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Making a Greater Change to Homelessness

12th January 2018

rosa20GCThree Somervillians are involved in an exciting charity startup, using technology to help the homeless in Oxford.

Greater Change acknowledges that there are lots of us who want to give money to help those who are homeless. But in an increasingly cashless world, not all of us carry change, and we all want to be sure that what we give will provide genuinely valuable support to those in need. Greater Change is developing a donation platform which enables people to give using an app on their phones. The app can be used to give either to local charities or directly to a homeless person and is underpinned by a scheme where individuals work with their own support worker to draw up a personal development plan. Money given is then released against items that are an agreed part of each individual’s plan so that they can move towards leaving homelessness behind for good.

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Recent graduates Rosa Baxter (2014) and Carys Miller (2014) both support Greater Change as Crowdfund Managers (as well as holding down full-time day jobs), while current student Eleanor Fielding (2015) was one of the charity’s first interns, working to develop its branding and marketing in the initial, conceptual stages of the project.

‘I got involved in Greater Change in my last year at Oxford when a friend introduced me to its founder, Alex,’ Rosa says, ‘and I’m inspired by how beautifully simple the idea is: we carry our mobile phones with us all the time, and we all use contactless technology, so why not channel these habits to do some good in the world? Despite the fact that we are making technological advances all the time, and hardly any of this innovation is being used to help those who are most vulnerable and at risk in our society. We have apps for working out what that song is that’s been stuck in our head for weeks, or transforming us into cartoon version of ourselves, but nothing like Greater Change exists in the UK. Homelessness isn’t a modern problem, but it’s time to provide a modern solution, and that’s what Greater Change is all about. The support we’ve had so far has been overwhelming, and has really proved what can be achieved when people work together. We’ve currently raised £24,000 and we are now attempting to reach our stretch goal of £48,400, which would give the project the best possible chance of success.’

Carys also sees the power of Greater Change to reconnect those who are vulnerable with a society in which they have lost trust. ‘I got involved with the app just after leaving Somerville this year,’ she says. ‘What I love about the project is that it doesn’t just end with an app: its long-term goal is to make us more empathetic as communities, and help us listen to the stories of our most vulnerable. The app will tell you about the life of the individual you give to, and what they hope for the future – what they’re saving for. When people are on the margins of society, it’s so easy for them to believe that no-one cares about them. The words of Justin, a member of the homeless community in Oxford who we interviewed, have really stayed with me; “There’s a lot of people out here suffering, and the world isn’t really helping people like us anymore.”’

Current student Eleanor is particularly excited by the way Greater Change’s values align with those of Somerville and its history. ‘This project has such clear ties to Somerville, and fits right in with the ethos of the College,’ she says. ‘It’s innovative, exciting, and will make a real difference to the world and to individual people’s lives. We’re all super excited about the project here at Somerville, and it’s no surprise to me that the JCR has expressed clear support, choosing the project as a charity to be supported with an £800 donation, and almost unanimously voting to match this donation from the proceeds of the recent Somerville-Jesus ball. Any support alumni can give us; through advice if you’ve done anything similar, support, or contributions (no matter how small) would be enormously appreciated.’

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In its initial stages, Greater Change is crowdfunding and then running a trial in Oxford. In the future, the aim is to bring the project to other cities across the UK. Greater Change is partnered with the award-winning charity and social enterprise Aspire Oxford, incubated by Oxford University Innovation and supported by Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Find out more about Greater Change.

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