Diversity and Empowerment: Tools of Change #1

OXFAM CHARITY SHOPS, OUR ‘LOCAL ENCANTO’

In this episode, I want to correlate the dynamics in the diverse charity shops environment and the diversity represented in the latest Disney movie: Encanto. On the one hand, Disney has broken the stereotypes promoted and portrayed in its films, integrating a significant representation of different ethnicities. On the other hand, this movie highlights community work and solidarity values. While in the charity sector, secondhand retail shops develop a safe and trustworthy retail environment that works as a meeting and melting pot for a diverse team of management, volunteers and donors from various backgrounds, collaborating to achieve social justice.

1.  Introduction

In this comparison, I will mention the actual historical context behind Encanto and its settlement, which is very close to the reality behind the Oxfam settlement and the creation of its charity shops. I will also list the essential values that have allowed Oxfam survival through time and how it has similarities with the movie’s plot; so, having said this, let’s start.

Encanto is a marvellous hidden village in the middle of the Colombian mountains, where a group of families are kept safe and work together to maintain the place’s welfare and charm. The children of one of the families, The Madrigal family, are blessed with magic gifts to sustain the common interest in the village, except for Mirabel. The latter did not receive any magical gift. This lovely family must face Change in a challenging way to keep the place’s charm through individual self-care, empowerment, and community care.
In a glance at their picture, this family represents the diversity of ethnicities in Latinamerican-specially in Colombia.

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The Family Madrigal. Encanto, Disney Movie, 2021. Jason’s Movie Blog has a fantastic Review of the film.

Oxfam is a global network of people working together to achieve social justice. It is an international non-profit organisation that works to raise funds, campaign & influence power and policies, deliver aid and fight inequality. As with any other organisation, Oxfam has minimum internal functioning rules, allowing efficiency, cohesion, and transparency.

Oxfam counts with a vast number of charity shops, which generate a basic income to consider in the organisation’s profits; according to the Annual Report, 2020/2021, charity shops generated a total income of £39.4M, representing 11.44% of the total revenue, against the £93.4M-24.84%- raise last year.
Although these shops embrace different groups of people from each local community, creating magical places where staff, volunteers and donors have unique gifts to contribute the social Change; They also reflect the transformational social Change of each generation.

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The volunteering team at the Oxfam local shops reflects the diversity of local communities by age, gender, experience, skills, etc. Diversity is the main value in Oxfam.

 

2. Same Starting Point: Surviving the Breach of Fundamental Rights

Encanto

Oxfam

The real story behind Encanto is a story with plenty of pain and blood. At the end of the film, we can discover the shaking truth of a whole community and the reason for the village’s settlement.

Refugee people founded the village Encanto after being prosecuted and executed by unknown armed people in their hometown. These people fled through the middle of the mountains, leaving behind their burning houses. In their escape, the executioners reached them, murdering everyone in their path. Pedro Madrigal, one of the victims, tried to stop the barbarians and keep his wife and newborn babies safe. Before his death, Pedro kisses his children as a goodbye sign, and he gives a candle to Alma, his wife, to light her scaping way. Pedro died unfairly in front of his wife and children. When the executors were approaching to kill Alma and the rest of the people, the charm happened, the magic powers shined in the candle, and giant rock walls came out from the ground to isolate victims from executors. Pedro’s children received magic powers at that precise moment, inheriting magical gifts to The Madrigal’s next generations children. Finally, we understand that magic happened as a tool of protecting against such an infamous fact.

Colombian history is plenty of war stories, which are reflected in our historical background since the Spanish conquest in the XV century, the genocide of the indigenous people in the fight for the land, the independence process from the Spanish Empire, to the current democratic period.

Comparing the story in the movie with reality, Colombia has a population of 50 million. And it is crucial to stick out that there are 8.1 million forcibly displaced people and almost 200 000 forcibly disappeared people in the country. Colombia has been suffering an internal armed conflict for the last 60 years, added to the drug trafficking scenario.

