To be austere or not austere

REBECCA-25_pp-148x148Many years ago I went to see Anita Roddick speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I had just set up my own recruitment business and was keen to learn at the feet of a master. Anita is still a heroine of mine, alongside Elizabeth I and I was eager to take her pearls of wisdom on board.

She didn’t let me down.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” she told the audience. When she set her Body Shop business up in the 1970s she had no money. No bank would lend to her because she was a woman and the economy wasn’t exactly booming. And yet, Anita went ahead and set up her quirky little cosmetics company using cheap looking plain plastic bottles, the only type of container she could afford at the time.

This cheap plastic bottle became iconic. It was almost a brand trademark that was copied by many other wannabe Body Shop upstarts and it began with a severe lack of funds. You see, we live in a period of huge opportunity, not of want, but of plenty. Countless organisations and households are now working out how they can do more with less and that has to be a good thing in our western consumerist society.

I know people are suffering hardships, but in the UK, we have a good system to help those people who want to help themselves. We are really lucky to have a society that will re-house you if you find yourself homeless, that will treat you for free when you’re ill and will educate your children no matter how small your household income is. In the UK we don’t know the true meaning of having nothing and yet we’ve spent the last few years moaning about austerity.

Yes, there are huge cuts in government funding for all kinds of really important projects and some of those initiatives will fall by the wayside, but others will spring up in their place, but with a more sustainable model that doesn’t rely on government hand-outs. This period of austerity may finally teach us that we must work within our means and be prepared to stand on our own two feet in order to be successful.

Too many areas of the public sector have been over-staffed and wedded to out-dated and inefficient working practices. In order to deliver great services with less money, then people need to get smart in their thinking. They need to change the way things are done, to think the unthinkable and take some bold steps to ensure long term success. This means there is an opportunity to do things better, provide better services and to improve return on investments, instead of relying on an annual budget increase just because that’s what you expect to get.

Watching a documentary about teenagers in Mumbai collecting mud and making mud balls for a Hindu festival had me fascinated. The kids worked hard to find the best mud, collect it, roll it neatly into balls and arranged in tidy rows, so that their customers could select their mud balls with ease. They sold them for pennies, but worked from early in the morning to late at night to ensure they made plenty of money.

The boys had earned enough to visit the market and buy themselves fancy jeans and t-shirts, which they wore proudly as they went for a well earned night-out.

It doesn’t get much more austere that collecting mud for a living. In the UK, we have so many options to study, learn, re-train, be enterprising and much more, so that there is very little we can’t do. Most of us have a roof over our heads, even though this might be temporary and cramped and we all have free access to education, something that these boys in Mumbai did not.

Let’s stop thinking about what we don’t have or what we’ve lost and start looking at the huge array of opportunities we do have. Let’s take some personal responsibility for shaping our own lives, seeking out the changes we personally need to make in order to succeed in life and stop waiting for other people to give us things. We became too reliant on having it handed to us on a plate and too complacent in our attitudes, so that the collapse of the banks was a huge shock (my business had to close because of this) and whilst those who thought they were owed a living sat about and moped, those that knew they had to create their own futures, got out there and sought the new opportunities open to them.

We still have a welfare state that will protect the weakest and rightly so, but the rest of us are more than capable of doing what those boys do in Mumbai, creating a living out of nothing.

Necessity really is the mother of invention, so go and invent.

Rebecca Bonnington is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.

Rebecca InspiresRebecca Bonnington is a Leadership Coach and Corporate Trainer, you can contact her on 00734 934084 or

2 Comments on To be austere or not austere

  1. Anne Casey // August 5, 2013 at 6:39 pm // Reply

    Well said Rebecca. It is absolutely right that we should take responsibility for our lives and not look to others to sort things out for us. Where people in our society are not doing this, they need to be helped to do so rather than pilloried and scapegoated by the rest of us. Times have changed and we all need to have the necessary skills to adapt to those changes and accept that we need to consume less and share more.

  2. karen birch // August 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm // Reply

    “We are really lucky to have a society that will re-house you if you find yourself homeless, that will treat you for free when you’re ill and will educate your children no matter how small your household income is”.
    I fear that these things are already starting to change. We don’t educate for free anymore, certainly when it comes to higher education. More and more services that were part of the NHS and free at the point of need are now not so – we are now used to paying for eye care and dentistry for example. And people are being removed from their homes for all sorts of reasons, and often because of increases in rents charged by private landlords.

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