A pivotal moment for KarmaBank was hearing something from an Iranian refugee doctor that made us realise the importance of making our work more sustainable.
Charity can be a lifesaver, especially in emergencies when someone comes to a foodbank literally without shoes, and we luckily have a pair of donated boots. Or a refugee arrives at our welcome space traumatised and in need of urgent counselling and we can either provide access to a volunteer therapist on the spot or refer them to another agency.
But then we spoke with the Iranian GP who had to flee her country, and spent over a year in camps, who told us that she truly appreciated the charity she had received, but the effects of a meal or donated clothes were short-lived.
At the end of each day “the walls of my tiny room close in again, and I feel alone and scared and depressed.
It’s a cycle that so many of the people we support go through, and it can seem an impossible task to find a solution before someone reaches the end of what they can stand.
Many passionate community groups, charities and partners are dedicated to strategies that can lift people up and provide the basics of a good life: Hope and a sense of Purpose.
Hope drives people forward to wanting to achieve more for themselves and for others.
This is why we formed Karmabank – to be a tool for truly sustainable, meaningful change, driven by the people who are in the best place to do it: the people we support.
Our core strategy is based on the old saying that it is better to give someone a fishing rod than just the fish, and we do that through treating each person we meet as unique individuals, with unique needs.
The Iranian GP helped us to realise we need to think of those we help as unique individuals with unique pain and problems to solve, not a faceless group we can easily label.
We now find equally passionate partners to help us realise a plan that meets these unique needs:
An Afghan judge and winner of a humanitarian medal who escaped after hiding from the Taliban, came to us devastated that her life’s work to protect women and girls was now lost. We connected her with the Human Rights Law department at SOAS to continue her life’s work and to teach students there about her experiences.
A young Ukrainian girl who arrived traumatised from the ongoing Russian attack on her country found some relief through helping Ukrainian, Afghan & Iranian female artists to join our Nourish Makers’ Market Art stall project. We found her a tutor to help her train for the SATs so she can attend a top University to study psychology.
A young homeless autistic man who came to a foodbank wanted to take photographs. So we gave him a camera, invited him to film the world from his perspective. We arranged for him to meet and learn from an artist, and encouraged him to share his photos in a gallery.
For a group of elderly women who enjoy art, we found a space for them to meet weekly for watercolour painting.
The Iranian GP has now become one of our key coordinators – finding her happiness through helping others find a route out of their traumas.
All our projects are driven by the people that come to us, entirely “bottom up”.
Our skills are to use our creative skills and humanitarian experience to make those dreams a reality.
And to inspire and energise our wide network of volunteers, cooperating partner organisations, private companies, sponsors, and local government to help us inject some much needed hope into our communities:
One human at a time.
KarmaBank Co-Design Zone
”If the world was designed better we wouldn’t need support.” (Founder, Disability Action Network)
The best projects start from “bottom up”: listening to diverse lifestyles and different abilities, especially from those we aim to support. For an athlete in a wheelchair navigating a world without fully accessible transport or bathrooms, or a refugee mum with an autistic child who came across a rough sea in a small boat, or an elderly pensioner unable to afford life without access to a foodbank,, Necessity is the Mother of Invention: the people we support have “lived experience” of developing creative ways to survive, and often know best what they need. They just lack the resources & network to develop and implement sustainable solutions.
So how do we do it?
- Listen. We don’t start with an idea, and try to make it fit. We start from scratch each time, crafting a fresh solution to a unique individual or requirement.
- Identify issues. What is the core issue out of everything presented? Is there an emergency or urgent need to triage first? What are the long term objectives? How can we ensure a person feels actualised and worthy?
- Ideate/brainstorm solutions that meet the core needs and objectives – even blue sky or way out of the box ideas can provide the creativity needed for crafting a practical plan to resolve seemingly impossible situations.
- Make a Prototype – the distillation of the process into a realistic and achievable plan of action. The simplest prototype is a sheet of A4 and a pen.
- Test the solution. Doesn’t work out as planned? Start again at step 1, rinse & repeat.
When we are asked for support, or to consult on a project or event, KarmaBank applies the 5-step Design Thinking Method:
Most projects are in a constant flow of adaptation, pivoting, improvement, learning by doing and trial by error. Sustainable change doesn’t happen at once, and it may take a few cycles before something sticks. Along with passion, we have lots of patience too 🙂
It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world.Mary Wollstonecraft
Participatory or Communal Justice: Bring everyone in on designing a better future for all – one that is truly “Just”, without leaving people out.
You, KarmaBank, our volunteers, local residents, local “stakeholders” (shop owners, nurses, gardeners, teachers, kids), councils, other organisations, private corporations, funders…we all have something to contribute to shaping constructive and positive spaces that sustain everyone equally.
Charity is a wonderful thing, but top down charity is a thing of the past – we help each other best together.
A just society is a society that if you knew everything about it, you’d be willing to enter it in a random place.John Rawls
KarmaBank is a consultant and developer of creative projects that produce positive and sustainable impact in various ways. Projects don’t always meet expectations, which wastes funding, time and resources. To tackle this:
• We facilitate cooperative networks between organisations to maximise local resources – funding, volunteers, donations, logistics, spaces, trainers – which help projects deliver what they hope to.
• We work in close collaboration with a diverse range of artists and cultural institutions. We conceptualise creative programmes that benefit marginalised and vulnerable voices and provide a platform for artworks on issues that matter.
• We design spaces and wellness programmes that respond to local needs, whether relief services for new refugees, or ongoing outreach and support services for local communities.
Above all, we believe in the beauty of Action taken with Care, Consideration, and Compassion.
Contact us for more information, or to schedule a consultancy here
Any action done with beauty and purity, and in complete harmony of body, mind and soul, is Art.”(B.K.S. Iyengar)