Unspoken truths: How to make a social leader shift uncomfortably in their seat

Posted on December 10, 2014

Down a small side street near Liverpool Street Station sits Sandy’s Row Synagogue, a wood-panelled world that has existed for over 150 years. It used to hold one of the largest Jewish congregations in East London in 1881 and though the congregation has dwindled it is still an important place of worship and community.

It was here that I watched Unspoken Truths by 2013 Clore Social Fellow David Russell last week. All Clore Social Fellows create a piece of practice-based research as part of their Fellowship, and this ‘research performance’ was a great illustration of just how creative and engaging research can be.

The piece opened with the famous Bob Dylan lyric ‘How many roads must a man walk down?’ which set the scene for the dilemmas which made themselves apparent in David’s piece which was performed standing upon a podium interacting with two actors, who voiced the questions and statements made by the individuals from the organisations he interviewed as part of his research. Punctuated by moments of singing and comedy, I was engaged throughout.

So what did David’s research touch upon? He unwrapped for us some of the uncomfortable truths of the social sector. The hypocrisy that exists from CEOs of environmental organisations flying to work, to fraud inspectors charged with fraud, to the imbalances of wealth and power between social sector professionals and the beneficiaries they are working for.

The piece moved on to grapple with issues of hypocrisy and ethics, to questioning why is it that beneficiaries are so seldom on the boards of the charities helping them. And he explored the danger of social leaders and organisations becoming self-serving if they fall into the trap of protecting the interests of their pay packets and employees over and above ‘the cause.’

Finally David asked a series of questions that I am sure many social leaders have asked themselves. Where should I apply my limited energy? Is there more value in charity making a large difference to a small number of people, or making a small difference to tens of thousands? David has made the decision to divide his resources between his involvement with multinational company Unilever as well as via his personal commitment to another East End synagogue, the Congregation of Jacob. Not to mention of course his own new ethical business Antonio Russo’s dairy-free iced desserts, of which we all got a taste of after the show.

David’s piece finished appropriately by commending all of us to explore, admit and be open about our unspoken truths. Only then can we challenge ourselves, and each other, to ensure we are all working for the best interests of others.

Vanessa Lye

An audio recording of the full performance will be released on this website soon.




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