Esther Ridsdale Interview

Here is the text of a recent interview of Esther Ridsdale the convenor of the upcoming conference “How can we adjust organisational practice to increase collective impact and better serve common interests, wealth and well-being”

Interview by Yva Alexandrova

On 8 May the seminar series on The Emergence of a Commons-based Economy by James Quilligan, launched in the House of Commons. Convened by Michael Meacher, MP, the seminar gathered over 60 participants and generated inspiring discussion. Building up on the momentum, I spoke with Esther Ridsdale of the Civil Society Forum, who was working to put together the the eagerly anticipated seminar on ‘How can we adjust organisational practice to increase collective impact and better serve common interests, wealth and well-being?’ – the first in a series on this theme convened by the Civil Society Forum. I spoke to her about her inspirations, motivation and the way forward for a commons-based approach in civil society.

What is your inspiration in working with civil society and popularising the ideas of the commons?

15 years ago my remit was to lead the work in car parts suppliers to improve effectiveness from the perspectives of customers, suppliers, staff, society and the environment. Continuous improvement for effectiveness from all perspectives has been my passion ever since. The crisis we are in with the economy and the environment now is largely due to the fact that we have evolved ways of working where we try to be effective and use resources efficiently only from one perspective. We do this in a way that ends up being detrimental to the broader value that the business can add. One way we define civil society is the pursuit of collective interests and this requires a multi sector approach; every organisation in every sector has an impact and can make an invaluable contribution.

What will the seminar deal with in more detail?

The seminar is built around a set of short insight pieces on a range of topics related to the theme question. On the 15th the first two of the insight talks will be by James Quilligan, who will put forward underlying principles and approaches that need to be pursued to provide safeguards for our commons assets while releasing the latent creative potential in human beings. He will consider how this can be done both at a local and global level.

This will be followed by five more short interventions by a range of speakers with expertise in addressing the challenge in different contexts. Open dialogue will follow, allowing participants to organise into groups to explore aspects of the theme most interesting for them.

Update: Because of the popularity of this format, the relevance of the topic to everyone working anywhere and the importance of the topic we have agree to continue the theme; running more events of the same or similar format and more on the theme starting with an event on the 12th July.

Who are you aiming to reach with the present seminar?

The seminars are open for participation to anyone who is interested. They are directed at people from all sectors concerned with contributing to society through the organisations they work in and with. Particularly people with influence over how organisational responses are structured and ways of organising e.g. senior and middle managers, people in public sector and other infrastructure and support organisations, consultancies, think tanks, etc. The seminar – and Civil Society Forum as a whole – is an open forum about strategic thinking, learning and individual and collaborative action.

It provides an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with people in related parts of the organisational ‘system’ in a safe and neutral space.

The focus of this particular seminar is how to adjust organisational practice to increase collective impact to protect common interest, wealth and wellbeing.

What do you think are some ways of increasing overall collective impact?

The Civil Society Forum is a space where we aim to enable people to become more resourceful in tackling the challenges and engaging with the big issues around building civil society. Learning together and sharing of learning are key principles in our work. Through carrying out workshops and know-how on how to set up, for example, a meeting that enables people to go away feeling they are more resourceful in addressing issues of concern to them. Also seeing events in the broader context of working together and developing ways to engage individuals and organisations and create continuity.

As part of the seminar we are working on developing an action learning set, drawing on principles of the commons, as well as collaborative planning and improvement on the subject of stimulating and supporting different groups of people and increase their collective impact.

With the aim of maximising the effect of each seminar, we ask partners to reflect on the impact of the particular seminar for the individual, the convening organsation and the larger system as a whole. What are your thoughts on this?

Similar to life coaching, the aim of the seminar is that participants come away feeling both inspired and more resourceful, but also with clear next steps to make progress in areas close to their heart. Some of those next steps will be in partnership with others at the event; buddying up to achieve a greater impact.

Can you give an inspiring example and elaborate on a common in the civil society area which you feel has greater importance for the future?

I think social enterprises and similar forms of organisations present a real alternative business model for the future. They aim at both being efficient as a business enterprise while at the same time recognising their role and responsibility to the society they operate in. The number and variety of these entities is continuously growing.

The seminar on the 15th May was jointly convened by the Civil Society Forum, The Gaia Network, Working in Trust and the School of Commoning. The Civil Society Forum aims to promote collaborative approaches for the benefit of all and is pleased to work collaboratively with other organisations in service of civil society.

More practical information on events can be found on the events page.


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