Why small people can change the world

Niall Cooper's article for Reform magazine.

If many little people In many little places Do many little deeds They can change the face of the Earth. African Proverb.

As long ago as 1978, Ron Sider famously challenged ���Rich Christians in an age of hunger��� to act justly, not only as consumers and campaigners, but also in their lifestyle generally.

We have come a long way from the ���Good Life��� in which Tom and Barbara turned their Surbiton home into a self-sufficient farm-cum-allotment, growing their own food, keeping animals and making their own tools and equipment. But in an ever more globalised and interdependent world, the challenge to live justly in an unjust world is all the more pressing.

The danger is that globalisation can come to mean only the free flow of goods and finance, the open access to markets, the breaking down of barriers to trade and commerce. The concern for the common good��� is in danger of being lost in the current understanding of a global world. Nelson Mandela

Through our actions in a globalised world, we are inescapably connected with and responsible for the fate of countless others, whether we like it or not. Our use of money and choices as consumers say as much about us our values as our prayer life and choice of Church. As Antonia Swinson has written, ���money is more intimate than sex.��� We are beguiled and continually assaulted by advertising, to believe that the consumer is king. Many of us may recoil from the worst excesses of consumerism, but which of us has not been tempted by the latest ���special offer��� or been pleasantly surprised (as Sainsbury���s have recently been telling us) that the carrots in our supermarket are cheaper this year than they were last year. Yet, in the global marketplace, there are losers as well as winners. Cheaper carrots, coffee and cardigans are frequently secured at the expense of someone elses��� poverty wages ��� increasingly in the UK as well as overseas. Whilst gas, electricity and a host of companies compete for affluent consumer���s custom through discounts and cut price deals, poorer customers are frequently forced to pay more for the same (or a worse) service. The selfish and unrestrained pursuit of prosperity, power, or pleasure is incompatible with following God and opposed to his Kingdom and rules of justice and love: You cannot serve both God and money. Unless we each examine our own use of possessions, how we feel about sharing things, and how we relate to structures of distribution in which we are involved, we have no right to expect institutions to follow standards more stringent than those we apply to ourselves. The church as a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom should demonstrate in the way in which its own life is arranged that it takes seriously the values of the Kindgom, and show that just and gracious distribution strengthens fellowship and love. Some of the changes that we need to make in our lives will cost us ��� in our time, money, lifestyle, security and comfort. But this is part of what it means to be a Christian and to be followers of Jesus. It means denying ourselves for the will of God. This is totally opposed to the pursuit of ���economic prosperity��� that is the selfish goal at the heart of western consumer society today.

Concrete ways in which we can make a difference Below are just three ways you can practically begin to lead more just lives, even in the midst of an unjust world���

Fight poverty through trade One of the great successes of recent years has been the growth of the ethical consumer and fair trade movements, which empower individuals and organisations to act ethically in the market place. A range of magazines and websites offer well researched practical advice on how to buy ethically an ever increasing range of goods from food and furniture to personal stereos and pensions. Traidcraft is probably the best known Christian initiative, whose mission is explicitly to fight poverty through trade. Traidcraft focuses on reducing poverty by engaging directly in trade, by influencing others who engage in trade, and by developing the skills and market access of poor producers. You can now order Traidcraft products on-line as well as through an increasing number of supermarkets and other Fair Traders across the UK. www.traidcraft.co.uk www.ethicalconsumer.org

Why money doesn't have to be the root of all evil Your money ��� Your choice: When most people think of a bank, they think of the organisation that keeps their money safe and secure until they need it. When most people decide who to bank with, they consider the rate of interest they will receive, the services they will benefit from and how easy will it be to access their money. What most people don���t think about is how that bank then invests their money when they���re not using it. And if you ask the vast majority of banks what they���re doing with your money they won���t tell you. Triodos Bank is different. Triodos only lends to organisations which create real social, environmental and cultural value such as charities, social businesses, community projects and environmental initiatives. Each one is a practical, well-grounded initiative dedicated to social aims which benefit the community, care for the environment, respect human freedom and develop individual talents and capacities. Saving with Triodos Bank means that people in all parts of the UK can develop and build organisations which enrich their community and safeguard the environment ��� building a more sustainable future for us all. www.triodos.co.uk

Fighting fuel poverty with fairness It���s hard to imagine that in the 21st Century, people in Britain are dying because they can't afford to heat their homes. But right now, around three million British households are in fuel poverty and each winter, it���s responsible for up to 50,000 premature deaths, making it second only to smoking as a preventable cause of death. Paradoxically, increased competition in the gas and electricity industry has actually increased fuel poverty, by forcing those who needed to budget very carefully by using a pre-payment meter ��� who are less attractive customers to companies - to pay more.

EBICo, founded in 1998 by four Christians, aims to buck this trend. It is the only UK supplier of gas and electricity to offer an equal tariff to all customers, regardless of payment method or how much they use. But to make the scheme work, EBICo needs customers who pay in a variety of ways. This is a challenging concept, because the company���s tariffs are not always the cheapest for customers who can pay by Direct Debit. According to EBICo founder, Phil Levermore ���We need people who are more concerned about issues of social equity than shaving an extra few pounds off their annual gas and electricity bill. We are offering them the opportunity to be directly involved in advancing social equity and protecting those with fewer advantages in life���. www.ebico.co.uk

Faced with the power of the multi-national corporations, and the scale of global injustices, it is easy to become defeatist. But if anything, the message of the past decade ��� the rise of the ethical consumer, the success of Jubilee 2000, and in a smaller way, the work of Church Action on Poverty at home ��� is that from small acorns great oak trees grow.

���It���s amazing what a small group of committed people can accomplish to change the world. In fact, it���s the only thing that ever has.��� --Margaret Mead

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