Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 28th, 2015

Filipino domestic workers who disappear behind closed doors

Two years ago, Marilyn Porras Restor kissed her three children goodbye, wiped away their tears and told them she’d try to come home again soon.

She left the family house, in a dusty neighbourhood in the city of General Santos in the Philippines, as she had done many times before. Only this time, she never came back.

Like hundreds of thousands of other families across the Philippines, Marilyn’s children had largely grown up without their parents.

Raised by their aunt, they went to school, rode bikes and played football with their friends, while Marilyn and her husband Arnulfo cooked, cleaned and drove cars for other families thousands of miles away in Saudi Arabia, sending the money they earned back home.

Andrew Bossone shared a link.
What happened to her and others who risk everything to work abroad?

There are now 53 million domestic workers worldwide – many of them migrant workers such as Marilyn, travelling from poor countries to richer ones to work in private households.

In the Philippines, where 25% of the country lives under the poverty line and many families struggle to keep their children in school, the lure of a job abroad has pulled more than 10 million people out of their homes and scattered them across the world, many in Gulf nations.

Official remittances sent back to the Philippines by overseas workers now top $26bn, or nearly 15% of the country’s GDP.

Once or twice a week, without fail, the Restor children would gather around a laptop as Marilyn’s pixelated face appeared on Skype, scolding them about their homework and listening to their test results and friendship woes. Then, one day, without warning, the calls stopped.

The family’s desperate search for Marilyn ended in a morgue in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, over a year later.

Arnulfo, who was working in Saudi as a driver for a different wealthy family, received a phone call asking him to come and identify a body. The Marilyn he had known was robust and strong. When he pulled back the sheet, he found little more than skin and bones.

A week later, in the corner of their small living room, Marilyn’s two daughters, Ana, 18, and Lunycar, 12, are sobbing, their bodies bent around their grandmother, Nani.

The house is heavy with their grief. When he tries to talk about his mother, Marilyn’s son John struggles to get his words out. “She was a good mother… She was strict, but she loved us.”

John is 21, but his despair makes him look like the young boy Marilyn had to leave behind 12 years earlier, when she first went to work in Saudi. He stops and angrily brushes tears away with the back of his hand. He wishes he had worked harder at school and made her proud. “I just want to tell her that I miss her, even if I was a stubborn son before. I miss her so much.”

For over a decade, Marilyn had a good job with a member of the royal family in Riyadh. She was respected, and the money she sent home put John and his sisters through school and college, and paid her mother’s hospital bills.

Then, last June, she went missing from her employer’s house. Her husband was told she had been kidnapped and forced to work for another faction of the royal family.

Arnulfo says he got the address of the house and went to find her, but was shot at by armed guards. Nobody in the Philippine embassy or the Saudi police would help them. The family who took Marilyn became the subject of a formal complaint from the Philippine government to the Saudi authorities, alleging abuse and imprisonment of a number of domestic workers, and asking for information about another three missing women linked to the same address.

Back in the Philippines, Marilyn’s family were frantic. They trailed around government departments asking for help, but got nowhere. “We believe our government could have rescued her at any time,” says Marilyn’s sister Lani.

They circulated the address where they believed Marilyn was being held as widely as they could. “We would go and visit officials [in different government departments] to try and get help. We were begging them. We were so pitiful.”

The family heard nothing from Marilyn for nearly 12 months, except for one brief phone call last October, when she managed to speak to John for a few minutes. “She said she was OK and that I love you, please don’t worry about me,” says John. “We thought she was going to be all right.”

In Saudi, Arnulfo is involved in an ongoing attempt to get Marilyn’s body brought home. The family who took her have offered them money, but Arnulfo and his children want answers: they want to know how and why she died. Arnulfo was told by an official at the Philippine embassy in Riyadh that she had probably been pushed off a roof.

“Her children just want her home,” Lani says. On the couch, John and his sisters are staring blankly at their phones. Lani says the worst thing for all of them is wondering what Marilyn went through in those final months. “We just want her back, but it’s too late.”

According to the United Nation’s International Labour Organisation, domestic workers are some of the most likely to face abuse and exploitation in their place of work.

A number of cases in the past few weeks have made international headlines: an Indian domestic worker who had her arm chopped off, allegedly by her employer when she asked for her wages;

a Saudi diplomat who reportedly tortured and raped his Nepalese domestic workers;

another Saudi man videoed apparently molesting his foreign maid as she worked in the family kitchen.

