by Helen Goulden, Chief Executive, The Young Foundation

by Helen Goulden, Chief Executive, The Young Foundation

Writing in 2001, Michael Young opined that he had “been sadly disappointed” by the Rise of the Meritocracy. Disappointed because his notion of meritocracy, far from being feared, was actively embraced as an ideal by successive governments, and for a time, by the populace.

But Michael Young was taking a very long term perspective. He took an emerging phenomenon and played it through, over decades. And then reflected back to us the long-term impacts of that phenomenon. Perhaps predictably, his concerns were ignored.

Often, what is embraced as a solution today, will be a problem tomorrow. And that’s why it’s been a real privilege to read through the many submissions to our competition ‘What lies beyond the meritocracy?’ Because ideas are not perpetually relevant, to quote Anne McCrossan. They have their day. And now, more than ever, we’re in need of new (and old) ideas that can serve us through the next couple of decades.

In this short anthology you can browse through a sample of responses to our competition. I am delighted to see that some people chose to submit films, poems, sculptures – rather than essays - as ways of expressing a creative fusion of fact and feeling. You may notice that in many ways this Anthology is framed by and answered by those who have won in a meritocratic society. However, across all submissions, and exemplified in the brilliant winning entries from Jon Alexander and Anne McCrossan, some consistent and common themes emerge. Themes of the need for agency, communitarianism and the need to value more than intellect, and more than effort - at an individual, societal and macro-economic level.

Why not start your journey with some personal accounts of what today’s meritocracy feels like? Luke Billingham’s stories, give a brief sense of what it feels like to have the odds stacked against you – and what a different future might mean. Then try Jon Huggett’s hugely entertaining but ultimately profound personal journey, which gives a real sense of how identity, gender and meritocracy collide.

Other contributors direct their attention to the current impacts of a society focused on image, idea and the fetishisation of innovation. Where what is said or espoused, seems to have more power than ever, over what is enacted. Dan Gregory articulates this well, and encourages us all to examine what is real, and what is illusory about our motivations in a meritocracy – and to take an unflinching gaze at what we think we have achieved.

My views on meritocracy are constantly evolving, but are no secret; and have a common starting point: it is only through shifting what we value that we change how our society and environment fare. And we need to engage with a deeper and different part of ourselves if we want to shift what we value. And while this shift begins at an individual level, it can only be enabled and accelerated through our communing with others, within the places we live.”

An enormous thank you to everyone who submitted a response to our competition, especially to the those featured in our Anthology: Jon Alexander, Anne McCrossan, Jon Huggett, Liz Zeidler, Dan Gregory, Alastair Singleton, David Bent, David Civil, Filippo Barbera, Larry Culliford, Luke Billingham, Matthew Harper and Simon Newitt.