Christchurch's lessons for a better world

WILL HARVIE
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2013
hannah smith
BRITISH RESEARCHER: Hannah Smith.

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A British researcher has visited Christchurch to investigate the social entrepreneurs and enterprises that have emerged in the city since the quakes.

Hannah Smith, who helped launch the British arm of the social enterprise BetterWorldBooks.com, said her brief was to gain "useful lessons for people in my profession".

She spoke of the "energy" apparent in Christchurch and singled out groups such as Gap Filler, the Ministry of Awesome and Rekindle furniture.

"I haven't worked out yet how you can parachute that into Britain, but I'm sure it's possible. It's a very collaborative approach here - people seem comfortable seeking each other out.

"What happened in Christchurch brought that to the fore, that sense of community, that sense that we're all in this together and we'll fix it together. That's really powerful.

"If I'm able to communicate that, it will be an achievement."

Smith also expected to find the "bad and ugly" in Christchurch.

Social enterprises use business principles to achieve social aims. They use profits to encourage employment, environmental protection, literacy or other issues.

She cited Rekindle, which recycles wood from demolished buildings into funky furniture and uses revenues to train young people in woodworking, as creating "value on several levels".

Social enterprises try to avoid relying on grants for survival, she said. "Social entrepreneurship is a process, an activity, a means of creating social value."

The Ministry of Awesome takes "a very networked approach to social change. It's about creating connections and linking up resources. They are not necessarily a social enterprise but they are very socially entrepreneurial."

Such efforts are often known as "community economic development" in New Zealand, but "social enterprise" and "social entrepreneurship" are phrases now used globally, Smith said.

Wellington will host a social enterprise week in August and Auckland City Council now has a social entrepreneurship adviser.

Smith drew parallels between Christchurch and many British cities.

"What happened here was quick . . . The city had to change overnight. What we have in the UK - in a lot of cities, especially in the north - is industrial decline on a huge scale. There are places that don't look unlike Christchurch. Not that it happened overnight. It's taken decades of factories closing down, a lack of jobs, a lack of opportunities."

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United States-based BetterWorldBooks.com collects and sells unwanted books and uses proceeds to fight illiteracy. Forbes says it has 340 employees and revenues were near US$65 million (NZ$82m) a year.

- The Press

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