But these are just the stories we hear about; there are many more cases, documented by human rights groups, in which women have been gang-raped, burned with oil, starved, mutilated with acid or literally worked to death.

In the Gulf, the International Trade Union Confederation says that 2.4 million domestic workers are facing conditions of slavery. Yet moving abroad to find work as a domestic worker is a calculated risk that millions of women such as Marilyn take every year.

For a largely invisible workforce, domestic workers wield serious economic clout.

Collectively, they account for 4% of total global employment and nearly 8% of total female employment.

There are 1.5 million domestic workers in Saudi Arabia alone, and recruitment agencies fly in 40,000 women a month to keep up with demand. Muslim women from the Philippines are considered the highest calibre of workers in many richer households.

Many of those who travel abroad have positive experiences – they get lucky, find a good recruitment agency, get placed in a decent family and are paid properly. Yet when things go wrong, it becomes clear what a terrible gamble these workers, many of them women, are taking with their lives.

In the Philippines, there are an increasing number of cases such as Marilyn’s. Some women simply vanish; others turn out to be “mysterious deaths”, their bodies coming back mutilated or with signs of poisoning or stab wounds, recorded as suicides or heart attacks.

“They would like you to believe that these women are always hanging themselves or throwing themselves off high buildings,” says Laorence Castillo, a caseworker at Migrante International, a small Filipino NGO that helps domestic workers and their families.

When women die or go missing, there is rarely an investigation, he says. “Everyone is happy to let these women go abroad and keep the economy going, but aren’t happy to fight for them when things go wrong.”

After exhausting every official avenue of help, many families end up in Migrante’s cramped office on the outskirts of Manila. “We’re their last hope,” Castillo says. “They pray we can work miracles, but we can’t.” On his desk is a pile of lever arch files, each one a woman who has failed to come home.

He says the powerlessness of being unable to help your loved ones sends people mad. “These families are beating their fists and screaming at closed doors.”

A small organisation staffed by volunteers and perpetually teetering on the edge of financial collapse, Migrante receives around 12 distress calls a day from women across the Middle East. It has handled 14 mysterious death cases in three years, including that of Terril Atienza

In 2011, the family of the 34-year-old domestic worker was told she had committed suicide a week before she was due to arrive home.

Terril had gone abroad without a proper visa and had been sent by her agency to Singapore. When she complained about conditions, she was sent on to work for a household in Mongolia.

Four months later, her family was informed she had committed suicide. Her daughter Nyrriel, the eldest of four siblings, says she didn’t believe it was true. “Our mother had gone away to provide for us, to put us through school,” Nyrriel says. She says her mother had complained about being mistreated and having her wages withheld.

“She was protecting us from what she was going through over there, and she was still protecting us until her very last breath.”

When Terril’s body arrived back in the Philippines, her children say they found it covered in wounds and burns, with two large bruises around each wrist. An independent autopsy found that her heart was missing and that her body had been stuffed with rags. The family was destroyed by her death and two years on are still struggling, both financially and emotionally.

No 16-year-old should have to grow up as fast as I did,” Nyrriel says.

“My father and I have had to look after my three younger siblings. Life was terrible – we had to cope with her death, and we had to take care of the case. Everybody was crumbling. That first month [after she died], no words can describe the pain. Two years on we still have no justice. Nobody has helped us – it’s as if my mother didn’t exist.” She is furious now, her voice catching. “But we exist. Our lives mean something.”

Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch says that “in many houses these women have absolutely no status – they have been bought”.

The many Filipino women who go to the oil-rich countries of the Gulf work under the kafala sponsorship system, which legally ties migrant workers to their employers. To get a work visa, these women are sponsored by families, and are then not permitted to leave their jobs or the country without their employer’s permission. If they run away, they become “absconding workers” and can be fined or thrown in jail.

There is also little they can do if their employers decide not pay them. The International Domestic Workers Federation estimates that families save $8bn (£5.1bn) a year by withholding wages from their domestic workers.

“With kafala and other legal systems around the world that give no labour rights to migrant women, you are giving almost total impunity to employers to treat these women however they like,” Begum says. Her work has taught her not only about people’s capacity for survival, she says, but also about the darkness of the human soul. “It’s startling what cruelty can emerge when one person has complete control over another.”

