Where are you setting up your home?

Let’s do a very basic exercise. Think about the people who live around you, relatives, neighbours, colleagues and list how many of them live and have set up their current home in the city where they were born. How many of the people around you come from and live in the birthplace of their grandparents?

In my case, I find very few examples… I live outside my home country, and in an apartment building where there are people of many different nationalities. In Spain, I know people who come from countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Romania, Pakistan…

We use the word ‘migrate’ now, without any prefixes, so as not to offend anyone. We are no longer emigrants or immigrants, we are now migrants in the strict sense of the word. There are a variety of reasons why this change in the way we live has come about.  As we all know from media reports, it is one thing to flee your country, probably for good, and quite another to leave knowing that you will be able to return because your family is still there, waiting for you with open arms, trusting that this journey to another part of the world will allow you to grow personally and professionally.

Undoubtedly, although it is not comparable, there is a common link. You leave your home, the place where you felt comfortable, to start a new life. Difficulties arise, you have to set up a new home in a different environment, probably in a different culture, and on many occasions, unfortunately, integration is not easy due to a feeling of rejection from the country of your destination.

Uprooting, leaving one’s comfort zone or fleeing from a country at war, the instability experienced, are aspects that worry us. How all these details affect the person, their well-being, their mental and physical health, their development… Are these people ready to take on this suffering? Success stories are often shown in the media – people who crossed the ocean and today are elite sportsmen and women or were taken in by a family and are now pursuing a successful career, or left their country and managed to become leading politicians abroad. But many lives are cut short, and in most cases, the dream of achieving a better life is not fulfilled.

All these topics will be discussed at the next Experts Meeting, with more details available soon. If only something good could always be drawn from these life experiences: leaving your country to open up to a new one, leaving your family to find friends who will be like brothers and sisters, leaving your culture to get to know a new one that can open up new horizons. In a word, if only the desire or necessity to uproot ourselves and move elsewhere could be a life-enriching experience.

Let’s develop empathy

We have been through many months of pain caused by a global pandemic that no one could have imagined. Here at Home Renaissance Foundation we have tried to share stories filled with hope, especially at a time of rapid and widespread vaccination. But just as we return to work after a period of rest, the international scenario is once again intensifying.

One cannot remain unmoved by the crisis facing the people of Afghanistan. It is impossible. Seeing people fleeing, no matter how far away they are, no matter how different their culture is, no matter how little we have in common with them, cannot prevent us from understanding their suffering. They are people.

In developed countries, we enjoy freedom, democracy, education, welfare, without valuing the effort it took to get here. We argue over meaningless issues, we fight over small details and we live our lives with our backs turned from the rest of the world. But it cannot go on like that.

My heart sinks at the thought of all those people fleeing their own country, having to leave behind family, home, parents, grandparents, maybe even children… But what kind of a world are we living in? How can this be possible in the 21st century? What are we doing wrong? We need to be self-critical and try to help those who need it most, perhaps without going too far away. Let’s develop a little empathy in our own neighbourhood.

In this blog, we try to give guidelines about the building of a home, about the fundamental pillars for a well functioning household, about how to face the difficulties (difficulties!) to keep a family strong and well managed. Yes, here, in countries where we appear to have everything but perhaps lack the most important thing.

Have you ever stopped to think what it would be like to be forced to leave your country, fleeing from barbarism, and start over again elsewhere? A place where you are the stranger, you do not know the language or have the means to start strong, where you feel lost because the customs are different and you are forced to build a new home in an unknown environment, without loving support around you or anyone who understands you, trying to minimize as much as possible the pain that your children may be feeling because no one, especially not at their age, deserves this.

This situation worries us and makes us aware that as a think tank we must delve deeper into the reality of what is happening not just today in Afghanistan, but witnessed a few years ago in Syria, and is a part of daily living in Venezuela and other places in the world. Being a refugee, exile or migrant, is never an ideal situation for anyone. We are already working on a future Experts Meeting that we will tell you about soon.