It was founded as the Oxford Committee for Famine relief to stop the famine in Greece produced by the Nazi occupation and the Allied blockade in 1942. Behind this project, there were a group of Quakers social activists, intellectuals, and Oxford academics. They started to campaign and persuaded the UK government to allow the entrance of food through the blockade. After World War II, this group continued sending aid through Europe, and later they sent that aid to developing countries.
The first Oxfam charity shop opened in Oxford in 1948. The idea came out because secondhand trading clothing was more profitable than sending the donated stock away to the needy Europeans. In the 50s, the shops’ network made over £1M yearly. Soon, secondhand trading became a profitable business, which made the head of retail decide to introduce paid staff to the shops to increase professionalism, accountability, safeguarding, and sales. The first person considered to get the first shop manager position at Oxfam was a volunteer with a high level of commitment in Southeast London, Blackheath; her name is Nicola Gatt, a passionate human rights activist who is still in post. Nowadays, Oxfam has about 600 shops across the country and more than 20,000 volunteers. Therefore, shops also started to sell products Sourced by Oxfam, craft, hygiene & cleaning, and food products produced by small communities from Africa, Asia, and South America under fair and ethical values.

Oxfam was settled to face the necessity of giving humanitarian protection to a batch o people who were victims of a breach of the war crime and humanitarian laws: starvation as war means. Within this line, Charity shops were created to gather community support, then it became a profitable business, and now it is a social movement.

 

3. Diversity as Universal Value

 Encanto

Oxfam

It is the first time a Disney film represents diversity, accurately referring to the Latin American community. But how is this diversity reflected in the movie? Encanto has different characters with different racial backgrounds, ages, and abilities. But for now, let’s focused on the first ones. 

Encanto has characters from different ethnicities: afro, indigenous, white, mixed, which is the most realistic representation of the Colombian people. With this introduction of diverse characters, there is an indirect recognition of our historical Latinos context. The most iconic picture of diversity is reflected in the hair types and skin colour of the same family.

What is the ethnic context for Colombians? Due to our history, there is a rich mixture of races in our community:

Firstly, indigenous from the pre-Columbian civilisation were the owners of the land before America’s colonisation in 1492 by the Spanish Empire, which supposed a  genocide against the autochthonous people in the whole continent to control the territories. 

Secondly, It is essential to highlight that the Spanish Empire already had a mixture of ethnicities due to its own story in Europe. The different Kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle age were: Visigoths, Muslims from North Africa, and the current Afghanistan and Syria, also Jewish. 

Coming back to America’s Colonisation, a substantial African community was introduced as a slave workforce to exploit the territory between 1500 and 1880. Also,  Arabian enslaved people from the North of Africa.

During 1800 and the beginning of 1840, from Centre America to La Patagonia, all territories started an independence process from the European Empires. The first territory to get independent was Haiti in 1804. aligned with this phenomenon,  Colombia gained its independence from the Spanish Empire in 1810, and it became a Republic in 1819. From 1810 to 1888, Colombia went through the slavery abolition process and finally declared the freedom of wombs between 1812 and 1821. The country decreed freedom for all enslaved people in 1852. Then, to face this workforce shortage, the Chinese and Japanese workforce was introduced to sugar cane plantations. 

Next, From 1800 many businesspeople from the Ottoman Empire had a presence in the region. They focused their business on the textile developing industry. Additionally, the second wave of Arabian migration from Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine in the first part of the XX century came to the North of the Country. 

Also, the Filipin people had some presence in a few territories due to the vast size of the Spanish Empire.

Finally, During WWII, many European refugees-Jewish- were established in the country. At the end of the war, some Nazis and Fascists who escaped from the allies resettled secretly in Colombia (and many other territories of Latin America). Most of these new populations came from Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). 

Oxfam understands that everyone has different backgrounds, skills, and experiences. Regardless of these circumstances, each person has the right to be treated equally to get the same opportunities. In the charity retail environment, diversity is a universal value represented by customers, donors, volunteers, and shop management by different ethnicity, age, social level, skills, etc. 