The Philippine government is considered one of the most progressive and proactive when it comes to fighting for justice for overseas domestic workers. It demands the highest minimum wage, of $400 a month, for its domestic workers abroad. “So if you think of the situation for women in the Philippines is bad,” Begum says, “it’s much worse for those travelling from places like Sierra Leone, Kenya or Bangladesh.”

When Begum first started working on domestic worker rights, her team received a package from a recruitment agency in Sri Lanka with the profiles of 45 women who had disappeared after being placed in employment in countries across the Gulf and then sold from family to family.

“We didn’t know what to do to help them,” she says. “At least the Philippines’ embassies provide shelter for women who are trying to escape exploitation and abuse. These other women are absolutely on their own.”

According to Charles Jose, spokesperson for the Filipino department of foreign affairs, the government provided assistance to 20,939 overseas workers and their families in 2014.

“The Philippine embassies concerned are extending all necessary and appropriate consular and legal assistance to these overseas foreign workers,” he says. However, the reality is that the inequality between migrant worker and employer is often mirrored by the relationship between poorer labour-sending countries and rich and powerful “host” governments. When things go wrong, those governments that rely on the remittances sent back by migrant workers can be slow to demand justice.

We navigate the haze and blazing horns of Manila’s rush hour to meet Marina Sarno, a small and gracious woman in her early 40s. Her face breaks into a wide smile when we ask how she is. She’s just pleased to be alive, she says. However hard her life is now, in the Philippines nothing will never compare with what she experienced abroad.

Marina had already had one job as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia when she decided to go abroad again. “When I told my husband, he said I shouldn’t do it, but what choice did we have?” Marina shrugs. The couple had tried to support their four children, working in the Philippines as a midwife and taxi driver, but they couldn’t make ends meet.

This time, Marina’s recruitment agency sent her to the UAE. As soon as she arrived at her new employer’s house, she knew she was in trouble. Her passport and phone were taken away and she wasn’t allowed to contact her family. “My employer was like a lion with no mercy,” she says.

Marina says she was forced to work 22 hours a day without rest. She woke at 4am to start cleaning the family’s fleet of cars and worked through to 2am the following morning. “I had no time off, no time to rest ever. Even when I was trying to eat, she would be calling me: ‘You are not here to rest. I paid a lot of money for you.’ To her, I was a slave. I was not a human.”

After a month of working constantly on two hours sleep and little food, Marina’s health was deteriorating fast. She lost sensation in the right half of her body and couldn’t use her hands. “I was so tired it felt like I couldn’t control my brain. After a few weeks I was in so much pain, I couldn’t walk or lift anything. I didn’t know if my children were OK. I felt so alone.”

But if Marina left, under the UAE’s kafala system, she would become an absconding worker. Marina told her agency that she was being mistreated, but they said she had to stay until the end of her contract. “They said, ‘Your madam has paid good money for you.’ This is when I knew my agency wouldn’t help me.”

Back in the Philippines, Joseph was frantic with worry. “My children were always asking, ‘What is the news? Where is Mama?’ I didn’t know what to say.” He hadn’t heard from his wife in months, she had sent money back only once and her phone wasn’t working. “I felt sick all the time, because I didn’t know what had happened to her.”

After failing to get any help from her agency or government departments, Migrante International helped Joseph file a repatriation request. When Marina’s employer found out, she was enraged. “She said, ‘You can’t go back to the Philippines because I paid money for you,’” Marina says. She claims her employer threatened to get her sent to jail, or kill her, and screamed that she would dump her in the desert. “She told me, ‘If I killed you, nobody would care and nobody would find you.’ I said, ‘Madam, if you want to kill me, go ahead.’”

After this, Marina says, her boss tried to poison her. The husband of the house then threatened to beat her with a baton, and locked her in a prayer room for three days and nights with no food or water.

The room was boiling hot and she drank water from the toilet.

Marina’s lips peeled away and her skin became loose. She felt pain all over her body. When the family went out, she managed to climb out of a window into the kitchen, where she wrote an SOS on a piece of paper. To get the note over the wall of her employer’s compound, she made a hole in a potato and threw it over, where it was found by an Indonesian domestic worker.

The note was passed to Migrante, which went to the Philippine embassy and Marina’s agency, and she was rescued. But even then, Marina says, the agency tried to make her sign a form promising she wouldn’t sue them or her employer.

