Social regeneration through civic leadership in Northern Ireland
by Eilish BOSCHERT for Shared Future News
9 November 2017
The Open University’s Senior Lecturer Dr Alessandro Sancino presented a workshop on social regeneration at the The Economic and Social Research Council’s fifteenth annual Festival of Social Science hosted by the Black Box theatre.
Currently teaching in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise, Sancino formerly held the position of local councillor for nine years in Milan, Italy. Using his experience as both a councillor and an academic, he encouraged us to reframe the way we understood leadership.
The aims of this workshop were to appreciate our changing world, understand opportunities for social regeneration through civic leadership, and identify modes of action for changing the relationship between state and society in Northern Ireland.
Sancino defined social regeneration as “the transformative processes which, through institutional choices that embody cooperation and inclusion, develop opportunities and capabilities for multiple categories of actors, and especially weak categories, leading to societal benefits and community resilience” (Borzaga & Sacchetti, 2018).
According to Sancino, we live in an era with many more complex challenges than before. Notions of a singular ‘strong leader’ to find solutions to social turmoil is not only unrealistic, but impossible in the current state of society. The rise of the technological age implemented an inversion of influence; suddenly, the power to engage and enact change exists on an individual level.
Sancino introduced four key arenas in which civic leadership can promote social regeneration: political, public services, business, and social.
The political arena takes democratic actions and makes decisions. According to Sancino, the declining role of political parties presents the opportunities for individual voice and participation through deliberative democracy. The business arena co-creates and co-consumes wealth, increasing the role of the small/medium businesses in society. The public services arena co-produces and benefits from public services, increasing the role for the third and voluntary sectors in delivering public services. Finally, the social arena promotes individualisation, volunteerism, and tech-mediated social relationships.
These arenas blend and mold to fit and impact one another. Actors and structures from any arena have the capacity to benefit the others directly or indirectly through their actions. For instance, the building of a shopping centre can be an act of civic leadership by promoting social regeneration through consumerism, social engagement, and accessibility. Additionally, the formation of an online social group has the potential to encourage community engagement, promote relationships, or impact political elections.
Using these examples as a platform, Sancino invited the participants to gather into small groups to discuss the following questions:
- What are key examples of civic leadership for social regeneration in Northern Ireland across the four main areas mentioned?
- Which policy suggestions may be developed to enhance civic leadership for social regeneration in Northern Ireland?
- Which practical actions should/could be taken in Northern Ireland to enhance social regeneration from the point of view of the voluntary/private/public sector?
Some examples of local civic leadership suggested by participants were St George’s Market, walking bridges in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry, community organisations, harbour commissioners, and local universities.
However, many participants voiced concerns that were not addressed during the workshop, such as a lack of infrastructure or network for linking civic leaders together. One participant pointed out that many of these civic leaders exist independently, and are often divided by competition for funding.
Another volunteer suggested that there seems to be a great will for social regeneration in Northern Ireland, but the multitude of social problems cannot find a voice behind the politicians. There is no single, unified group working for the whole.
Brainstorming solutions, some volunteers recommended starting a social lottery to fund community initiatives, or using technology to build social capital.
But one volunteer from North Belfast suggested projecting an idea to generate community interest, rather than constant deliberation and workshopping. Projecting an image for a community fosters pride and interest and encourages a way forward for the future. While workshops can be helpful for ideas, he argued, not much has been done to invest in Northern Ireland.
Heartened by the spirit of the group, Sancino encouraged the participants to harness that positive energy into demonstrating their own civic leadership through creative outlets.