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Hilary Cottam’s ‘Radical Help’ has communities around the world rethinking (and revamping) their social programs

For writing “Radical Help,” a highly influential book about fixing social problems that has resonated all over the world, Hilary Cottam is one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People of 2020.

Hilary Cottam’s ‘Radical Help’ has communities around the world rethinking (and revamping) their social programs
[Photo: Charlie Hopkinson]

Social entrepreneur Hilary Cottam has spent more than 10 years designing, building, and implementing alternative welfare systems for communities in the U.K. that don’t just manage problems, they help people escape the revolving door of aid dependency. Rather than assigning social workers to community members, for example, Cottam’s experiments allowed people to choose their own. Instead of asking how long someone has been out of work and what their qualifications are, “We say to people, ‘What do you dream of being, and who is the first person you need to know to connect you to that dream?'” she says. In 2018, Cottam, who holds a PhD in social sciences, published a book about her work, called Radical Help. Now in its sixth edition with multiple translations, it’s resonated everywhere, she says, because of how “deep changes in our society, most of which are technology driven, make those former systems no longer either affordable or socially useful.” Cottam is now helping design new social systems in Norway and Denmark. “I used to be the person with a radical idea,” she says. “Now I’m the person with the idea that seems really common sense.”

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