Now that she’s back home, Marina is trying to put her life back together. With the help of Migrante International, she has just received compensation from her former employer, but is now Joseph’s full-time carer after a stroke left him paralysed. The couple believe it was brought on by the stress of Marina’s disappearance.

She says that she would now rather face poverty at home than risk life as a domestic worker again. “I would just say to anyone who is thinking of going to work abroad, don’t trust anyone,” she says. “They will kill you and nobody will do anything to help.”



Who controls the world?  Control flows through the global economy

“When the crisis came, the serious limitations of existing economic and financial models immediately became apparent.”

“There is also a strong belief, which I share, that bad or oversimplistic and overconfident economics helped create the crisis.”

00:34 Now, you’ve probably all heard of similar criticism coming from people who are skeptical of capitalism. But this is different.

This is coming from the heart of finance. The first quote is from Jean-Claude Trichet when he was governor of the European Central Bank.

The second quote is from the head of the U.K. Financial Services Authority.

Are these people implying that we don’t understand the economic systems that drive our modern societies? It gets worse.

“We spend billions of dollars trying to understand the origins of the universe while we still don’t understand the conditions for a stable society, a functioning economy, or peace.”

TED shared this link

How power winds up in the hands of a few — and leaves us all vulnerable:|By James B. Glattfelder
What’s happening here? How can this be possible? Do we really understand more about the fabric of reality than we do about the fabric which emerges from our human interactions?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. But there’s an intriguing solution which is coming from what is known as the science of complexity.

To explain what this means and what this thing is, please let me quickly take a couple of steps back.

I ended up in physics by accident. It was a random encounter when I was young, and since then, I’ve often wondered about the amazing success of physics in describing the reality we wake up in every day. In a nutshell, you can think of physics as follows.

So you take a chunk of reality you want to understand and you translate it into mathematics. You encode it into equations. Then predictions can be made and tested.

We’re actually really lucky that this works, because no one really knows why the thoughts in our heads should actually relate to the fundamental workings of the universe.

Despite the success, physics has its limits. As Dirk Helbing pointed out in the last quote, we don’t really understand the complexity that relates to us, that surrounds us.

This paradox is what got me interested in complex systems. So these are systems which are made up of many interconnected or interacting parts: swarms of birds or fish, ant colonies, ecosystems, brains, financial markets. These are just a few examples. Interestingly, complex systems are very hard to map into mathematical equations, so the usual physics approach doesn’t really work here.

What do we know about complex systems?

It turns out that what looks like complex behavior from the outside is actually the result of a few simple rules of interaction.

This means you can forget about the equations and just start to understand the system by looking at the interactions.

And it gets even better, because most complex systems have this amazing property called emergence. So this means that the system as a whole suddenly starts to show a behavior which cannot be understood or predicted by looking at the components of the system.

So the whole is literally more than the sum of its parts. And all of this also means that you can forget about the individual parts of the system, how complex they are. So if it’s a cell or a termite or a bird, you just focus on the rules of interaction.

As a result, networks are ideal representations of complex systems.

The nodes in the network are the system’s components and the links are given by the interactions. So what equations are for physics, complex networks are for the study of complex systems.

This approach has been very successfully applied to many complex systems in physics, biology, computer science, the social sciences, but what about economics? Where are economic networks?

This is a surprising and prominent gap in the literature. The study we published last year called The Network of Global Corporate Control was the first extensive analysis of economic networks. The study went viral on the Internet and it attracted a lot of attention from the international media. This is quite remarkable, because, again, why did no one look at this before? Similar data has been around for quite some time.

What we looked at in detail was ownership networks. So here the nodes are companies, people, governments, foundations, etc. And the links represent the shareholding relations, so Shareholder A has x percent of the shares in Company B.

And we also assign a value to the company given by the operating revenue. So ownership networks reveal the patterns of shareholding relations. In this little example, you can see a few financial institutions with some of the many links highlighted.

Now you may think that no one’s looked at this before because ownership networks are really, really boring to study. Well, as ownership is related to control, as I shall explain later, looking at ownership networks actually can give you answers to questions like, who are the key players? How are they organized? Are they isolated? Are they interconnected? And what is the overall distribution of control? In other words, who controls the world? I think this is an interesting question.