Time to Reset

Reset is a current buzzword. It refers to the approach we have to moving on from the impact of Covid: not to just go back, “return,”  to where we were in 2019 but to learn lessons and make changes. To reset.

This is the theme of brand-strategist and author Elizabeth Uviebinené’s new book, called quite simply, The Reset, but offering “Ideas to Change How We Work and Live”. This is an ambitious project and Uviebinené’s premise is that now is not an opportunity to be missed. Her position is best summed up as:

“Being busy isn’t an Identity. Perks aren’t office Culture. Profit isn’t all we want from Business. Loneliness shouldn’t happen in a Community. We can all shape Society.”

During the pandemic, changes that business deemed too costly or too difficult and disruptive – flexible working from home – became overnight the only game in town. Our dependence on “key workers,” from those in the care professions to those keeping our supermarket shelves stocked was an overdue insight into the worth of hidden labour.

Uviebinené is right to argue that there should be no going back on these awakenings. It is though in her chapter on Community, where she looks at the pandemic of loneliness – predating Covid – that many of her points chime with the vision and the work of HRF.

We are living lives that are superficially connected (via social media and global newsfeeds) but actually disconnected as family and neighbourhood structures become stretched (by people moving far from their birth communities as well as by breakdown of relationships).  Added to this, the culture of “work-activism” has mistaken the pleasure and productivity of working lives for extended hours and high stress levels.

It is in our communities that we see this disconnection lived out – so many lonely and exhausted people living so close to, yet so separately from, other lonely and exhausted people – and it is also the place where the pandemic has pressed the reset button. Uviebinené sees the “stay at home” message of governments giving a chance for people to take stock of their own homes and relationships and the wider communities of which they are a part.

At its most basic level having to stay in our own neighbourhoods has opened our eyes to them: that park we never knew existed when we rushed for the morning train, that food bank where we found we could, after all, lend a hand, that neighbour whose name we now know because we had time to find out.

Although The Home is not a separate chapter in The Reset, the book is clearly about the ways in which people can become better connected, more fulfilled and learn and develop as employees, employers, colleagues, families, neighbours and friends.  Behind this is the remembrance of what had been forgotten, but never went away – the need for individuals to see themselves in relation to others, in terms of cooperation and care. These lessons are learnt in the places we all found ourselves back in: the home.

The book concludes with Uviebinené’s belief that “the gift the 2020 gave us was space and chance to work out was good and bad in our lives and to reimagine [them]”

A reset that places and reimagines the home at the heart of society for every one of its members from youngest to oldest is a gift well understood by HRF. We can all shape society – starting at home.

Summer reflections (II)

In the Light and in the Shadow, the women who enlightened me
This post is an ode to women, to those who, without needing to be in the limelight, have worked hard and put in real effort for the family, yet always in the shadows. I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by several inspiring women who have made me realise just how overlooked they are in modern society.
From my surname you will gather that I am not English, but Spanish and specifically, I was born in a small town in northern Spain called Logroño, surrounded by vineyards. Fruit orchards, village life, summers on the river and bicycle races have been ever present throughout my life as I mentioned in the previous post.
I have grown up watching an enterprising grandmother who, together with my grandfather, always worked both inside and outside the home, and obtained licenses to drive both motorbikes and cars in order to visit their clients. My grandmother was also in charge of the housework, together with her mother (my great-grandmother), because in those days it was very common for grandparents to live in the family home right to the end of their days. Once he retired, my grandfather helped my grandmother with most of the household chores, so I never had to go without anything, because he was always there when he was needed.
My mother followed in her footsteps and together with my father, she ran a successful business and put three daughters through university, without appearing overburdened, but was instead able to prioritise one thing over another during certain periods of her life. Showing how to prioritise and being totally dedicated to the family are, without a doubt, her best legacy. Witnessing it first hand is nothing like being told about it, so anyone who has not been through the experience may think it sounds a little odd. But there are ways of living that do not go out of fashion and the benefits become obvious over time.
In short, I have grown up surrounded by great women, thanks also to their husbands who made a formidable team. They were intelligent men, and their women shone as wives, mothers and workers. And I experienced this not in a big city environment but at the heart of a tiny closely connected community, where the avant-gardes always arrive a little later and where common sense and a sense of responsibility were more important than studying for a career. Yes, dear friends, this happened in Spain in the 50s and 60s and is continuing today.
Most of my childhood friends have similar stories to share, which means that my family did not turn out to be an exception, but that Spain was full of families like us. And I would add that this is repeated in many other parts of the world.
My message is simple, women have always known how to work behind the scenes, without the need to be praised or awarded medals. But nowadays we do applaud them and thank them for their great effort and the good example they set us. The important thing is that we university-educated women of the 21st century, myself included, recognise the great work they carried out with such humility, never boastful or blinded by the limelight, aware of the values they transmitted.  It is thanks to their model example that I have become the person I am today, and I feel enormous gratitude.

