The real social action heroes

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:

  • WEvolution, led by the inspiring Noel Matthias and Eleanor Campbell, which promotes self-reliant groups. These small, self-starting, groups bring together 6–10 women weekly to save money (think £1 a week) communally and use it to start small enterprises (crafting, cooking, cleaning etc,). In doing so, women find connection and support, and create a route to earn money. The model is amazing (my love affair with it started in 2016) and has been life-enhancing for the 8 million women around the world who have joined in.
  • Shared Lives Plus, which supports adults with additional needs like learning difficulties or dementia to live with a family rather than in residential care. This model saves the state millions each year, but more importantly those who go to live with one of the 12,000 families report much better outcomes – like feeling secure and making friends. Back in 2013 Shared Lives Plus was the first grant I awarded at Nesta to promote social action. Alex Fox’s vision for a new model of care built around families is as inspiring today as it was then.
  • GoodSAM, an app that alerts nearby volunteer first aid responders to emergencies alongside an ambulance crew. Volunteers can start CPR whilst waiting for the ambulance to cut through the traffic, as well as relay video feeds on scene back to the 999 dispatch control room. 1.3 million now give their time as volunteers on the platform, meaning lives saved every week, and we supported the Government to use it to mobilise the first 750,000 COVID-19 volunteers.
  • The Covid Tech Handbook, Connection Coalition, Fareshare, The Cares Family and so many others who responded so quickly during the first wave of COVID-19 to support communities directly, and make sure the best ideas spread fast.

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.


Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Chief Partnership Officer

Vicki was Chief Partnership Officer

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