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Perhaps Salad and the Women of Nepal

I recently heard about Detroit Soup, a community micro-finance scheme, on BBC Radio 4. And I intend to try it out in my town; Southend. Perhaps not soup to start with. Perhaps salad.

Detroit’s advice is to “Do the first one as an experiment. Grow slowly. Fail. Rethink possibilities. Think of this as a sincere way of getting folks together in a room.”

I reckon something like this…

Southend Soup: Micro-finance and Community Conversations

What it does:

  • Brings people together.
  • Provides small amounts of money to help people with their Good Ideas.

How it works:

  • People pay a minimum of £3 (they can choose to donate more) to buy soup, a roll, a drink, and a vote.
  • People mingle and get to know one another – by sharing food and stories.
  • People with Good Ideas get up to 10 minutes to talk about what they want to do, and how they’ll use the money.
  • Everyone in the room votes for the idea they want to see happen.
  • If people feel passionately about the idea, they can also offer to help to make it happen.
  • The idea with the most votes wins the money in the kitty.

Good ideas:

  • People will be asked to submit their idea before the event. They can do this by filling in a short form (eg contact details, a summary, why it’s important and how they will use the money.) If people prefer not to write, they can submit a video of themselves answering the questions.
  • Good Ideas will be posted on line before the event. (NB this might not happen for the first few events, which are an experiment to test the idea of Southend Soup!)
  • People who receive funding will be invited to tell people how they used it and how they got on with their idea.

The rules for Southend Soup (or Perhaps Salad):

  • People can come up with any idea they wish. This could be an artistic venture, a business idea or anything that helps the community. As long as the idea doesn’t cause harm to anyone (directly or indirectly), it can be considered. It can be of individual, group and/or community benefit.
  • There are no rules about selecting winners. No panels and no selection criteria. The people that attend vote with hearts and/or heads (or kidneys or spleens, whatever works). People choose whatever idea they like the best.
  • There are no rules about how the money should be spent. We trust people to use the funding as they’ve said they will during the event, but if they use it another way, that’s up to them (after all, ideas can change and evolve!) No one will be held to account. But we would like to know how people get on.

What we need to make it happen:

  • A community space that’s free of charge (or very cheap!)
  • Donations (ideally) of soup or ingredients (eg from local allottmenteers..?) and bread.
  • A place that can serve soup etc, or where we can cook it.
  • A place where anyone can feel comfortable. (eg not a place that serves alcohol as this excludes some people.)

Why the funding can be for individuals for personal projects (and not only for community-related ideas)

Because flourishing and happy individuals are vital ingredients of a flourishing community.

It’s as beneficial to society to help someone that has a brilliant business idea as it is to help someone that has a great not-for-profit idea that supports the community. Likewise people that have exciting arts-related ideas are also welcome to tell us about their dream.

A story to illustrate the point:

In rural Nepal, groups of women were given very small amounts of money to enable them to set up small businesses (for example selling oranges, or making and selling jewellery). They added to the initial funding by all contributing to the village’ bank’ – in some cases, this contribution was handfuls of rice, rather than cash.

By supporting one another to be ‘business owners’ they grew hugely in confidence and self-esteem (as demonstrated when they boldly shared their story in front of 500 people), became more independent, were able to provide greater opportunities for their children (for example enabling them to access education) and were keen to share their knowledge and experiences with other women. Between them, the women went on to set up hundreds of similar schemes:

“25% of the existing WORTH groups, with neither external assistance nor prompting from WORTH, have helped start an estimated 425 new groups involving another 11,000 women”

With a great idea, and people that believe in you, you will achieve amazing things.


Got any salad to share..?


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