The charity shop teams have a mixture of different groups by ethnicity: shops in big cities, like London, have more ethnically diverse volunteering teams: Asian, Eastern Europeans, Mediterranean, African, Caribbean, white British, South American, etc. Shops in small villages or cities have less presence of different racial groups, but they significantly represent different social levels.

The shop’s team have different groups of age present in shops too: from elderly, middle age, young people, to children (from 14 to 18). Although old volunteers belong to a completely different generation, they interact with very young people and exchange opinions about current issues and skills. It is marvellous to see how people involved in the charity environment stay open-minded and flexible to social Change. And it is also amazing how young people support the elderly to embrace Change and adapt quickly. Besides, elderly volunteers welcome young people, teaching them the abilities they expect to gain during the volunteering experience, becoming the charity environment in an informal knowledge exchange space.

Furthermore, Charities also host different groups by social stratification: pensioners, workers with high-qualified jobs, workers with non-qualified jobs, job seekers, students, recent graduates, people with zero work experience, housewives, asylum seekers who do not hold the grant to work, refugees, corporate volunteers, etc. Regarding customers, they represent different groups: Over time, Oxfam has experimented with customer changes. Many decades ago, charity shops were the perfect suitable places for people whose budget wasn’t enough to afford total prices at the High Street. But currently, charity shops have become trendy places for people with various budgets to get clothing, accessories, books, furniture, etc. Nowadays, buying secondhand goods is one of the most popular trendy behaviours in the current society. This Change has been possible due to the hard campaigning from charitable groups to fight against climate change and fast fashion. Customers of charity shops have a mixture of social profiles; they are no longer poor people looking for affordable secondhand articles.

Shops welcome Different groups by body ability, too. W can find fully able volunteers and others who hold reduced mobility or mental condition such as Asperger’s or autism. Impairment means skills are acquirable and teachable. Also, charity shops have different groups by mental state. There is an essential presence for people with mental issues such as depression. One of the benefits charity shop recruiters and engagement teams mention is that volunteering positively impacts mental health.

Last but not least, donors represent different groups, too: charity shops have occasional and regular donors. For example, the former ones are those who live for a short period in the local community, such as students or temporary workers, or people who live permanently in the community and donate staff just from time to time. Latter donors live permanently in the local community. They make regular stock donations to the shops, either because they commit to environmental protection and believe in Oxfam cause or because charities are the easiest way to drop unwanted stock. Apart from the frequency parameter, there are other reasons to identify groups of donors, such as age or social levels. 

 

4. Solidarity: New Generation of Rights

 Encanto

Oxfam

The solidarity value is shown at the end of the film when The Madrigal family gets homeless, and the first reaction of the villagers is to help The Madrigals to build up their house again. This dynamic is possible due to the community unity created since the village’s settlement. Regardless of people’s diversity, the community could merge a group of individuals to share the same objectives and values. Since the beginning, the Madrigal family has been working using its gifts to create welfare in the community helping with the daily tasks of the villagers, and villagers collaborate to support The Madrigals to face adversity. This mutual collaboration does not consider the existence of social classes or privilege.

This solidarity network works as a crucial tool to look forward to building up a sustainable community that assume its own identity, diversity, and challenges as a group, which at the same time deconstructs discrimination and structural oppression.

At some point, The Madrigals hold certain powers, But those powers are used to serve the community’s common welfare. There is no individuals or heroines; on the contrary, there is equality and solidarity. We can see that a whole community heeled its traumas; they empowered each other to push for Change, showing compassion to each other all the time.

The retail charity environment has a hidden solidarity network. How?

Oxfam charity shops were settled to make the donated stock by individuals to the most needed people more profitable. It means that local communities had a real helping purpose of donating items to relieve people at risk. It was a brilliant idea to create a hugely profitable market and make income trading with those secondhand items instead of sending them abroad. 

On the one hand, charity shops play a crucial role in giving second chances to textiles and fabric, indirectly helping fight the fast fashion industry and avoiding buying the stock.

