Social Businesses and ‘The Great Turning’

You’ve heard it as often as me, I’m sure. That moment when someone stands up for something and the next person says, “yes but…”

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It is a corrosive phrase, a statement that encourages doubt and feeds stagnation. Even though I know this, if I’m honest I’ve used that phrase myself, sometimes even to myself, but that doesn’t excuse it. In the environmental debate, “yes but,” rears its head frequently and I feel we need to ask ourselves why? To borrow from the theatrical world of improvisation, what if conversations were based on, “yes and… 

The environmental debate is complex and multi-faceted, offering a rich seed bed for the, “yes but,” brigade. Interestingly however, it is that very dismissive statement that often gives rise to the determination of a social entrepreneur to just ‘get on and do it.’  

Whilst large debates rage about the underlying causes and people argue over the most effective ways to solve such problems, social enterprises just get on with it. The evidence of this ‘get on and do it’ attitude is most likely on your doorstep, but you probably don’t realise it because the priority for social enterprises isn’t on publicity, but on just getting on and doing it! 

Gower Regeneration Ltd

Across Wales, social businesses have been pushing forward the green agenda for decades whilst the rest of us talked a lot but have done very little. Social businesses offer much more than inspiration or a feel good vibe; they show what can be done by holding onto a belief and just getting on and doing it. How many times have you talked yourself out of picking up a piece of litter? How many times have you thought about making a greener choice but allowed that little voice inside to go, “yes, but… 

Perhaps now is the time for us all to start saying, “yes and!” Perhaps now is the time for us to pay attention to the initiatives and projects happening on our doorstep and begin championing those who have been doing it for years and those who are just starting out and taking their first tentative steps.  

COP26 feels like a threshold, at least I hope it is. Of course, there are those who doubt and question, and I wonder how quickly the media interest will fade when in 2 weeks time there is another drama or tragedy to swallow up the viewing figures. But make no mistake, even when the mainstream media has moved onto the next new item, social businesses will still be there, getting on and doing it, waiting for the rest of us to catch up. 

When you look and see what is happening around us, I cannot help but see the hallmarks of a concept put forward by philosopher, environmental activist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy. Joanna Macy describes a concept called ‘The Great Unravelling,’ a time where our manmade systems breakdown which in turn makes way for a new way of living; ‘The Great Turning,’ bringing us back into harmony with the world around us.  

Outside my work as an advisor with Social Business Wales, I work with stories and storytelling. Stories are powerful because they can give space for the voice that says, ‘yes and.’ Stories are the fuel that drive ordinary people into exceptional action and right now that seems like exactly what we need. In these troubling times, if you hunger to believe that positive change is possible, take a look at the stories of social enterprises all around you. The social and environmental are intertwined, each dependent upon the other. And if you hear a voice saying, “yes but…,” then I encourage you to listen to the story of the Shambhala Warriors, told by Joanna Macy. As we say in the storytelling world – ‘we are the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves.’ 

Carl Gough is a Business Advisor for Social Business Wales

Transforming Wales blog series