Former P&P campaigner: David Bent
1 Jun 2006
People & Planet has been around for over 35 years in one form or another and to celebrate this, we will be profiling former members of P&P or Third World First groups to see what they've been up to since leaving the network.
Former P&P campaigner: David Bent
Name: David Bent
When were you involved in People & Planet/Third World First?
I was involved in the Oxford University 3W1st between 1995 and 1998.
What are you doing now? How did you get there?
I am working at Forum for the Future, a leading UK sustainable development charity. I work with our partners - companies, local authorities, regional bodies and universities - to help them overcome barriers to more sustainable practice, all as part of accelerating the change to a sustainable way of life.
When I left university I went straight to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC, the accountancy firm) where I qualified as an accountant. I can’t say I enjoyed my time there: reading The Guardian was seen as radical. And, my first client was Shell, who 3W1st had been campaigning against a lot in the mid-nineties (Brent Spa and Nigeria). But, I did learn a lot, and now I have the professional credibility to bring to my sustainability work. In my last 2 years at PwC I took a part-time Masters in Responsibility and Business Practice at the University of Bath. The Masters was a tremendous experience, and really gave me the bridge into a career I am passionate about.
What inspired you to start campaigning?
I have been concerned with social justice, environment and other left-of-centre issues throughout my teens. At university, the book which really got me going was Noam Chomsky’s 501: the conquest continues. Thanks to Dave Comfort for lending it to me.
Describe your most memorable P&P/3WF experience.
The Alternative Careers Fair in 1996. Although not “run by” 3W1st, the people who organised it were part of the 3W1st clique. I was only a helper. But I did have a sense that we were doing something new, and which could affect literally thousands of people’s lives.
With many commentators suggesting that apathy is rife amongst young people, what can be done to engage young people in the campaign for social justice?
Hmm. Well, I think many commentators confuse Politics with politics: just because more people “vote” for Big Brother than in a General Election doesn’t mean that people, young and old, don’t care. I think people are not clear how they can express their views in the political process.
Lots of people are expressing views in what they buy - see the rise of Fair Trade and organic - and in their careers: the rise of social entrepreneurs plus the difficulties companies with poor reputations have in attracting the best and the brightest. NGOs and single-issue campaigners are still being successful. Was Make Poverty History the expression of apathy?
But big “p” Politics is important because we have to find a way of combining single-issue interests (from business through human rights to fair trade) into a vibrant functioning society. We can’t expect to create a sustainable world by hoping our voice is louder than all the others, especially when vested interests have larger megaphones.
If Politicians want young people to be involved they have to offer a choice. If young people want things to change they have to go into Politics and make a difference which then becomes a choice.
Finally, in order to engage people we have to be able to give a convincing story of how social justice meets their needs. What is in it for “apathetic” young people? What is in it for people who feel at risk from crime? What is in it for people who feel they have worked hard to get where they are, thank you very much?
What do you think is the most pressing issue in the UK today?
the science is clear (a bit like “does smoking cause cancer?” everyone knows yes, but there is still some doubt on some details).
we have so little time to make a difference
what we do now could put the scale and quality of world civilisation at risk in the lifetime of my grandchildren
what we build now will lock us in to patterns for a generation or more
so many other issues such as water shortages, extinctions, profligate consumerism, world geo-politics are bound up in climate change that by addressing it we can address many of the causes of unsustainable development - if we can expand the circle of things we are concerned with to include people far away and future generations on climate change, it will be a lot easier on other issues
What was the last album you listened to?
Late Registration by KanYe West
What are your ambitions for the future?
To be someone who can look back on my life and be able to say I made a difference.