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My Dear Friend, Robin Murray

Robin Muray

By: Tim Crabtree
Plum Village, France
3 June 2017

Occasionally in life we meet someone rather special, and Robin Murray was one of those people. We met at Schumacher College five years ago – Robin had helped to develop the Master’s programme in Economic for Transition with my colleague Julie Richardson, and I became a lecturer on the course in 2012. Like many, I had read his work since the 1980’s, knew of his work at the GLC, University of Sussex and as a founder of the Fair Trade movement, and was therefore rather in awe of Robin’s reputation. Yet as a person he turned out to be approachable, charming and humble – and soon he became a friend and mentor (though he wouldn’t have liked the latter description!) For me, his most notable quality was that he always wanted to know what you were thinking about, what you were engaged with at that time, and then really wanted to explore those areas with you.

I am writing these recollections at Plum Village, a mindfulness practice centre in France established by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn. It feels appropriate as Robin was curious about my practice, came to early morning meditation when at Schumacher College and read one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books that I sent. To me it reflects his seemingly limitless curiosity and desire to engage with others.

For many of our students, time with Robin was transformative. As soon as he arrived at Schumacher College he would head to the kitchen to help make supper and to talk to the people working there. At other times, he would he would go for long walks with students, always fascinated by their inquiries and always generous with his experience and expertise.

One of the themes that Robin was exploring was the way in which the economy could become more “organic”, mirroring the ecological processes we experience in nature. So, for example, instead of individual enterprises scaling up, the aim would be to connect together firms in mutually supportive networks. We discussed the way in which form in the economy emerges, the way in which these forms get “firmed up” and then how the firm as organism could remain “alive” and generative. Robin would talk of his experience with Latin American cooperatives and how their adoption of the principle of ongoing “formacion” was so important – that it is not just about coming up with innovative ideas and starting things up, but continuing to find ways to maintain and develop the culture and spirit of a company. 

One of my favourite memories is of Robin giving a session on a course called Enterprise Live. He said that he just had 10 slides which would help him to talk about 10 principles of the social economy. Three hours later we all sat absorbed and entranced by Robin’s ideas and reflections. The bell for lunch rang and Robin turned to his tenth slide – which was divided into 10 sub-points! He suggested that we finish, but we all implored him to carry on – Robin talked for another 30 minutes finally bringing to close a wonderful session of insights distilled from over 50 years of innovation, entrepreneurship and deep thinking, underpinned of course by his commitment to service and to creating a better and more just world. 

I have lost a friend and someone I am proud to have thought of as a mentor – an inspiration not just because of his ideas and his pioneering activity, but because of his manner, his warmth and his generosity. We have lost a man who combined practical experience, probing intelligence and a gentle wisdom – truly an inspiration to so many.

There is a description of Robin’s life work at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/neweconomics/life-robin-murray-visionary-e...