On the other hand, welcoming volunteers to run the shops improves the idea of developing a sustainable business because there is no need to invest too much in staff, having more budget to invest in the social projects. Besides, helping some groups from the community to gain skills experience, boost confidence, and meet new people.

In summary, this solidarity network created in the charity retail environment has a hugely positive impact: managing unwanted local stock not to end in landfill, using in the best way volunteers’ skills and time, making as much possible money for projects, and creating safe spaces to welcome diversity, being inclusive, and exchange knowledge, experiences, and stories. 

5. The Disability Model as Part of Diversity

Encanto

Oxfam

We can compare the lack of magic gifts in the film with an impairment in real life. In the movie, Mirabel, who does not have any magical power, is at a disadvantage with other family members to collaborate with the daily community tasks and maintain the charm. We can see that there is a certain social pressure on her shoulders every single time that kids and people ask about her non-existent magical power. In the end, this film shows that other invisible abilities are essential to pursue Change, challenge situations, empower individuals, and influence the close area to us. We can see during the movie that the environment is adapted to Mirabel, but people conduct’s evolved to embrace her and recognise that she has other hidden powers or abilities. Oxfam follows the social model of disability within diversity and inclusion values. In the charity retail environment, the management team is responsible for making the necessary changes and adapting the environment to welcome diversity. If these changes are not made, Oxfam would be breaking inclusion and diversity values. Moreover, this action would be perpetuating discrimination and victimisation of people who are not entire body able or entirely mental robust.

After the lockdown, many volunteers with disabilities helped and collaborated to keep our shops open, which levels up the social role for the shops and the commitment with the local community.

 

6. Empowerment to Break the Bias

Encanto

Oxfam

Then empowerment value in this Disney movie is represented mainly by Mirabel, who is fully aware of her situation regarding the magic. She is full of courage to look for answers and persuade others to look for Change.

Mirabel is aware of her self-care commitment and community care commitment. In the movie, she looks for the collaboration of all the family in search of the truth, creating a solidarity network to free some family members of heavy burdens due to stereotypes. For example:

  • Isabella shows she is the perfect princess who has to do what the others want to be happy. But she recognises that it is a tiring and miserable task.
  • Luisa, who is consistently strong, has not had the right to show her weakness and vulnerabilities; she is not allowed to rest or express what she feels. She shows how tiring and frustrating it is to maintain that stereotype.
  •  Bruno has been displaced not to inconvenience his family and the community, making him feel shame about himself and his identity since his visions and skills have been prejudged as lousy conduct.
  • Abuela Alma has always been in control of the situation; she has always been vital to manage the family and help the village before helping herself. She is a stubborn woman who resists Change because she is afraid to damage people around her and make mistakes. In the end, she recognises she is wrong, and she opens to welcome Change. Her stubbornness represents how difficult it is to persuade the power to change some situations. 

This story proves that everyone has inborn powers to impact the inner of each influential group, assuming their own identity, being accountable for decisions, and always being courageous to pursue a change.

The Oxfam head of retail has been introducing different rules and measures to create a safe and sustainable environment at the charity shops.

The retail environment has been more open to welcoming more groups from the community to diversify our internal teams, making them more flexible and resilient. The retail team has simplified the recruitment process to achieve this new strategy, always complying with the GDPR and safeguarding policies. This dynamic has opened the scope to more people feeling identify with the organisation, engaging them quicker and easier than before. 

Moreover, there is a better understanding of volunteering, offering a holistic approach, and opening the charities as trustworthy places to get unique experiences considering the individual’s needs. Charity shops have been focused on having a kind of knowledge exchange deal with volunteers and other members of the local communities, a fact that enforces the community network idea and solidary value. This modality links volunteers with some partners to offer them training, improving their skills and connection with the organisation.  

Finally, all the Oxfam charity shops have adapted quickly to the pandemic circumstances, implementing secondhand online retail, which has opened broader volunteering opportunities although the complicated circumstances. 

7. The Invisible Power

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the law is present in all realities of our existence; it is like the air; it is everywhere. So that, if we use a quick view on Encanto and Oxfam, we can see a different reality that is invisible to our perception: a whole world of regulations and policies which come from local and state actors and work as a framework for each activity.

