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What do we mean when we talk about generosity by design?

We set up our social enterprise in 2010, to work with people to develop creative, collaborative solutions to complex social problems.

And we’ve worked on a wide range of social issues in those 12 years, from social care, to affordable housing, empty homes and waste reduction.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved, and we’re ambitious to do so much more.


 

This is why we’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to tell a better story of what we do, why we do it, and the principles that sit behind our approach.


It’s challenging to put into words what your values or principles are — whether you’re doing that as an individual or as an organisation.

And I think that how we choose to explain what our social enterprise’s guiding principles are will change over time, as we get used to talking about them more.

But we’ve had a good go at it and you can read them here.

We believe in people power We are entrepreneurial We are generous We think big

I’ll write more about each of these principles over the coming weeks, but I wanted to focus first of all on generosity.


 

Our aim is to build generosity into all of the work that we do — in two ways.

The first is probably the one that is easier to understand — particularly when you look at our Leeds School Uniform Exchange project.




Our starting point for that project is that people are generous. Our assumption is that people want to help eachother, that they are happy to share what they’ve got.

US footballer and social activist Megan Rapinoe expressed this really well in an awards acceptance speech in 2019:

“[My mum] taught us that in kindness and in caring and in giving a sh!t and sharing, that’s abundance. That’s the kinda culture that we want to live in. I feel like we live in this sort of scarcity type culture. One of my best friends always says that and that’s not the world I wanna live in. I think we can move on from losing alone to the belief in winning together and with that abundance in mind, I wanna re-imagine what it means to be successful, what it means to have influence, what it means to have power and what that all looks like.”

This is the kind of world we want to live in too — and we aim to design projects that help us to create that kind of world.

A culture of abundance, not scarcity.

So that’s how we end up designing projects like Leeds School Uniform Exchange — which aims to share abundant resources (school uniform that’s still in good condition) and share them — instead of throwing them away. Making it easy — and the norm — to share second hand school uniform. In this way we’re helping to achieve the aim of Zero Waste Leeds — to waste less stuff — whilst also saving people hundreds of £££ — and doing that in a way that builds a stronger sense of community — a community where there is abundance, and less scarcity.


 

We look at the concept of generosity from another angle too — in relation to the natural world.

We recently worked with the RSA on Leeds Fashion Futures — as part of their Regenerative Futures programme, which aims to:

…create a future where people and planet flourish hand-in-hand, for the long term.

Regenerative can be quite a hard concept to get your head around, but the concept of a regenerative economy is one that is very similar to the circular economy — which I explored more here.



It’s perhaps best understood by thinking about the opposite to regenerative — degenerative. And it’s pretty easy to understand how our established way of doing things —our take, make, use, dispose linear economy — is degenerating the natural world.

So, in the words of Janine Benyus, (quoted here in Doughnut Economics) —

How can we create “generous cities” — human settlements that nestle within the living world?



This panel discussion, featuring Kate Raworth & Janine Benyus, is well worth a watch

Through our work, we aim to take a place-based approach to exploring these ideas — developing circular, generous, regenerative (choose whatever word you like best) projects that make a positive difference both to the places we live in and the people who live there.

Being generous by design also challenges us to go beyond doing no harm — the kind of approach we often see when we set goals such as being “net-zero”.

Why would you design a process or a project to be “net-zero” — in other words, neutral? Not making things worse, but not making things better either. In net terms, neither one thing nor the other.

Much better that we aim to build projects and systems that are generous by design — that are built to regenerate — to make the world around us better than it is today.


 

So this is why we have chosen generosity as one of our guiding principles.


You can read more about our consultancy service, Generous By Design, here, and there is more information on our four stage design approach here. If you would like us to work with you to explore how we could work together to develop a project that is generous by design, please get in touch.

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