I can't quite believe I have been awarded an MBE for services to social action in the Queen's New Year's honours 2021.
It's been a privilege to lead our work here at Nesta on people-powered public services and social action with the fantastic Carrie Deacon (also honoured). To see acts of kindness multiplied, and communities collaborating with open public services, remains a personal passion spanning my whole career.
I thought carefully before accepting the MBE. Firstly, I feel very undeserving – an imposter really. Whatever small, small part I've been able to play in growing social action and normalising acts of neighbourliness over the last seven years, it has been nothing compared to the efforts of the 100,000 new volunteers, nor the colleagues scrapping to build social enterprises, bring reconciliation in communities, or fighting to change paternalistic models of public services from within. They deserve the credit, not me.
Secondly, the word ‘empire’ in the award title makes me uncomfortable. Whilst the award really has nothing to do with empire anymore, its historical attachment to empire – and so to slavery and brutality – shouldn’t be overlooked. Empire has often oppressed, yet people power affirms.
I shared all this with a trusted friend who encouraged me to be honest about my reservations, but accept on behalf of all of those whose contributions to social action and people power are spreading kindness and neighbourliness, as well as empowering those voices the system can overlook. After all, a silent decline would have missed the opportunity to celebrate the stories of the brilliant innovations I have had the privilege to work with.
So this MBE is accepted in honour of pioneers like:
These stories and many others are captured in our publications that look back at the impact on the ‘650,000 beneficiaries’ of expanding these social action initiatives to date and look ahead to the opportunities a people-powered shift (where public services are organised around compassion and connection) could bring.
So whilst I sit in a fog of disbelief at being awarded an MBE today, I humbly offer this blog as a very small step in a long journey of using these newfound letters attached to my name to shine the spotlight on the real social action heroes. You can expect me to keep banging the drum for them, and about why kindness should be at the heart of our communities and public services, for many years to come.