Walking around the 3D Print Show four weeks ago, I found that most of what was on show was either self-indulgent or pretty useless. I think we could all live without 3D printed statues of ourselves. Do we need to 3D print imaginary insects? Do we need to print intricate chocolates using additive printing only for them to be gobbled down in an instant? I even went to a session titled “Building a 3D printed home” only to hear the designer had only printed a small part of the interior, which from the moment it was printed meant it was impossible to make any home improvements.
Then I heard Jim Kor talk. Jim and his team of designers in Canada have for decades been trying to build a car that does as little harm to the environment as possible, in light of some eye-watering projections about the number of new car drivers there will be in the next few decades. With few signs of the electric grid quickly becoming greener, they’re trying to build a car that can run at normal speeds on as little petrol as possible. They’re going about this in three main ways:
Firstly, making sure that energy is efficiently transferred from the engine to the tires. On this front, Jim is following many engineering features of the Mini Cooper (famously good at this), including the length of the car, in part because he used to race minis… on ice! (I have no idea whether Jim is driving this car, but I wouldn’t put it past him!)
Secondly, the team needed to reduce air drag. Jim pointed out that Enzo Ferarri’s comment “aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines” was for a by-gone era. His team have used the latest simulation software to come up with a car for two people that looks a bit like a bullet (below, right, ironic given the amount of press that the 3D printed guns have got).
Finally, they make the biggest savings on petrol by reducing weight. Here, Jim draws his inspiration from nature. Birds can fly because they have hollow bones. But, birds, like cars, need to survive collisions at high-speed so their hollow bones are full of intricate supports to increase their strength. The Urbee team mimicked this structure (above left) when building the parts for their car. 3D printing has allowed him to build a car that is far lighter than, but just as strong as, what is currently on the market.
Jim said that at current quantities of production they can produce the car for $50,000, but if a car company produced 100,000 then the cost could come down to $16,000. As was discussed during the RSA President’s lecture ‘Making the Future,’ one reason for the lack of investment in new digital fabrication technologies is because once products are designed and prototyped using technology such as 3D printing, at a certain scale of production it becomes cheaper to build moulds into which the final product is cast so manufacturing jobs go to other countries where labour and space is cheaper. Interestingly, in the case of the Urbee, 3D printing will still be required since no moulding can make the bird-bone-type structure.
There’s been a lot of hype about 3D printing, and maybe that’s needed to get noticed. But we should try and strip away the hyperbole, just like historian Marshall Poe does when describing the Internet as follows: “It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the Internet is a post office, newsstand, video store, shopping mall, game arcade, reference room, record outlet, adult book shop and casino rolled into one. Let’s be honest: that’s amazing. But it’s amazing in the same way a dishwasher is amazing – it enables you to do something you have always done a little easier than before.” And I think the Urbee is a specific example of how useful 3D printing can be.
I’m reminded of what Evgeny Morozov said in his recent book about the Internet “technology should not be seen as lying outside of culture and history. Printing certainly didn’t come equipped with its own “logic” or “nature”… features were the product of complex negotiations and contingent historical processes, not the natural attributes of printing technology.” I think the same should apply to 3D printing. Just because some people want to use 3D printing for mini statues and intricate chocolates, it doesn’t mean the rest of us should be put off!
Here’s how you can get involved.
- Show your support for the Urbee on their latest Kickstarter campaign
- Like many new ventures, the Urbee team are using crowdfunding to turn their idea into action (having crowdfunded for the orange shell). If you want to use crowdfunding to turn your idea into action, the RSA Catalyst recently launched support to help people crowdfund their social ventures
- RSA Enterprise team are designing a prize challenge for the UK’s talented pool of amateur designer-makers, hackers, fabricators and manufacturers to apply their skills to help disabled people, read more
- If you’re a manufacturer interested in these new technologies, or a maker already experimenting with them, the RSA Design team are working to help makers. Read about this or follow them on twitter
- Or you can get in touch with these RSA Fellows are hoping to build a digital fabrication space in London, having built one in Glasgow with support from RSA Catalyst
Earlier this year I played a small part in helping Chess in Schools and communities raise almost £700,000 from the Educational Endowment foundation for a randomised control trial on the impact of chess on attainment in Maths and English (and a few other measures) in about 50 primary schools. The scheme is being evaluated by the Institute of Education in London and represents a big breakthrough for chess, and potentially for educational research too.
Those who played chess when they were younger tend to have little doubt about its educational value, but as with almost any educational initiative, finding hard evidence for that is difficult. There is a huge range of anecdotal, case study and qualitative evidence, but this study over 4 years will hopefully prove what we have long suspected.
At the current count, Chess in Schools and Communities now covers over 283 schools over 46 boroughs, mostly in deprived areas. They are hosting a conference this weekend at Kensington Olympia’s exhibition centre called Successes and Challenges: Improving School Chess Practice, Research and Strategy. There are still places available for those who want to attend!
I had very much hoped to play a part in the conference, but now urgently have to finish our climate change report and conserve some ‘wild card’ energy to compete with some of the best players in the world later next week.
The challenge with any educational intervention is not to show that it helps, or how much, but to say what makes you think it helps more than other interventions. Chess has potential to make this case, due to its rich history and cultural resonance, affordability and helpful association with intelligence.
The most exacting challenge with any educational intervention is not to show that it helps, or how much, but to say what makes you think it helps more than other interventions. Chess has potential to make this case, due to its rich history and cultural resonance, affordability and helpful association with intelligence. Many who otherwise struggle at school find they are good at chess, and realise that thinking and reasoning has a positive place in their lives.
