unusual-suspects-festival-2015We live in a world characterised by false dichotomy. Two such fallacies are dominant: social justice equals state centralism and individual passivity, whilst capitalism equals dynamism and action. Scotland is often portrayed as wedded to the former in a dreary dependency culture. This binary world of opposites may have been exacerbated by the indyref, but an event in  Glasgow this week could embolden independentistas looking for powerful examples of self-organisation and others bored by the constitutional debate and wanting to push forward. The Unusual Suspects is “a three-day festival of ideas, solutions and debate exploring what happens when social innovation meets collaboration and how together we can meet some of society’s most pressing challenges”. It  hopes to ‘facilitate some unlikely connections for social change.’

All events are free to attend and open to the public.

With 20 events from 35 contributing organisations, the festival will be popping up across the city from Wednesday 8th – Friday 9th. See the amazing programme and get tickets here. There’s a mass of good stuff but a few key sessions include:

Exploring the Potential of Digital social Innovation in Scotland: ‘digital technologies are particularly well suited to helping civic action: mobilising large communities, sharing resources and spreading power’ (more here); How Can Metadesign Encourage Greater Collaboration in Glasgow? ‘Metadesign enables us to see a future that reflects the values, resources and history of those involved’ (more here); U Labs in Scotland ‘The U.Lab movement has taken Scotland by storm this autumn with over a 1,000 participants joining U.Lab Scotland’ (find out more here); and, the Future of Social Enterprise ‘what is the role of social enterprises in the future of Scotland? Is there room for anymore? Is all business good business? And who holds social enterprises to account?’ (more here).

As Eddy Adams, a Glaswegian himself and consultant for SIX who is helping organise the Festival said ‘Scotland is an obvious place to bring the Unusual Suspects Festival. In recent years it has established a global profile as a place unwilling to stand still and accept the status quo. There is a restlessness and appetite for change, which has made the country a ‘must watch’ space. This, combined with a curiosity around new ways to approach long-standing problems, creates a natural space for the Unusual Suspects event.’ And, with the social enterprise sector in Scotland worth £3.6 billion a year (and 60% of these run by women) the old stereotype of Scottish society and economy looks increasingly outmoded. But even describing the ‘sector’ as being ‘worth’ £3.6 billion is perhaps using the language of our current failing economics. If these new ways of working and understanding based on disabling power systems and focusing on collaboration are to breakthrough rather than prop-up the existing paradigm we need to de-couple ‘enterprise’ from ‘capitalism’ and re-charge a notion of ‘venture communism‘ in which the ‘social good’ is at the heart of everything we do. Business start-ups and kick-starters should favour projects with a clear ecological and social justice, prioritising positive life-enhancing and protecting projects over endless moron consumerism that brings us, for example:

“An egg tray for your fridge that syncs with your phone to let you know how many eggs are left. A gadget for scrambling them – inside the shell. Wigs for babies, to allow “baby girls with little or no hair at all the opportunity to have a beautifully realistic hair style”.The iPotty, which permits toddlers to keep playing on their iPads while toilet training. A £2,000 spider-proof shed. A snow sauna, on sale in the United Arab Emirates, in which you can create a winter wonderland with the flick of a switch. A refrigerated watermelon case on wheels: indispensable for picnics – or perhaps not, as it weighs more than the melon. Anal bleaching cream, for… to be honest, I don’t want to know. An “automatic watch rotator” that saves you the bother of winding your luxury wrist-candy. A smartphone for dogs, with which they can take pictures of themselves. Pre-peeled bananas, in polystyrene trays covered in clingfilm; Just peel back the packaging.”

The danger is that too many projects descend into a sort of Nathan Barley caricature of empty techno-babble, or bland over-hyped waffle of the “sharing economy” which does little and challenges nothing.The Unusual Suspects looks to explore the potential for real change through collaboration and imagination. Let’s hope it strips away some of the jargon and wishful thinking that can permeate the ‘sector’ (sic) and instead focus on the essential socio-ecological challenges ahead.  We don’t need more stuff. We need projects and enterprise that are restorative and future-focussed and not just a milder benign form of existing models.