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How can funders support the creation, implementation, and spread of worker-driven social responsibility?

On 8 October 2018 we published the BTS Round Table on the Future of Work, in which 12 experts explain recent changes to the nature of work and offer new ideas in labour policy, organising, and activism. This is a followup question to those initial responses.

Lupe: The reality is that all of the pieces of the worker-driven social responsibility (WSR) model are critically important, and they all have to be well resourced in order to function. Whether it's travelling, or getting materials to workers, or printing thousands of hand-outs, or sending out an education team, or so on. They’re all necessary, but we see a real imbalance in where we get funding. Sometimes we fall really short in less popular areas, like workplace monitoring. That creates a bigger problem than one might think, because we all have to stop our regular work in order to frantically fundraise for that one area. So being holistic in a funding approach is crucial. For WSR, corporate campaigns and consumer action is really important. Monitoring is important. And the workers are important. All three things are critically important. You can't do WSR without all three.

Marley: There’s a metaphor that I use a lot with our funding community, which is about gardens. It does not work to plant seeds and walk away. A garden is a year-round endeavour, and you need to support it at every stage of growth. The Fair Food Programme (FPP) has become a very mature version of the WSR model and it is bearing fruit. We now need to harvest that fruit and replant it. That means cultivating, nurturing, replicating, and growing successful programmes like the Milk With Dignity Programme in Vermont. If funding drains away, flagship programmes like the FFP will wither instead of reaching their potential as pioneering forces, and no longer be able to serve as guides for newer programmes.

I’d also like to say something about funding metrics, and what it means to fund success. Funders really want to feel like they're a part of systemic change. Unfortunately, that can be misinterpreted when an organisation is measured by the loftiness of its goals rather than by its actual accomplishments on the ground. Organisations like ours are frequently pressured into positions of over-promising. ‘Within five years we will take WSR to every industry in the US’ – that sort of thing. It should be about what we are doing to create change that is both systemic and measurable, and what sort of clear and concrete plan we have for the future.

Furthermore, if we’re talking about systemic change in work, then we should also be talking about worker-driven metrics of impact. This goes far beyond an organisation’s mission, or how much infrastructure they have. Has there been measurable change in the lives of workers? Of how many? And how deep does that change go? Those are the metrics that I think funders need to focus on.

Back to my place in the round table

Round table on the future of work


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