All of us, or just some of us?
In the social sector we are about purpose. And our purpose is people and the communities in which we all live.
At stake is whether the future is hopeful for all of us, or just some of us.
After almost 30 years of continuous economic growth, Australia is a far wealthier, better educated, more confident and capable country than the place I knew as a child. But not for everyone.
Some groups of people and some communities have missed out. In fact, for some communities the forces that have created Australia’s great wealth – the opening of the economy, tech-driven disruption, urbanisation, the freeing of markets – have been utterly destructive at the local level. The collapse of traditional manufacturing in the southern states has laid waste to once quietly prosperous suburbs. Changes in mining and agriculture, the rise of knowledge work and the flight to the cities have sucked the life out of towns in regional and rural Queensland.
For other communities – and I can think of plenty of examples, both urban and remote – they never had the chance to plug into the great uplift in the first place.
By and large, the communities that were struggling at the beginning of Australia’s golden economic run are still struggling. Indeed, some have been added to the list. The rising tide of wealth has not lifted all boats. In these places prosperity has not trickled-down.
In the social sector, our work dealing with the fall-out has seen us more and more consumed with the casualties of this persistent social exclusion. We now spend more on social services than at any other time in our history. Ironic isn’t it. We are wealthier than ever, we spend more on social welfare than ever and yet things aren’t getting better for our most vulnerable citizens.
Which brings us back to the importance of place.
Social disadvantage is highly geographically concentrated. That is, poor people live in certain places. If the economic miracle was going to transform these communities – home to so many of my friends, colleagues and fellow citizens – it would have done so by now.
It hasn’t, so we need to go to Plan B. Plan B involves an explicit strategy for how we help these places thrive.
In Logan we are lucky. It’s a wonderful, energetic city with a huge future. But not everyone and not every neighbourhood in the city is doing well – yet.
When we asked the Plan B question, “How do we make every part of this city thrive?”, we’ve found, together, we have a pretty good answer.
Plan B for Logan is about growing the next generation of kids up well. It is about planning, at the place level, for every kid to get the support they need at each age and stage of childhood. It is about health, education, social services, the community and business working together on a long-term plan for our children and our city to do well. The jobs are there – we just need more Logan kids to be happy, healthy and skilled enough to take the jobs.
This plan can only have come together at the place level. Place brings an ability to set common goals and to get organised across sectors and disciplines to implement a long term plan. Place gives us the chance to understand how the big forces play out in our community and to launch strategies to respond. Most importantly place brings a focus on people. The people who live here. The people whose futures matter.
It’s time to put place in the centre of economic and social development thinking. It is the platform upon which inclusive growth strategies can be built. It is the way to make better sense and better use of our social purpose investment.
Like most important things, place strategies require some investment and need to be delivered by people with specialist skills following some best practice methodologies. So yes, there is some cost. But the costs of inaction, of the infinity loop of intergenerational disadvantage, are simply staggering. We can’t afford not to invest in place.
Matthew Cox is the Director of Logan Together, a community campaign to grow kids up well in Logan.
About Logan Together:
Logan Together is a 10-year community movement to grow our kids up well. It’s a collaboration between the community, service providers, community organisations, government partners and the business community to ensure our kids grow up as healthy and as full of potential as any other group of Australian kids. There are things to do at each age and stage of childhood that will make a difference.