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Onion Collective: skills for the next economy 

Last week, we celebrated Green Skills Week and highlighted those working in the green sector. One of the many organisation we we work with is Onion Collective. Here, the Director of Onion Collective, Sally, shares their perspective on the future of the economy.

At Onion Collective, we’re interested in issues around the next economy, which demonstrates a different and fairer version of how the world could work, where people and planet come before shareholder profits. We believe this to be the crux of the green economy.

To do this, we’re taking a place-based approach, and working on an ambitious portfolio of projects with and for our community here in Watchet.

This includes a large cultural development on our quayside, that will provide the physical space for local people to come together and use creativity to conceive of a better future; a community biomanufacturing industry, where the biomimetic materials company, Biohm, will bring mycelium insulation to market – feeding local waste to fungus to grow these new products; and a new virtual tool for mapping and interrogating social capital in communities, developed in partnership with gaming company, Free Ice Cream - testing our hypothesis that community is the first line of defence in a crisis, and exploring how we might use our networks to adapt to future shocks.

The work that we’re developing is leading to the creation of posts with specific skill sets such as microbiology / mycology, but typically we’re more general in our approach and look for people who align on a more fundamental level. Typically, we look for brave, lateral and strategic thinkers, who show empathy and compassion, and seek to find and spread joy in all they do, and we look for people who are good at building and maintaining relationships. 

Of course the next economy requires architects, designers, engineers and biochemists to help practically deliver technical projects, but fundamentally, it needs thought leaders and it needs connectors; people with the hope, drive and imagination to put forward something better, and to build bridges between people and organisations, to make us work as the network we are. We look for people who aren’t blinkered by the current economic system, and who aren’t afraid to challenge the norm. We look for diversity of thinking, for the voices we rarely hear from. The challenges and the changes ahead will be significant, and require an entirely new approach. We need new voices and new solutions to help us adapt. This, as well as hard work, focus and kindness, are key at Onion. 

 Biomill Production Manager Chris Spink holding a mycelium insulation panel
 Biomill Production Manager Chris Spink holding a mycelium insulation panel

In more specific terms, we might look for people who have considered new methods of impact assessment, or who might challenge our views on how we might maximise the benefit of our work. We might look for people able to take a whole lifecycle approach, to question and adapt a problem in front of them to create a fresh new conception, rather than just looking for the best available sticking plasters. Sometimes the most interesting people will apply a skillset in an unexpected way, for example an expert in permaculture might use these principles to explore business practice, so we would always want to think about how skills might be transferred, and for the people who recognise that this might be the case.

Here in Somerset, as in many places now, we are also learning to better value our natural capital, and to understand how this might take its place at the centre of any new approach. So an ecological background could provide incredible new insight into how to push this thinking forward.

In summary, there will be many practical skillsets required in the next economy, from engineering and architecture to biology and design, but our experience has also shown us that a fundamental shift is also at play – and that imaginative systems thinkers are needed to provide the foundations, and that if you can apply that mindset, experience is often, if not always transferable.