‘It seemed like a cool idea to recruit some random people to help decide what to do with the money’. Image: Shutterstock
A group of people, 12 complete strangers of different ages, races, religions and backgrounds are sitting around a large rectangular table in Liverpool’s historic community building The Florrie. Despite each living at an address with an L8 postcode, they have nothing in common.
Except that a few weeks ago, each received a letter informing them they had been randomly selected to take part in a project that will challenge them to think about who the most needy are in our society, who have the most potential to do good, and who are the most deserving of help.
The key question they will have to decide upon is very simple: What to do with £100,000 of someone else’s money. No strings attached, and no restrictions. OK, a few small restrictions, but we’ll get to those.
£100,000. A life-changing amount of money, enough to raise a floundering charity from the dead, or turn around the fortunes of a food bank on its knees. Enough money to construct a dog sanctuary in Romania, or prevent 50 people from falling into homelessness in a year. It could buy 100 low-cost mobility scooters or 41,494 free school meals (at £2.41 per meal), or pay the salaries of two cancer research scientists for a year. And of course, who’s to say that one lucky cause should get the whole pot?
To make their decision, the 12 deciders will have the chance to hear from experts in philanthropy, ethics and community organising. They will meet once a week for four weeks, by which time they will have had to reach a decision on how to spend it.
The only rules are that the cash can’t go to themselves, or an organisation they’re directly involved with, and it can be split into a maximum of four payments. So that rules out giving £3 to each of L8’s 32,577 inhabitants.
The project, officially named “Wealth Shared” was dreamt up by David Clarke, a 33-year-old economics writer and researcher who lives in Liverpool. And it’s his money.
When Clarke inherited a large pot of money from his late mum – not enough to make him a millionaire – he realised that he simply didn’t need it. He is already on the property ladder and has a solid income. So he decided to give it all away. The question was, to who?
“I was like, why is it just me, one person making this decision?” he says, speaking remotely from Liverpool Central Library, a place he’s spent a lot of time “pondering the state of the world and coming up with this project”.
“It seemed like a cool idea to recruit some random people to help decide.”
While Clarke has donated other chunks of his inheritance to organisations he feels personally invested in, he’s left the destination of £100,000 to a group of strangers.
“I think there’s wisdom that comes from making decisions collectively, so simply having more people looking at a problem you get more wisdom than just one person acting alone,” he continues.
So does he genuinely, not care what they decide to do with his inheritance? “I feel like I’ve let go of the money at this point,” he says, smiling. “I’ve made my peace with whatever is gonna happen.
“I think basically everybody would be happier if there was less inequality in terms of wealth in the UK. And I think that having more people redistributing their wealth voluntarily is a quite helpful, practical example that is actually possible right now.”
Clarke’s late mum was a Quaker, a religious group that believes God is experienced by each individual directly, and follows a set of principles emphasising equality and peace, while avoiding extravagance and excess.
Alongside the money, he says, he may also have “inherited a Quaker mindset, too”.
Clarke was inspired by Citizens’ Assemblies; decision making panels that bring together a representative group of citizens to learn about, deliberate upon, and make recommendations on an important public question. Citizens’ Assemblies have been convened in Sheffield and Southampton to consider how the people of South Yorkshire, and the south of England, should be governed, given Greater Manchester and London’s devolved powers.
However, the recommendations made by the group are non-binding, meaning that ultimately they’re just that: recommendations. There also exists participatory grant-making. In this model, the money has already been earmarked for a specific cause, with those directly affected by the issues involved invited to have their say on how it is spent.
“This hasn’t been done before, so there’s no preexisting structure we could base this on. As exciting as that is… there’s no way we can anticipate how people will approach this,” says Emily McChrystal.
McChrystal, 23, is experienced in the processes that decide how lump sums are allocated. As youth empowerment director at creative community organisation Comics Youth CIC, her job is to make sure young people have a say in how the social enterprise’s funds are spent. She also sits on a committee for the National Lottery Fund, which decides how tens of millions of pounds are spent each year.
Brought in by Clarke to facilitate the four sessions, McChrystal’s role is to guide and encourage the 12 participants to reach a decision, while staying completely neutral.
She says her main reservation was whether people would feel comfortable enough to reach a decision. With unlimited possibilities for how to spend it, there was a chance the participants could be “blinded by the options”.
But after the first session, things look promising. “The more we entered in the discussion, the more energised they became and their interest piqued, and the more they could already see common links between what their passions were, and where they wanted this money to go.”
With three more sessions remaining, it could go any way. Will it be a dog sanctuary? Mobility equipment for the elderly? Or will Cancer Research UK be getting two new team members? Or, might it be something else entirely, something that hasn’t even crossed our minds yet? I’m sure you’ll be as keen to hear the decision as we are. And we will report the outcome in the weeks to come.
What would you do with it?
If it was up to you, how would you spend it? We’re looking to create a map of different ideas from across the UK to showcase where money is really needed. And who knows, maybe your ideas will inspire other wealthy individuals to share their wealth with a project or person who really needs it. Tell us what you would do with the money here.
This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy!
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