Versa Interviews – What’s a Pound VERSA

You would think that things would be relatively static in the Oxford ball scene. Established rotas, hundreds of years of hedonistic tradition; what could change? Yet an organisation which has been making waves recently is What’s a Pound, which has convinced eleven JCRS to support it in adding a pound to their ball tickets for charity. Not only this, but it has just announced that it has partnered with the notorious Varsity ski trip to raise money off of their ticket sales. Braving the Catz bar during the daytime, I sat down with Lauren Blum who founded the organisation back in May, to talk about the organisation and changing an ethos a pound at a time.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

So tell us, what is a pound?

A pound has a small impact, but the point is that a pound is like a person. A person can’t easily make change on their own, but they can as part of a collective. This is like a pound; taken together they can make a real difference.

What exactly do you do then?

We encourage events, including college and society ones, to add £1 to the price of their ticket and donate it to a charity of their choice. We think it would be great if events gave the vast amount (sic) of money raised to homelessness charities in Oxford and Cambridge as it seems to grant recognition to the contrast of the privilege of these events and their difficult situations.

Why do you seem to support some Oxford charities over others? For example, on your Facebook page you seem emphasise St Mungos and not the Oxford Gatehouse.

It’s just who we’ve managed to get in touch with. If we‘ve been given information we can share then we’ll share it.

Why should people or organisations choose What’s a Pound? They could take the extra £1, or one of the amounts that you recommend donating, and give it to an Effective Altruist recommended charity where they would know that it is doing a lot of good for little money.

It’s about changing the culture of being self-indulgent. It’s about thinking when you are being self-indulgent and thinking about others around you. About trying to change the culture of just spending money [with little regard for others] really.

Are you worried that it might lead to people being satisfied with doing just this? That they might think “I’ve done my bit” and not think about going out to volunteer or donating more?

The point of What’s a Pound is to introduce charitable acts to a range of people. It doesn’t, and isn’t meant to, limit their future actions. We do hope everyone feels satisfied with doing this though as it is a good thing to be part of!

So it’s about doing more good with things that are already happening?

If you are changing the culture, you are changing acts which are happening daily or weekly. It is supposed to make people question when and where they could be doing more.

Where do you hope to expand this to in the future?

As you might have heard, we have already expanded it to the Varsity trip. We also have expanded it to Cambridge. Our hope is in the future to scout out other unis which might be interested; it’s just about finding them now.