How Oxfam is using action learning in its bid for social change

I have been working as part of an Oxfam initiative in Scotland seeking to reduce dependence on emergency food aid, i.e food banks. Their aim is to ensure people get sound advice on income maximisation and what they can do to control and reduce their levels of debt.

The exciting and ambitious project is called Menu for Change: Cash, Rights, Food launched by Oxfam Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland and Nourish. They have secured funding from the Big Lottery Fund Scotland to bring people together to address problems of poverty and inequality – issues that lead people to become dependent on food banks.

The project has been granted £1m and will run over 3 years, in 3 pilot local authority areas. It will bring the key players in the area together including those with ‘lived experience’ who know the reality of the systems’ failures, to see how things might change and what action they can individually and collectively take. The aim is to improve access to cash and to explore more dignified ways of supporting those facing hunger. It will promote access to healthy food via community cafés or food co-operatives.

The project also has a campaigning and advocacy element and any learning experienced will be applied on a national level.

How action learning will help

What’s different and unique about this project is that they will work together in each area, conducting action learning sets. The sets will allow participants to share and air their experiences and issues, and focus on finding resolutions.

In preparation for this work I recently trained 7 people in Oxfam’s office in Glasgow to be action learning facilitators so that they can confidently use this technique within the groups in each area. There are challenges: managing different organisational agenda, coping with issues of power and diversity in the sets, creating safety and trust so that the learning can be shared. However there is an excellent team of project officers who are skilled and passionate and who can now facilitate action learning.

Evaluation is an important part of the resources and funding for the project and will be undertaken by Poverty Alliance. This will allow us to observe, refine and document new strategies and outcomes that emerge from the action learning sets.

I am always moved when I see the impact that action learning can have in areas in need of social change and I’m delighted to have been involved at the start of this ambitious, yet realistic and thoroughly worthwhile project. I look forward to observing the difference that this initiative will make to those in poverty in Scotland, and to seeing the positive outcomes that Menu for Change will inevitably accomplish.

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