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BD Giving Notes – #3 The global and the local

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As I head back to work following a much anticipated break, I’m feeling grateful for the chance to properly switch off from the daily challenges of running BD Giving, knowing that the organisation was in good hands with my fantastic colleagues. I’m perhaps even more grateful as it had been a while since I was able to travel abroad for a holiday. The pandemic played a big part in that, of course, but being a Belgian immigrant in the UK, I tend to spend much of my breaks in my home country.

So being able to spend ten days in the outskirts of Naples felt very special indeed. Not least because one of the reasons for this trip was to meet up with the good people of the COBRA Collective for a retreat. The Collective is a social enterprise and network that I co-founded back in 2016, and of which I am still a non-executive member. It champions disadvantaged communities by deploying participatory methods to deliver action through science, technology and art. It has delivered projects with communities all over the world, from South America to Asia, Africa and Europe.

The Collective are a fantastic group of individuals, and we share many memories together from projects that we delivered before I began my work in Barking and Dagenham. The purpose of this retreat wasn’t just beaches, sunsets and limoncello (though it was certainly a part of it!). We took the opportunity of being together to discuss and explore some of the participatory techniques in the Collective’s toolbox, from participatory video and photography, to drama, and other collaborative art forms. I also shared insights from BD Giving’s participatory grantmaking work in Barking and Dagenham, and how our approach might be deployed to communities in other countries.

Having worked in London for the past five years, looking at challenges such as inner-city deprivation, regeneration, and socio-economic inclusion in a global city, the difference in context with some of the small, Indigenous and/or rural communities the COBRA Collective works with can feel too much of a gap. Yet, hearing stories of community work across contexts and geographies, and focusing on nature conservation, health, natural resource management, social welfare, education or, indeed, any social issue, they are all share similar traits too.

Whether we live in the mountains of Bolivia, the steppes of Mongolia or in inner city London we ultimately all have a similar desire to feel a sense of control over the direction of our own life. For me, being exposed to these different contexts and ideas is fascinating in its own right and a source of inspiration for our work in Barking and Dagenham.

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