Rhiannon Colvin: ‘When I was at university I took for granted the amazing support network I was surrounded by: friends, tutors, societies.’ Photograph: Cultura Creative.
Diary of a young co-op startup: the importance of collaboration
Rhiannon Colvin discusses the challenges of being your own boss
By Rhiannon Colvin
Originally published in The Guardian.
The transition from university to work is something that has always been difficult. However as the old structures of work and a wider purpose begin to collapse our generation faces a particularly acute challenge: how do we find what might replace it and maintain our mental wellbeing in the process?
This has been a key challenge whilst setting up AltGen. As validation for my actions has always come from a higher authority (school, college, university), how do I tell myself what I am doing is worthwhile? When my time has been so rigorously structured, how do I learn how to shape and manage my own time? When self-worth and identity in our society is based so centrally on one’s job, then how do I create my own identity outside of that?
I have had moments where I would give anything to have a “normal job”, with someone to tell me what to do, when to do it and to praise me for it. I have found myself valuing what I did in my paid work higher than the time I spent on AltGen, because the rest of society valued that more, too. There seems to be an inherent value in work, but not on the impact that work has on society. Can you relate to the experience of a friend posting on Facebook, “I’ve got a job” and getting fifty likes before someone actually asks what the job is? Is there not a difference in the contribution to society of a teacher and a chemical weapon engineer, between a charity worker and an advertiser? If we are to feel worthwhile as we create a new economy we need to begin to value all the different ways we contribute to the wellbeing of society and move beyond the narrow confines of work and money.
Unfortunately, for now, money still makes the world go round and this presented me with another set of challenges. Firstly, how am I going to earn enough money to support myself whilst getting AltGen off the ground? Secondly how am I going to get funding to make AltGen a reality? There is no easy and simple answer, but months of trying has taught me that networking like mad is probably more useful than filling out hundreds of funding applications. A recent analysis suggested that 80% of jobs aren’t advertised, and I had a similar experience with the funding I secured. What worked for me was building relationships with people in the field, finding my niche, and directly and confidently approaching organisations that I knew would benefit from my work. Whilst getting AltGen off the ground I also learned to be prepared to do work that I didn’t enjoy but that gave me flexibility. Sharing a room with a friend and cooking communally with my housemates significantly reduced my living costs, and also increased my confidence that by sharing and supporting one another we can create the future we want to see.
One of the biggest challenges I initially faced in setting up AltGen was doing it on my own, and appreciating the importance of working with others has made AltGen what it is today. When I was at university I took for granted the amazing support network I was surrounded by: friends editing essays, tutors giving advice, societies to get involved with. Creating AltGen without having people to bounce ideas around with, to celebrate with when things go well and to pick each other up when things go wrong has been immensely difficult. It is why I am currently building a team to make AltGen a co-operative, but also why I believe the collaborative model of social enterprise is so important. Contrary to our individualised and competitive models of education, creativity happens when minds come together, stress is reduced when risk is shared; sustainability is achieved through distribution of responsibility.
If our generation wants to create real change, it is crucial we start co-operating and stop competing, and the more of us that do it, the easier it becomes for us all. We can support each other so that we don’t feel alone. We can create new spaces to learn and create with one another. We can swap tips on how to get by cheaply whilst we build our ideas. And, perhaps most importantly, we can start to create a new culture of value where people aren’t just judged by their salary but by the contribution they make to the wellbeing of society.
AltGen supports 18-25 year old’s to set up workers cooperatives as an empowering and collaborative solution to youth unemployment. To get involved and find out more, visit their website, facebook page, or tweet @AltGen101.