Cereal skills

Change Activist author Carmel McConnell, founder of a national charity tackling child poverty, says doing good for others is also good for you

Thursday, 2nd June — By Dan Carrier

Carmel McConnell

Carmel McConnell, inset, the founder of Magic Breakfast. Photo: Ginger Pixie Photography

THE fact that in one of the richest countries on the planet, tens of thousands of children were starting their school day on an empty tummy was just too much for Carmel McConnell. She decided to do something about.

It was more than 20 years ago when the activist, social entrepreneur, charity founder and author began to visit supermarkets and buy up cereals, pastries, fruit juice and milk. She would deliver groceries to schools near her home, passing on the food to teachers to ensure no child was too hungry to learn.

As she describes in a new edition of a handbook offering advice on how to be empowered to make changes on issues we care about, she could not stand aside when she discovered the true extent of child food poverty.

Carmel spent years delivering food to schools, all the time trying to find someone, as she puts it “in authority” to take on the job. No one did, so she founded Magic Breakfast, the UK’s first nationwide charity dedicated to tackling this issue. She persuaded the government to get involved, and brought on board firms including Quaker Oats, Heinz, Amazon and Morgan Stanley to finance the project.

Her book, Change Activist, is into its third edition, and in it Carmel describes her story of moving from a corporate job in the City to setting up a charity – and shares a number of experiences and discoveries she has made along the way.

At its heart is the idea that acting altruistically – doing good things to benefit others – has a less well advertised but positive and vital element.

“Change Activism is based on hope, a strengthening ethos and passionate belief in the power each of us holds, for the planet, for justice, for fair economic systems,” writes Carmel.

Helping others is intrinsically doing good for yourself – a fact in this age of neo-liberalism, of competition and warped ambition, is in need of a loud and timely reminder.

“Each one of us has a part to play,” she adds. “And yes, so do the politicians, the bosses and others. But rather relying on someone else out there, Change Activism says ‘let us believe we can do it, you and I, right here and right now’.”

Describing a change activist as someone who takes action based on their values, Carmel says at its heart is a simple argument.

Altruism creates positivity inside and provides the individual a platform to further improve their own lives – and by doing so, improve their tools to help others around them.

“Martin Luther King was a Change activist. Marcus Rashford. Greta Thunberg. Carol round the corner from me who made scrubs bags for NHS workers all the way through the lockdown is a change activist,” adds Carmel.

She interviews people who have taken it on themselves to put right a wrong. Versha Venugopal founded Suvita, a health charity in India, helping ensure no child missed life-saving vaccinations.

Ms Venugopal says she was inspired to act because good health should be a human right. “Every child should have a fighting chance at life,” she says. “We know routine immunisation is one of the most cost effective and proven interventions out there. There is no excuse today not to have every child immunised. I grew up in India and I know how many children do not get immunised because of trivial reasons such as lack of awareness, lack of bus fares to hospitals, or worries about the child falling sick after being immunised.

“With Suvita’s evidence-based cost-effective solutions, I expect no child to die of vaccine preventable diseases in the future.”

As Carmel argues, Ms Venugopal believes her work has not only helped others but empowered her as a person.
“I consider my actions baby steps towards global change. I am proud of starting Suvita last year. It required me giving up a stable income and a way of life and taking a risk.”

From Body Shop founder Anita Roddick to foodbank IT supplier Robin Ferris, Big Issue founder John Bird and campaign co-ordinator Erica Wax, who founded Impact100 – a group that brings together activists and philanthropists to target help where it can be most beneficial – Ms McConnell has found examples that offer the reader a template for inspiration.

The book offers further advice and examples of how switching from passivity to activism can be used to improve your company’s impact on creating a better world – and in turn improve its performance.

Ms McConnell adds: “Successful social activism can help build confidence, energise each of us to what matters most. You have the power, the ability to create change already, As the gorgeous, gifted, unique person you are, you already have the power to make positive change happen, do the thing that matters to you, rather than just think about it. “

That power might be lying there, dormant. “Staying passive doesn’t create energy, or learning. Taking action does.”

And above all, finding a cause you care about and throwing yourself into it gives you a sense of being powered by what Ms McConnell calls “Personal Renewables.” In a world threatened by pandemics, war, climate crisis and deep inequality, it is easy to feel powerless – and that is where this superb guide to putting right wrongs comes in.

Change Activist: Making Big Things Happen Fast. By Carmel McConnell, Pearson, £9.99

Carmel McConnell is speaking at the Friends of Highgate Library, Croftdown Road on Thursday, June 16 at 7.15pm. https://www.fohl.org.uk/event/change-activist-make-things-happen-fast-carmel-mcconnell/

https://www.magicbreakfast.com/

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