night, a friend of a friend said to me: ‘I could never work for a charity—I’m far too creative.’
Where did he get this absurd idea that creativity and charity are opposed? It’s ludicrous to think that those of us who do non-profit work are somehow limiting ourselves intellectually and creatively for the greater good. On the contrary, it is our creativity that allows us to help people all the more.
Take Magic Me, for example, a small charity in east London that uses art to bring together children and older people from all walks of life. With projects including photography, creative writing and drama, Magic Me is breaking down prejudice, building self-esteem, and tackling isolation and loneliness. As one young participant says, ‘Magic Me is the best thing going on, because it is actually changing people’s lives.’
Another brilliant east London charity is Quaker Social Action, which tackles poverty and isolation. QSA’s flexible and creative approach allows it to tackle the most urgent issues local people face, including financial exclusion, unemployment and fear of crime. QSA is a leader in financial education for families. Its successful Made of Money project doesn’t just teach about bank accounts and interest rates; it helps families to communicate better about money, think about their experiences and aspirations, and even compare ‘no-frills’ products with more expensive brand names in blind-tasting sessions. Taking creativity a step further, at Made of Money’s recent fifth birthday party, QSA unveiled an exhibition of photos from a project that gave fathers and their children ‘a chance to look together at money and value through a lens’.
Charities like QSA and Magic Me are successful because of their creativity. It’s true that many people working in the charity sector make sacrifices—time and money being the most obvious. But we don’t sacrifice our talents, skills or brains. We don’t all dress in beige, doling out soup and debt advice. Far from it. Charities are full of resourceful, entrepreneurial, creative people who thrive in this sector. I think my unfortunate friend’s friend is the one missing out.