On the one hand, in the Encanto case, we can consider three policies: the Feminist leadership principles, the generation of the Human Rights System, the state and democracy definition in International Law.

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In the end, Encanto summarises the evolution of the rights conquered by each generation.

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Going further, we presume that the state, in Encanto, does not hold effective control over all its territories concerning international Humanitarian Law. The official security forces do not have enough scope to protect people at risk from violence. So that, after the village settlement, there is a necessity to have minimum rules of coexistence and the Madrigal powers. In this case, Madrigal’s capabilities can be compared with the state authorities, always favouring community service. Also, The grandmother can be compared with the head of Government, as long as she makes decisions, considering the villager’s needs.

In the movie, the most exciting point happens when the family loses their powers and their home. This fact can be considered a metaphor for a crisis affecting the Government and how the state powers need to work together to adapt the environment to welcome Change. This exercise shows us how ordinary people have the fundamental ability to create the fiction of democracy and state.

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On the other hand, looking at Oxfam charity shops, we realise they hold a complex policy system that allows their correct and safe functioning. There are regulations regarding property and facility services, i.e. tenancy agreements, water, electricity, broadband contracts, periodic pest control, health and safety rules, etc. There are also other policies related to retail such as keeping and maintaining the marketing guidelines to display, market laws, keeping the finance clear, following health & safety standards on donations and recycling materials, following internal rules on stock rotation, protecting customer rights, gift aid policies, etc. Additionally, charities have paid staff covered by the HR internal department (Payroll, annual leave, sickness leave, code of conduct, conflict of interest, investigations HR, the equities act, etc.). Finally, the volunteering activity follows many recruitments, vetting, safeguarding, training, diversity, and inclusion rules.

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8. Conclusion

Encanto highlights that Change is a challenging process that demands individuals and communities to stay flexible and open-minded to adapt smoothly to new circumstances. Only those who remain adaptable can survive. In addition to showing the courage to pursue Change assuming the diverse individual identity, this film also considers the empowerment of individuals and communities as an essential means to create an indirect universal solidarity value, representing equality and the end of the discrimination system. 

In parallel, Oxfam has been consolidated as a sustainable movement, surviving for the last 80 years, adapting itself to the different generational social changes. Oxfam has created lasting solutions introducing and implementing universal values as a framework: diversity, accountability, and empowerment. During the last decades, Oxfam has experimented with some changes to create variety in its team and become the organisation from a middle British class charity to a diverse charity where everyone can feel represented. Charity shops also reflected these changes, diversifying the shop management, the volunteering team goals, and readdressing the retail objectives.

Encanto and Oxfam show two realities with similarities in their foundation, values, and the process to face adversity. Both mirror the benefits of investing in the third generation of human rights-solidarity rights- to achieve social justice through diversity, empowerment,  resilience, courage, and solidarity. It is essential to consider that every individual in each community is surrounded by rules and decisions that do not depend on themselves. This fact makes everyone vulnerable because there is a power over us that decides on our future, number of opportunities, and even expected behaviours in certain situations. The reality is that the power does not consider all groups-minorities present in society in the decision-making process. There is a majority dictatorship, which is a defective consequence of democracy. This dynamic perpetuates the status quo of some privileged groups, which can influence the policies in their favour and always have more control of their situation and opportunities, making the inequality gap between the poor and the rich more significant. In summary, The crucial steps towards the construction of a new sustainable social model include:

  • Being aware of individual diversity, and community diversity
  • Being aware of the individual and community needs.
  • Detecting individual intersectionality.
  • Having the courage to look for Change. 
  • Assuming the own identity.
  • Persuading others into the influential sphere.
  • Empowering others.
  • Building up personal and group accountability.
  • Tackling the roots of current issues spotting the rules, traditions, and behaviours behind each circumstance: detecting the power behind. 
  • Creating safe thinking spaces.
  • Breaking the bias.
  • Working to share the power. 

 

 

 

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