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The social sector is finally beginning to realise the potential of lived experience leaders. Several members of ACH staff, including our CEO, have lived experience as refugees, and this is now central to our work and one of the things that sets us apart from our competitors. 
As storytelling is at the heart of how we talk about our lives and identities, it is unsurprising that social issues tend to be described through narrative. In the context of social sector work, people’s personal experiences have often been treated as stories to be publicised, but not as expert knowledge. However, with emerging changes in social sector work presenting a need for new types of leadership, the approach to the role of lived experience is evolving. 
 
A report by The Lived Experience highlights several areas in which recognising the value of lived experience can improve social sector work. These include legitimacy and accountability, improving services and initiatives, community cohesion and partnerships, and driving innovation. 
 
It makes sense that the individuals who have been most affected by social issues have a right to be involved in changing them, and that their knowledge represents a valuable contribution to social sector work. However well-intentioned an organisation is, if none of the decision-makers involved have direct experience of the problems they tackle, they will miss out on valuable insights and innovations, which could even result in inadvertently perpetuating inequality. 
 
How can social sector organisations change? 
 
The social sector is beginning to realise the potential of lived experience leaders. However, the notion of a person’s lived experience as expertise is still contested, meaning that many organisations are missing out on important perspectives in their work. 
 
People with lived experience of social issues are often considered useful for informing work and research, but are not empowered as leaders and decision-makers themselves. It is important to change this standard, and to provide opportunities for people with valuable lived experience to become involved in social sector work. 
 
Changes are already happening, and as noted in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the sector could be shifting to a much more user-focused system than it has had previously. Recognition of lived experience is part of this change, allowing a more accurate focus on the requirements of service users, and a better way to address the inequalities that currently exist. 
 
Working collectively 
 
Recognising the value of lived experience does not mean focusing solely on a person’s background, regardless of abilities – nor does it mean publicising their story as justification of social sector work. 
 
To successfully incorporate lived experience into their work, organisations need to work collectively, combining a diverse range of experience and knowledge to bring about system change. Emerging practices in social sector work place emphasis on establishing a cross-sector effort, which brings the voices of those with lived experience into the conversation, and promotes sharing of knowledge between all groups involved. 
 
Several members of ACH staff, including our CEO, have lived experience as refugees. Coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, staff can bring their different experiences together in the work they do. Our diversity and recognition of lived expertise in its various forms means that we are able to put the needs of our learners and tenants at the centre of our work, and tailor our services accordingly. 
 
Lived experience is central to our work in 3 ways: 
 
1. A number of our staff have experience as refugees, and can bring their relevant perspective to the services we create. 
2. Staff with knowledge of UK and local systems are able to put the information we have into regional and national context, and ensure that our  
approach works within existing structures. 
3. Input from the refugee community feeds into everything we do, and provides the basis from which ACH staff can design and implement our  
services. 
 
Bringing these different aspects of lived experience together, we create solutions to refugee resettlement issues that are not limited by one perspective, and are instead formed from a diverse set of influences. 
 
By recognising the value of lived experience, and establishing a collaborative approach that utilises a diverse range of expertise, social sector organisations can create systems that are genuinely relevant to the people they aim to serve. 
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