And it has implications for systemic risk. This is a measure of how vulnerable a system is overall. A high degree of interconnectivity can be bad for stability, because then the stress can spread through the system like an epidemic.

 Scientists have sometimes criticized economists who believe ideas and concepts are more important than empirical data, because a foundational guideline in science is: Let the data speak. Okay. Let’s do that.

So we started with a database containing 13 million ownership relations from 2007.

This is a lot of data, and because we wanted to find out who rules the world, we decided to focus on transnational corporations, or TNCs for short.

These are companies that operate in more than one country, and we found 43,000 transnational corporations. (That’s a lot of interactions)

In the next step, we built the network around these companies, so we took all the TNCs’ shareholders, and the shareholders’ shareholders, etc., all the way upstream, and we did the same downstream, and ended up with a network containing 600,000 nodes and one million links. This is the TNC network which we analyzed.

And it turns out to be structured as follows. So you have a periphery and a center which contains about 75 percent of all the players, and in the center there’s this tiny but dominant core which is made up of highly interconnected companies.

To give you a better picture, think about a metropolitan area. So you have the suburbs and the periphery, you have a center like a financial district, then the core will be something like the tallest high rise building in the center. And we already see signs of organization going on here. Thirty-six percent of the TNCs are in the core only, but they make up 95 percent of the total operating revenue of all TNCs.

So now we analyzed the structure, so how does this relate to the control? Well, ownership gives voting rights to shareholders. This is the normal notion of control.

And there are different models which allow you to compute the control you get from ownership. If you have more than 50 percent of the shares in a company, you get control, but usually it depends on the relative distribution of shares. And the network really matters.

About 10 years ago, Mr. Tronchetti Provera had ownership and control in a small company, which had ownership and control in a bigger company. You get the idea. This ended up giving him control in Telecom Italia with a leverage of 26.

So this means that, with each euro he invested, he was able to move 26 euros of market value through the chain of ownership relations.

09:57 Now what we actually computed in our study was the control over the TNCs’ value. This allowed us to assign a degree of influence to each shareholder. This is very much in the sense of Max Weber’s idea of potential power, which is the probability of imposing one’s own will despite the opposition of others.

If you want to compute the flow in an ownership network, this is what you have to do. It’s actually not that hard to understand. Let me explain by giving you this analogy. So think about water flowing in pipes where the pipes have different thickness. So similarly, the control is flowing in the ownership networks and is accumulating at the nodes.

So what did we find after computing all this network control? Well, it turns out that the 737 top shareholders have the potential to collectively control 80 percent of the TNCs’ value.

Now remember, we started out with 600,000 nodes, so these 737 top players make up a bit more than 0.1 percent. They’re mostly financial institutions in the U.S. and the U.K. And it gets even more extreme.

There are 146 top players in the core, and they together have the potential to collectively control 40 percent of the TNCs’ value.

What should you take home from all of this? Well, the high degree of control you saw is very extreme by any standard. The high degree of interconnectivity of the top players in the core could pose a significant systemic risk to the global economy and we could easily reproduce the TNC network with a few simple rules.

This means that its structure is probably the result of self-organization. It’s an emergent property which depends on the rules of interaction in the system, so it’s probably not the result of a top-down approach like a global conspiracy. (Why Not? If almost all these financial institutions are located in the USA and England?  Where Capital is concentrated and politically acted upon?)

Our study “is an impression of the moon’s surface. It’s not a street map.” So you should take the exact numbers in our study with a grain of salt, yet it “gave us a tantalizing glimpse of a brave new world of finance.”

We hope to have opened the door for more such research in this direction, so the remaining unknown terrain will be charted in the future. And this is slowly starting.

We’re seeing the emergence of long-term and highly-funded programs which aim at understanding our networked world from a complexity point of view. But this journey has only just begun, so we will have to wait before we see the first results. (Like how to predict a financial crisis?)

 Now there is still a big problem, in my opinion. Ideas relating to finance, economics, politics, society, are very often tainted by people’s personal ideologies.

I really hope that this complexity perspective allows for some common ground to be found. It would be really great if it has the power to help end the gridlock created by conflicting ideas, which appears to be paralyzing our globalized world.

Reality is so complex, we need to move away from dogma. But this is just my own personal ideology.

Note: Go a little deeper in the core and you discover a dozen of old money families that made their wealth in 1840 in the USA and England during the industrial revolution.

