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Jana Potgieter

Growth and Engagement Manager
Charities Aid Foundation

T: +44 (0) 3000 123 241
E: corporate@cafonline.org

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THE POWER OF THE COLLECTIVE

 

‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ ‘No man is an island.’  ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. It is widely acknowledged that there is great value in coming together to achieve more.

I was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1991. By the time I turned 4 years old, Nelson Mandela was president and the country looked very different than the one I was born in. I never really knew Apartheid South Africa. Some of my earliest memories are from the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the incredible feeling of unity we experienced in the country during that time. Growing up in a very quickly changing landscape, the idea of the ‘power of the collective’ is something I came to see the value in very early on.

In the process of healing there was great power in people coming together, sharing stories and experiences and starting to build solutions to the problems we were facing.  Even though I was small during that chapter of history, the idea of the power of the collective became a really big part of who I am. It became so deeply engrained in my DNA that somewhere along the way I stopped realising how important it is.

Changing the conversation

At the end of 2016 I swapped the sunny South African skies for the (almost never sunny) London cityscape. My journey and experiences here highlighted various cultural and lifestyle differences.

But it wasn’t until I joined CAF at the end of 2018 that a whole new world of differences opened up for me. My role at CAF is focused around helping our corporate clients engage their employees with giving and, ultimately, working to enhance the giving landscape in the UK. Now, for the first time, I was confronted by the cultural differences in giving between my homeland and the country I now call home.

Besides all the things I didn’t know, like the fact that there are more than 168 000 charities in the UK (!?), the main thing that I didn’t anticipate was the perceptions around giving. Giving is seen as something deeply personal in the UK and people seldom talk about how, to whom and why they give. In my experience, people can appear unengaged with giving on the surface but if you start to dig a bit deeper the picture changes entirely. This often happens when I meet companies to discuss their payroll giving scheme. Traditionally the scheme is seen as an employee benefit – a bit of admin the payroll team has to do at the end of each month. But as soon as we start to position and talk about the scheme as a part of a bigger employee engagement initiative the conversation changes.

Clients are often inspired by the idea that through the scheme, they are enabling employees to contribute to causes they feel passionate about, and sometimes have deeply personal connections to. I think the inspiration lies in the promise of the story and connection. I believe that we all have a deeply rooted need for stories. It’s the way we relate. We all care about something – it’s the invisible golden thread that ties us all together.

Creating spaces for collective action

In order to transform the giving landscape in the UK and change more lives around the world, we need to rediscover the power of the collective. Not just for its monetary value but in the potential of its discussions and ideas.

In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki explains why humans are so much more powerful together than they are alone — and how crucial it is to harness that power.

James uses the term “Collective Wisdom” to talk about what happens when we collaborate. The results are amazing and time and again far better than work done alone. The key is creating an environment where people can come together and talk about the things that are important to them and how they can contribute to causes that matter to them – whether it’s climate change or homelessness, or both. In the past couple of months we have advised several clients to reach out to employees to see who would be interested in sharing their giving stories in a shared space – personal stories about why and to whom they give, and what it means to them to work for an employer who enables them to support the causes they care about at work. Time and again the response has been incredible with so many employees stepping forward to share their stories. In some cases the response has been so overwhelming that clients have had to find different ways to tell these stories, from videos and blogs to short posts and quotes on the intranet.

We spend so much of our time at work that it makes sense for workplaces to create collaboration spaces for employees. These will take different shapes for different workplaces and different company cultures. It could be offering time off for employees to volunteer towards a shared cause; creating a platform where people can come together and debate issues that are important to them; or giving them agency to lead internal change projects on issues they care about. We need more platforms for people to share ideas and innovate, as it’s this kind of internally-led innovation that delivers a stronger company culture and a shared sense of purpose.

Going further, together

The landscape in the UK is changing at a rapid pace and in a way it makes me feel at home. There is a special power in people being challenged and coming together, sharing stories and experiences and building solutions. We need to start talking about and standing up for the things that are important to us. It all starts with a conversation.

I strongly believe that in order to solve the issues the world faces, we need to harness the potential of our collective thoughts, ideas and conversations. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. There is power in the collective and it is at our finger tips – in the places we work in and the people we work with. It’s up to us to unlock it.  

 

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