Open letter to Lord Wei, Head of The Big Society

Dear Lord Wei

Thank you for your letter in which you address me as “Jill”, acknowledge my “sample” of bread and inform me you are too busy to meet with me.  I confess I am baffled by your response. 

Firstly, I am not called Jill.  I am called Jane as was clear in my letter to you.  If you did not spot this, a single click on the website www.virtuousbread.com, the card for which was enclosed with the bread, would have enlightened you.  Further, as your letter came to me scanned in an e mail addressed to [email protected] I am not certain how you or your assistants could have failed to spot that you had addressed me incorrectly.

Secondly, I did not sent you a “sample” of bread.  I sent you a gift of bread as a way of introducing myself, what I do, and to demonstrate, through example, the power of hand made bread as a builder of relationships, communities, and therefore, society.  Clearly my gift was wide of the mark, for which I apologise.  I do hope you ate it and did not waste it.  There are people in this country going hungry as many in our (small?) society are aware.

Thirdly, I did not ask for a meeting for the sake of my health nor in a fervent desire to discuss bread, particularly.  As a former partner in a strategy consulting firm, turned social entrepreneur whose medium happens to be bread, I have some unique insights about relationships, neighbourhoods, and communities that may be of use to you if your remit is to drive social change, embedding “21st Century Enlightenment”, to quote Matthew Taylor from the RSA.  If your remit is not to drive social change, I have clearly misunderstood and if that is the case, please enlighten me:  what exactly is it that you do?

If The Big Society is solely about creating Small Administration, I am afraid you are not doing very well.  See my first point above.  If you and your office cannot address me by my name when you were in possession of my name, your own administration is failing rather badly and is, hence, no role model for creating better administration of any kind, large or small.  If, however, the Big Society is about engaging people to engage each other in the development of the structures and processes by which they want to live their lives, it is a fight that needs to be fought at many levels – not just at the level of policy.  As I said in my letter, the creation of productive relationships is central to the development of neighbourhoods and communities.  Neighbourhoods and communities are things for which people will fight.  Without them there is no society at all.

As a gesture of my continuing good will and fervent desire to see you succeed, I point you an article written by a leading thinker in Germany: http://ralfschwartz.typepad.com/lm/2010/10/kraft-brand-engagement-with-a-cause.html

Whilst Mr. Schwartz comes at the social change point from an oblique angle, I am sure you will agree with the central message:  Governments fail because they fail to engage individuals.  If you, Lord Wei, wish your Big Society initiative take root, you may be wise to work with people who can operate at different levels and in different ways from your own.

With kind regards

Jane Mason
Founder, virtuousbread.com

8 Replies to “Open letter to Lord Wei, Head of The Big Society”

  1. Hi Jill
    I have been doing some work with Cormac Russell – he’s a champion of something called Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). I filmed an intererview with him the other day – see here http://www.vimeo.com/15218724. He is a clear thinker (and speaker) and seems to be making some headway with the real practicalities of how a big society can work.
    See you soon
    Peter

  2. Dear Paul, thanks for sending me your clip to review. We here at VB.com are very extremely busy and important but I am sure one of my minions can review your submission and get back to you in some inane and inaccurate fashion in the distant future.

  3. Dear Jane,

    Thank you for your open letter. My small office has been as you can imagine inundated recently with correspondance and I fear that in their busyness an error must have been made. 

    I do remember fondly your kind gift of bread and know how much food can bring people together and want to applaud you for what you do. Several things jump out at me from this episode which I think might be instructive for us all. First is that I was told that it would be unwise to eat the bread for safety reasons! Second that the conventional means of corresponding in today’s Internet age is not ideal and that government struggles to operate in an open way and can often become a bottleneck. And third communicating via the Internet can be a means to cut through and foster real time problem solving transparently. Big society, not Big government, as it were. 

    So I hope you will accept my apology. I take responsibility for the error since my team in government are really dedicated and just following the rules in place whilst trying to cope with a lot of interest under huge pressure. 

    May I suggest that a) I buy some of your bread for my family at a local outlet (are there any in Shoreditch?) and b) you tell me and the world more about VB.com on #natwei on twitter and c) let’s keep conversing online (you can also visit me at natwei.com). And one day hopefully soon let’s break bread together!

    With kind regards,

    Nat

  4. Dear Nat

    Now that is a lovely, gracious, and kind letter and I sincerely thank you for it. (I mean it!)

    Sadly I don’t sell bread in Shorditch (am in Hammersmith – so the other side of town!) and thank you for the kind thoughts and suggestions. I look forward to breaking bread soon and corresponding in the meantime.

    With kind regards, Jane

  5. Go Jane, Go Jane – well done and very well articulated. Good for you in responding in a constructive manner to the first oversights and mistakes. But also a lovely response…let’s hope this does indeed bode well.
    All the best,
    Carol :o)

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