How we can fix the broken social services?

I want to tell you three stories about the power of relationships to solve the deep and complex social problems of this century.

Sometimes it seems like all these problems of poverty, inequality, ill health, unemployment, violence, addiction — they’re right there in one person’s life.

So I want to tell you about someone like this that I know. I’m going to call her Ella.

Ella lives in a British city on a run down estate. The shops are closed, the pub’s gone, the playground’s pretty desolate and never used, and inside Ella’s house, the tension is palpable and the noise levels are deafening. The TV’s on at full volume.

One of Ella’s sons is fighting with one of her daughters. Another son, Ryan, is keeping up this constant stream of abuse from the kitchen, and the dogs are locked behind the bedroom door and straining. Ella is stuck.

She has lived with crisis for 40 years. She knows nothing else, and she knows no way out.

She’s had a whole series of abusive partners, and, tragically, one of her children has been taken into care by social services.

The three children that still live with her suffer from a whole range of problems, and none of them are in education. And Ella says to me that she is repeating the cycle of her own mother’s life before her. 

TED shared this link
How can we build supportive, enthusiastic relationships between those in need and those that provide help?|By Hilary Cottam

01:28 But when I met Ella, there were 73 different services on offer for her and her family in the city where she lives, 73 different services run out of 24 departments in one city, and Ella and her partners and her children were known to most of them.

They think nothing of calling social services to try and mediate one of the many arguments that broke out. And the family home was visited on a regular basis by social workers, youth workers, a health officer, a housing officer, a home tutor and the local policemen.

The governments say that there are 100,000 families in Britain today like Ella’s, struggling to break the cycle of economic, social and environmental deprivation.

And they also say that managing this problem costs a quarter of a million pounds per family per year and yet nothing changes. None of these well-meaning visitors are making a difference.

This is a chart we made in the same city with another family like Ella’s. This shows 30 years of intervention in that family’s life. And just as with Ella, not one of these interventions is part of an overall plan.

There’s no end goal in sight. None of the interventions are dealing with the underlying issues. These are just containment measures, ways of managing a problem. One of the policemen says to me, “Look, I just deliver the message and then I leave.”

I’ve spent time living with families like Ella’s in different parts of the world, because I want to know: what can we learn from places where our social institutions just aren’t working?

I want to know what it feels like to live in Ella’s family.

I want to know what’s going on and what we can do differently.

The first thing I learned is that cost is a really slippery concept. Because when the government says that a family like Ella’s costs a quarter of a million pounds a year to manage, what it really means is that this system costs a quarter of a million pounds a year.

Because not one penny of this money actually touches Ella’s family in a way that makes a difference. Instead, the system is just like this costly gyroscope that spins around the families, keeping them stuck at its heart, exactly where they are.

And I also spent time with the frontline workers, and I learned that it is an impossible situation.

So Tom, who is the social worker for Ella’s 14-year-old son Ryan, has to spend 86% of his time servicing the system: meetings with colleagues, filling out forms, more meetings with colleagues to discuss the forms, and maybe most shockingly, the 14 percent of the time he has to be with Ryan is spent getting data and information for the system.

So he says to Ryan, “How often have you been smoking? Have you been drinking? When did you go to school?” And this kind of interaction rules out the possibility of a normal conversation. It rules out the possibility of what’s needed to build a relationship between Tom and Ryan.

When we made this chart, the frontline workers, the professionals — they stared at it absolutely amazed. It snaked around the walls of their offices. So many hours, so well meant, but ultimately so futile. And there was this moment of absolute breakdown, and then of clarity: we had to work in a different way.

In a really brave step, the leaders of the city where Ella lives agreed that we could start by reversing Ryan’s ratio.

So everyone who came into contact with Ella or a family like Ella’s would spend 80%of their time working with the families and only 20 percent servicing the system.

And even more radically, the families would lead and they would decide who was in a best position to help them. So Ella and another mother were asked to be part of an interview panel, to choose from amongst the existing professionals who would work with them.

And many people wanted to join us, because you don’t go into this kind of work to manage a system, you go in because you can and you want to make a difference.

So Ella and the mother asked everybody who came through the door, What will you do when my son starts kicking me?” And so the first person who comes in says, “Well, I’ll look around for the nearest exit and I will back out very slowly, and if the noise is still going on, I’ll call my supervisor.” And the mothers go, “You’re the system. Get out of here!”