Summer Reflections (I)

Back to the summer of our childhood
How happy we were in summer when we were little. In Spain, school ended at the end of June and we had two and a half months ahead to do everything that winter wouldn’t allow.

Eating ice cream, riding your bike, spending afternoons in the pool, playing cards, recreating characters from our favourite television series, making bridges with sticks in the river, building houses with cardboard and towels, looking for blackberries, catching snails when it rained… In short, feeling totally free.

I spent the summers in a housing complex in the middle of the countryside in northern Spain, away from any coastal or city dangers. We would see the shepherd walking the sheep in the afternoons and we would run with the dogs so that the flock would not get lost. Sometimes we would cough from the clouds of dust raised from the road, but nothing seemed to matter other than helping the shepherd. And when we got back in September with cuts and grazes, they were the trophies that proved our bravery and made us feel very proud.

But despite all this activity, we also needed to relieve the boredom and created the most fun games. We invented new competitions, played hide and seek and adapted sports to the number of children taking part. Of course, we were not all the same age and leadership roles were shared without egos getting in the way.

I was one of the little ones and I always felt cared for by the older ones. When we went out on our bikes along the road to fetch water from the source, our parents always entrusted the care of the little ones to the adolescents, and they assumed that responsibility without question.

We never watched television because after lunch, most of us did homework before going out to play, and in the evenings we loved being outside in the communal garden, telling scary stories or just gazing at the stars. It was never too late to go to bed.

How happy we were all summer. During the last few days of August, we felt the pain of it coming to an end, with afternoons spent running errands and buying uniforms needed for the new school term that was about to begin. We knew that we wouldn’t see each other again until the following summer but could look forward to the month of July arriving and continuing our adventures out in the streets and surrounding countryside once again.

That’s how my summers were in the ’90s. What do you remember about your childhood summers?

The added benefits of housework

There is no home where it is not necessary to do the shopping, cooking, washing up, kitchen and bathroom cleaning, laundry, ironing and bedding. Technology advances at a pace, with new time-saving innovations being introduced into the home such as dishwashers, sprays to remove creases from the laundry to keep ironing to a minimum, robotic vacuum cleaners with built-in timers, supermarket deliveries to our homes and numerous kitchen gadgets that make life easier… and busier homes can outsource many of the chores, such as ironing or cleaning, getting others to lighten the workload.

But as heavy, boring and tedious as these tasks seem, the truth is that I find them useful in many ways. When you are little, they make you participate in the running of the home, they teach you to take on responsibilities, to do something for others, even to understand that however unpleasant our obligations seem, we must fulfill them.

Being in charge of these tasks at some point in our lives also teaches us to value the effort and work they require and in this way, understand how much it means for others to do them for us.

When you are an adult, you take charge and distribute the tasks, and whether or not you complete some yourself, it’s an opportunity to lead and to teach everyone to be generous and dedicated to their work. In this way, the home is built step by step and remains stable, whereas a disorderly, badly managed home can hide deeper problems that may not be visible on the surface.

