For a long time now social and economic investment has been viewed and undertaken quite separately. And yes, I completely understand the argument for separating investment in people from investment in business – different focus, different activity, different outcomes. I believe, however, that it is time to look again at the two and to begin to treat them more as a partnership.
This is particularly important for our district where many of our communities struggle on both levels. We need to recognise that these two investment strands are strongly interlinked. My argument is that one does not flourish without the other. There are numerous examples of social deprivation impacting on economic opportunities. You just have to look at the fruit picking industry and the fact that people are brought in from overseas to work, although there are plenty here in need of a job.
There should be no mistake that there is a LOT of social investment coming into the Far North from government and other agencies. It is arguable how much of it is actually making a difference to the challenges that many residents face. I have for some time pondered on what can motivate the more challenged ‘clients’ to participate in the opportunities that are available. One reason for this disengagement I would argue is a lack of aspiration or, dare I say, a lack of hope: what reason is there for getting out of bed in the morning? And, if we are honest, there is a deep-down belief that many carry, that they are not worthy or valuable.
So my question is, what if government-supported, economic-investment in the Far North had to meet much wider social-impact criteria and not just commercial outcomes (noting that more jobs is always a good thing).
So, how might this work? Here’s one idea: in communities where there is heavy social investment*, we should also look at developing inspirational economic opportunities that in turn, provide a catalyst for change. We could develop facilities that are beautiful structures in their own right, that celebrate the people and the place they exist in. These will be training grounds, hosting entrepreneurial activities that provide a unique and valued addition to the economy. They could be set-up as social enterprises with a commercial focus, so that profits go back into the communities that support them. Imagine having a commercial activity that the locals feel connected to, are proud of and benefit from.
If we are to make real change for a better tomorrow here in the Far North, we need to move past the reasons of why it’s too hard and instead adopt a ‘yes we can’ default attitude. We need to empower the people. And we certainly need to see that all things are interconnected.
The possibilities of our potential are boundless – we just need to believe.
* It should be noted, that government-supported, social investment should also look to be balanced with economic investment.