And then the next person who comes is a policeman, and he says, “Well, I’ll tackle your son to the ground and then I’m not sure what I’ll do.” And the mothers say, “Thank you.”

So, they chose professionals who confessed they didn’t necessarily have the answers, who said — well, they weren’t going to talk in jargon. They showed their human qualities and convinced the mothers that they would stick with them through thick and thin, even though they wouldn’t be soft with them.

These new teams and the families were then given a sliver of the former budget, but they could spend the money in any way they chose. And so one of the families went out for supper. They went to McDonald’s and they sat down and they talked and they listened for the first time in a long time.

Another family asked the team if they would help them do up their home.

And one mother took the money and she used it as a float to start a social enterprise.

In a really short space of time, something new started to grow: a relationship between the team and the workers.

And then some remarkable changes took place. Maybe it’s not surprising that the journey for Ella has had some big steps backwards as well as forwards. But today, she’s completed an IT training course, she has her first paid job, her children are back in school, and the neighbors, who previously just hoped this family would be moved anywhere except next door to them, are fine.

They’ve made some new friendships. And all the same people have been involved in this transformation — same families, same workers. But the relationship between them has been supported to change.

I’m telling you about Ella because I think that relationships are the critical resource we have in solving some of these intractable problems. But today, our relationships are all but written off by our politics, our social policies, our welfare institutions. And I’ve learned that this really has to change.

So what do I mean by relationships?

I’m talking about the simple human bonds between us, a kind of authentic sense of connection, of belonging, the bonds that make us happy, that support us to change, to be brave like Ella and try something new.

And, you know, it’s no accident that those who run and work in the institutions that are supposed to support Ella and her family don’t talk about relationships, because relationships are expressly designed out of a welfare model that was drawn up in Britain and exported around the world.

The contemporaries of William Beveridge, who was the architect of the first welfare state and the author of the Beveridge Report, had little faith in what they called the average sensual or emotional man.

Instead, they trusted this idea of the impersonal system and the bureaucrat who would be detached and work in this system.

And the impact of Beveridge on the way the modern state sees social issues just can’t be underestimated. The Beveridge Report sold over 100,000 copies in the first weeks of publication alone. People queued in the rain on a November night to get hold of a copy, and it was read across the country, across the colonies, across Europe, across the United States of America, and it had this huge impact on the way that welfare states were designed around the globe.

The cultures, the bureaucracies, the institutions — they are global, and they’ve come to seem like common sense.

They’ve become so ingrained in us, that actually we don’t even see them anymore.

And I think it’s really important to say that in the 20th century, they were remarkably successful, these institutions. They led to longer lifespans, the eradication of mass disease, mass housing, almost universal education. But at the same time, Beveridge sowed the seeds of today’s challenges.

Let me tell you a second story.

What do you think today is a bigger killer than a lifetime of smoking? It’s loneliness.

According to government statistics, one person over 60 — one in three — doesn’t speak to or see another person in a week. One person in 10, that’s 850,000 people, doesn’t speak to anyone else in a month.

And we’re not the only people with this problem; this problem touches the whole of the Western world.

And it’s even more acute in countries like China, where a process of rapid urbanization, mass migration, has left older people alone in the villages.

 So the services that Beveridge designed and exported — they can’t address this kind of problem. Loneliness is like a collective relational challenge, and it can’t be addressed by a traditional bureaucratic response.

Some years ago, wanting to understand this problem, I started to work with a group of about 60 older people in South London, where I live. I went shopping, I played bingo, but mainly I was just observing and listening.

I wanted to know what we could do differently. And if you ask them, people tell you they want 3 things.

1. They want somebody to go up a ladder and change a light bulb, or to be there when they come out of hospital.

2. They want on-demand, practical support. And

3.  They want to have fun. They want to go out, do interesting things with like-minded people, and make friends like we’ve all made friends at every stage of our lives.

So we rented a phone line, hired a couple of handymen, and started a service we called “Circle.”

And Circle offers its local membership a toll-free 0 800 number that they can call on demand for any support. And people have called us for so many reasons.

They’ve called because their pets are unwell, their DVD is broken, they’ve forgotten how to use their mobile phone, or maybe they are coming out of hospital and they want someone to be there.