When people reach retirement age, curiously, they often fully devote themselves to the work of the home, because it helps older people to stay active, to feel useful, and know that they can still bend over, still remember their mother’s recipes, and feel better prepared for whatever the future may bring.

Looking forward to seeing you soon

HRF Chairman’s message

Dear Friends,

I hope that you and your families are well. Without assuming that we are completely out of the woods, let’s hope that little by little our lives are returning to a semblance of normality, and we can truly look forward to face to face academic meetings soon.

In the past three months, we have celebrated with you, although at a distance, several relevant projects for Home Renaissance Foundation. After several years working together, we finally closed a research partnership with the International Centre for Work and Family (ICWF) at IESE Business School. The ICWF, led by its director, Professor Mireia Las Heras, has as its focus the interrelated benefits and challenges of work and family life. HRF’s unique and pioneering perspective on the life and work of the home both complements and enhances this work.

As you probably know, in May our latest book The Home in the Digital Age came out on sale in libraries. Published by Routledge as a part of their Advances in Sociology series, ‘The home in the Digital Age’ is a set of multidisciplinary studies exploring the impact of digital technologies on the home with a shift of emphasis from the technology itself to the people living and using them in their homes. Here you can read one of our latest blog posts talking about the ethics of these technologies.

Moreover, we continued our series of Communication Projects by launching in April ‘Caring At Home for those with extra needs.’ It is a project that has had a real impact on social networks, allowing us to reach great associations that work daily with families caring for those with special needs.  It has served to remind us that the home provides that safe, nurturing place for everyone, thanks to the dedicated care of others.

Let’s hope that by the Autumn we will be able to enjoy seeing each other in person. We will continue to keep you informed by email and social networks of forthcoming book presentations being carried out in various countries. So please, stay tuned!

All the best,

Bryan K. Sanderson, CBE

Smart Homes: who said life was easy?

“The car has left the highway. We are close to our house. Using our mobile phone, we send a message; the porch and entrance lights come on and the heating starts up so that when we arrive the temperature is adequate, which the device itself has learned is the one we prefer. The house is filled with soft music – we are coming to our smart home.”

Thus begins the latest book that Home Renaissance Foundation has published on Home in the Digital Age with the prestigious publisher Routledge. And the truth is that it arouses opposite feelings in me. On the one hand, obviously, I find it fantastic. New technologies enable us, using a smartphone and with a simple click, to control the lights in our house, the energy we consume, even lower the blinds and turn on the oven so that we only have to put the puff pastry into heat.

But this image, which for me is truly luxurious and somewhat futuristic, already exists. There are people who can afford this technology and gain control of their homes. And I wonder, when will everyone come to enjoy these novelties?

It happened with the arrival of the television, my mother tells me, when in the 70s only handful had a tv and the rest of the neighborhood went to see it as if it were a museum piece. It then became an easily accessible appliance, which still has its proponents and detractors. If you have ever travelled to underdeveloped parts of the world where their way of life has not evolved (the indigenous Panamanian tribe of the Guna Yala in San Blas or the Berber peoples of Tunisia come to mind) where resources are scarce, it is curious that to have a new generation television for them means to be connected to the world, to stay informed of what is happening globally.

And I keep asking myself questions: do the new technologies open an even greater inequality gap between the two worlds, the developed and the underdeveloped? Are new technologies being developed at the expense and exploitation of peoples without decision-making capacity? What does this meteoric advance mean in the most advanced societies for areas that still do not have accessible drinking water?

If we focus on the central pillar of all this, the home, how much of all that technology is necessary for the person to grow and develop in a warm and respectful environment? What do we want a digital family home to mean? Do we want to benefit from Artificial Intelligence? Do we know its risks? Because at HRF it is not that we are against progress, far from it, but we do care about the person and the homes and we do not know to what extent technology is displacing the person. On this, you will find a hierarchy of homes in chapter 4, according to the nature and presence of home automation.

With this book, we have tried to draw the attention of the reader, so that we do not forget, among other things, the ethical dimension of the digital age nor the challenges we face when, without thinking, we give permission to let all these gadgets in, whose letter of introduction is to make our lives easier. But who said life was easy?

