Digital Society 2017 – FutureScot meets the Cyrenians

In preparation for our Digital Society 2017 conference, which aims to look at digital solutions to reducing poverty and inequality in Scotland, we met up with Ewan Aitken, keynote speaker and CEO of the Cyrenians, to talk about digital technology and the impact it has on society.

Watch the video to hear what Ewan thinks about creating a digital society and his thoughts on alleviating poverty and inequality. Or you can read the interview in full below.

Read about the Cyrenians’ bot, Alex: ‘Hi, I’m Alex. Ask me about my story’ … messenger bot aims to explain the real causes of homelessness.

FS: Tell us about the Cyrenians

Ewan: Cyrenians work with people isolated from family, home, work or community. We are a homelessness organisation and we do work with folk on the streets but we also get right back upstream to stop people getting in that tough reality in the first place.

We have 37 projects across 7 local authorities, we distribute surplus supermarket food to 5,000 people per week, food that would otherwise go to landfill.

We have 5 social enterprises including a farm with a group of young homeless people who live and work on the farm, with the money generated from that coming into the organisation. We have an up-cycling project, we teach food and health so people can learn to look after themselves as that is one of the biggest challenges when you get a flat for yourself.

We provide support for people who are at risk of losing their homes and work with people in the criminal justice system.

There is a whole host of those [social enterprises]. But the best way to tell you about the Cyrenians is to tell you a story of a guy like Arthur who drives one of our vans that distributes food to hundreds of organisations whom we partner with.

Arthur spent 20 years as an alcoholic unable to deal with his life. He came to us and after about three years, he has come to a point where he is able to hold down his tenancy, he is back talking to his family. But what made the difference for him was not what we could do for him, but the fact that he realised he could be a helper. Through that inner transformation, he realised it was possible to transform himself.

We [the Cyrenians] believe that we journey with people from a tough reality to a better place.

FS: How is digital technology relevant to tackling inequality?

Ewan: There is really two aspects of this. First, is that there is an ever-growing digital divide between those who that cannot access technology when they need to, to access the things that they need.

And then, there are the opportunities that technology can create to ensure that people can get things that they couldn’t otherwise get.

 FS: What is a digital society?

Ewan: There is a great deal of talk about how we are becoming a digital society. That is really helpful in the sense of, it is a way in which we are now connected in a way we have never been before. We talk about the global village and that is becoming a reality. A reality across countries that are economically developed or otherwise. It is quite extraordinary as it allows us to understand the world in a completely different way and allows us to be present anywhere in the world wherever you are. And that is extraordinary and exciting.

FS: What is the biggest myth about poverty?

Ewan: That it’s people’s fault. [The solution is not] to blame them, but to stand by them so they can go on a journey to find the capacity to flourish again.

FS: By 2030, 30% of jobs will be automated. How can Scotland turn this challenge into an opportunity?

Ewan: I think that is going to be hugely challenging, Scotland lives in a tension. At one level being incredibly innovative, you can see what came out of Abertay University and their Leader Ed research. Balanced with the way we are as a nation, we are essentially quite conservative. There is a reason why we have a phrase ‘Aye-been’ because that’s how we live. And our ability culturally to change, to make sense of and engage with the changes technology will bring, will be the biggest challenge Scotland has to face. It’s not that we can’t do it in terms of the technology; its whether we are willing engage in the journey that’s going to take us.

If you would like to learn more about the Cyrenians and the work they do please visit cyrenians.scot.

Digital Society 2017: Digital Solutions to tackling poverty and reducing inequality in Scotland will take place at The Lighthouse, Glasgow on Oct. 5.

You can find the full agenda here.