And Circle also offers a rich social calendar — knitting, darts, museum tours, hot air ballooning — you name it.

But here’s the interesting thing, the really deep change: over time, the friendships that have formed have begun to replace the practical offer.

So let me tell you about Belinda. Belinda’s a Circle member, and she was going into hospital for a hip operation, so she called her local Circle to say they wouldn’t see her for a bit.

And Damon, who runs the local Circle, calls her back and says, “How can I help?” And Belinda says, “Oh no, I’m fine — Jocelyn is doing the shopping, Tony’s doing the gardening, Melissa and Joe are going to come in and cook and chat.”

So five Circle members had organized themselves to take care of Belinda. And Belinda’s 80, although she says that she feels 25 inside, but she also says that she felt stuck and pretty down when she joined Circle.

But the simple act of encouraging her to come along to that first event led to a process where natural friendships formed, friendships that today are replacing the need for expensive services. It’s relationships that are making the difference.

I think that 3 factors have converged that enable us to put relationships at the heart and center of how we solve social problems today.

1. Firstly, the nature of the problems — they’ve changed, and they require different solutions.

2. Secondly, the cost, human as much as financial, of doing business as usual. And

3. Thirdly, technology.

I’ve talked about the first two factors.

It’s technology that enables these approaches to scale and potentially now support thousands of people.

So the technology we’ve used is really simple, it’s made up of available things like databases, mobile phones.

Circle has got this very simple system that underpins it, enables a small local team to support a membership of up to a thousand. And you can contrast this with a neighborhood organization of the 1970s, when this kind of scale just wasn’t possible, neither was the quality or the longevity that the spine of technology can provide.

 It’s relationships underpinned by technology that can turn the Beveridge models on their heads.

The Beveridge models are all about institutions with finite resources, anonymously managing access.

In my work at the front line, I’ve seen again and again how up to 80%  of resource is spent keeping people out. So professionals have to administer these increasingly complex forms of administration that are basically about stopping people accessing the service or managing the queue.

And Circle, like the relational services that we and others have designed, inverts this logic. What it says is, the more people, the more relationships, the stronger the solution.

So I want to tell you my third and final story, which is about unemployment.

In Britain, as in most places in the world, our welfare states were primarily designed to get people into work, to educate them for this, and to keep them healthy. But here, too, the systems are failing. And so the response has been to try and make these old systems even more efficient and transactional — to speed up processing times, divide people into ever-smaller categories, try and target services at them more efficiently — in other words, the very opposite of relational.

 But guess how most people find work today? Through word of mouth.

It turns out that in Britain today, most new jobs are not advertised. So it’s friends that tell you about a job, it’s friends that recommend you for a job, and it’s a rich and diverse social network that helps you find work.

Maybe some of you here this evening are thinking, “But I found my job through an advert,” but if you think back, it was probably a friend that showed you the ad and then encouraged you to apply.

But not surprisingly, people who perhaps most need this rich and diverse network are those who are most isolated from it.

So knowing this, and also knowing about the costs and failure of current systems, we designed something new with relationships at its heart. We designed a service that encourages people to meet up, people in and out of work, to work together in structured ways and try new opportunities.

And, well, it’s very hard to compare the results of these new systems with the old transactional models, but it looks like, with our first 1,000 members, we outperformed existing services by a factor of three, at a fraction of the cost.

And here, too, we’ve used technology, but not to network people in the way that a social platform would do. We’ve used it to bring people face to face and connect them with each other, building real relationships and supporting people to find work.

 At the end of his life, in 1948, Beveridge wrote a third report.

And in it he said he had made a dreadful mistake. He had left people and their communities out. And this omission, he said, led to seeing people, and people starting to see themselves, within the categories of the bureaucracies and the institutions.

And human relationships were already withering. But unfortunately, this third report was much less read than Beveridge’s earlier work.

But today, we need to bring people and their communities back into the heart of the way we design new systems and new services, in an approach that I call “Relational Welfare.”

We need to leave behind these old, transactional, unsuitable, outdated models, and we need to adopt instead the shared collective relational responses that can support a family like Ella’s, that can address an issue like loneliness, that can support people into work and up the skills curve in a modern labor market, that can also address challenges of education, of health care systems, and so many more of those problems that are pressing on our societies.

It is all about relationships. Relationships are the critical resource we have.




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