Home Hub

This week saw the publication of Home Renaissance Foundation’s pioneering book on the home and the challenges and opportunities of new technologies.

The Home in the Digital Age seeks to place the home at the heart – or as the hub – of the ethical, social and economic considerations generated by the AI revolution.

When this material was being prepared in 2019 there was no glimpse of what 2020 /21 had in store. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the arguments in this book more urgent and prescient than anyone could have imagined. For the majority of people across the world the home did indeed become the hub last year– the place where domestic and professional life had to rub shoulders and sometimes tripped each other up.

Historian Stephen Davies, in his chapter with economist Maria Sophia Aguirre, addresses “Automation, the Home and Work” and sheds revealing light both on how we find ourselves where we are now, and the best way forward. Dr. Davies reminds us that the removal of home from the centre of the understanding of work is a recent phenomenon. Until the mid 20th century we did not think in terms of people as individual economic units, but instead saw the household as the foundational unit “physically embodied in the home, which was not simply an address or residence but rather a social unit with a set of social connections as well as a physical location.”

Further back in time, whole households were engaged in producing goods and services within the home as well as maintaining the domestic structure and nurture of the home. Mechanization – early automation – took such “cottage” industry as spinning and weaving into factories and out of the home sphere. The regulation and labour safeguards of this new working world trailed far behind its widespread introduction.

The current new age of automation, all that is meant and predicted as Artificial Intelligence, comes at a time when the older understanding of integrated, mutually dependent household or family units has been replaced by the individual focus. What are the implications for the redistribution of work from such individuals to non-human producers/processors? How is human work per se to be valued? How is the individual supported in the new work world?

The answers are within the home. Within the work of the home there is scope for increased automation and SMART technologies. In WFH (Working From Home) we see signs of the factory returning to the cottage. What has not returned is the understanding of that work as a shared function of the household. Being cooperative with and responsive to the contributions and needs of all in this wider foundational unit should be seen as key, in human and economic terms, to the integration of the new machines.

As Dr Davies concludes, we should “bring the home back into our field of vision when we consider the impact of automation.”

At HRF we understand that the home is at the cutting edge not just of the “digital age” but every age. Looking after it and recognizing its value is more vital than ever.

Thankfully, we are not robots!

We know ourselves to be social beings who need one another and are reminded of it each day in various little ways. The lockdowns during the pandemic made that fact abundantly clear to us and the whole of society. Our vulnerability and need to be cared for is addressed in an article by Professor Argandoña published recently in the Spanish weekly Alfa y Omega, following the launch of our latest Communication Project.

But in addition to needing each other, we each play a part in various spheres of our lives. But unlike robots, we do not have the capacity to separate some aspects from others but can juggle those differing roles with ease and naturalness. We don’t arrive home placing our professional avatar in airplane mode, or work in the office with our personal antenna switched off. Fortunately, although it may seem like a nuisance at times, our lives develop and overlap on personal, family, professional and social levels. We are the fruit of the combination of all of them.

There are stages in life when some gain more weight than others, but very rarely are there times when one aspect of our life is blocked out altogether. We are born into a family, we interact with our friends at school, we are part of a sports or social group and we work to earn a living.

Our well-being and our balanced lives, both personal and mental, depend on stability and harmony in all these areas. And since this balance is recognised as being so crucial to achieving our true potential, we have entered a research partnership with the International Centre for Work and Family (ICWF) at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, to investigate and analyse the interaction between these spheres of life.

Over the next four years, three researchers from the research centre, led by Prof. Mireia Las Heras, whose credentials you can read about here, will be carrying out extensive research into this field. We will be disseminating the results of this in-depth investigation, which will provide a greater recognition of the work involved in creating healthy and strong home environments and family lives. The objective is to identify individual and collective strengths within the family sphere both in attributes and processes and to discover how they enable human beings to flourish.

We are pleased to announce this joint project partnership which builds on many years of collaboration with IESE Business School.