My own ‘take’ on the value of chess in a nutshell, particularly in areas of educational disadvantage, is that it builds what Ron Ritchart calls ‘Intellectual Character‘ by providing a safe space with rules and feedback where you learn that you will inevitably make mistakes, but can still win. It also creates particularly valuable forms of what sociologists call ‘social capital’, in terms of community pooling of resources and time and inter-generational learning…but alas instead of developing that, I’m afraid I currently only have time to share a lightly edited version of a newspaper column I wrote on the subject two years ago! I hope some of you can make it to the conference.
Herald Chess Column for October 1st 2011:
Primary school feels like a long time ago, but it was instrumental to my chess development, as it is for most players who go on to become Grandmasters. Had it not been for supportive teachers and a team of players I liked most of the time, including my brother, there is no way I would have fallen in love with the game in the way I did.
I went to Skene Square primary school in Aberdeen where chess was always played in the library with the red carpet, on the corner of the second floor. We only tend to remember things that make an emotional imprint on our souls, and that room must have, because I remember little else of the inside of the school.
I went to Skene Square primary school in Aberdeen where chess was always played in the library with the red carpet, on the corner of the second floor. We only tend to remember things that make an emotional imprint on our souls, and that room must have, because I remember little else of the inside of the school.
Chess in primary school meant challenge, delicious tension like no other, structured competition where physical strength didn’t matter, and a constant experience of learning and growing. It was also a time of learning away from home, going to nearby schools to represent my own, and sometimes crying when the result didn’t go my way.
I think of this now because the charity, Chess in Schools and Communities, is campaigning hard to get chess into primary schools, at least in England and Wales, but no doubt North of the border in time. The charity was set up by the chess world’s most revered and respected Scouser, Malcolm Pein, and already teaches chess to primary school children in seventy schools.
The breakthrough was an appearance on BBC breakfast television, which led to Yasmin Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East, tabling an Early Day Motion supporting the playing of chess in primary schools, which was co-signed by Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP for Leeds West:
“This House recognises the positive social and intellectual benefits for all children across the social spectrum of learning chess at a young age and the relatively low costs of teaching it in schools; notes that while chess currently receives no financial support from the Government, many European countries including Sweden and France financially support chess in schools; further notes that the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth would welcome UK support for the Chess in Schools project being developed by the ECU and the Kasparov Chess Foundation; welcomes the work of the UK-based charity Chess in Schools and Communities which teaches chess to primary school children from less affluent backgrounds; and calls on the Government to ensure that all children are given the opportunity to learn chess at primary school within existing resources.”
References to ‘green crap’ miss the point. The key political fault line on climate change is not green versus non green, but how you order the priorities of the energy ‘trilemma’. The case for climate change action needs to be made at this level to gain political traction.
Michael Fallon is the minister whose thinking most closely mirrors Number 10′s stance on energy policy so if you want to know what number 10 thinks beyond disputed references to ‘green crap’, his words should be carefully observed.
The Energy Minister recently told The Spectator Conference on energy that the most important issues were ‘security of supply, affordability, and playing our part in combating climate change. And that for me is the order.’
This seemingly innocuous statement is hugely significant because it publicly acknowledges the key trade-offs at the heart of energy policy, and candidly takes a clear position on it. Fallon, like Cameron and Osborne are not denying the need for a rapid reduction in carbon emissions, they are saying you can’t get those reductions without compromising two other important priorities.
the three horns of the trilemma in question are climate change, energy security and fuel poverty
In this case, the three horns of the trilemma in question are climate change, energy security and fuel poverty. Such ‘trilemmas’ are every bit as real and pervasive as dilemmas, but they are not as widely discussed because they are significantly more complicated, and debates surrounding them are more difficult to follow.
There is wide political agreement that we have to try to reduce the impact of anthropogenic Climate change, which means significantly reducing and gradually eliminating fossil fuels from our energy supply, and improving energy efficiency at scale.
However, we also have to retain a secure and stable energy supply, which is harder with renewable forms of energy that are generally less reliable than the baseload power offered by fossil fuels (‘the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow’) and complex if you are simultaneously interfering with the energy market to lower prices. This was the argument (strongly contested) recently used by British parliamentarians to justify extending the life of the country’s dirtiest power stations. - that it was necessary to ‘keep the lights on’.
And we also need to keep fuel prices affordable, especially for those facing acute fuel poverty who sometimes literally freeze to death because they can’t pay for their heating. Keeping costs low is not easy with a transition to renewables, which is costly in itself, and because renewable energy is currently more expensive. On current form, energy companies will inevitably pass on such costs to consumers.
It is hard to argue with the general validity of each of the three imperatives – energy security, fuel poverty and climate change – but we can question whether they deserve to be treated with equal strength and importance, and challenge some of the assumptions underpinning them. Indeed, how you do so represents the new political fault line on the energy debate.
As I argue in a forthcoming RSA report on climate change, I believe the moral priority of climate change takes precedence, and would challenge the validity of the second two imperatives. If pressed, I would probably say the order has to be climate change, energy security and fuel poverty, but making this case well requires keeping competing perspectives on ‘morality’ firmly in mind.
If your responsibility is to keep the energy supply stable across the country, you have to think about that moment every day when people return from work, when there is a huge spike in demand caused by heating and lights going on, people having hot showers, watching TV and preparing meals. Can you stomach the idea of power failure for millions in that context?
And if, like millions, you struggle to pay your energy bills, or are a politician aware of the growing political importance of energy as an electoral issue, would you not be more inclined to question the importance of our climate commitments, regardless of scientific opinion?
The main issue at stake here is whether the appropriate position on climate change is international leadership, with some potential national risks and costs, or the underwhelming pragmatism we currently see.
The main issue at stake here is whether the appropriate position on climate change is international leadership, with some potential national risks and costs, or the underwhelming pragmatism we currently see. Those like Fallon apparently accept that we should ‘do our bit’, but argue that we cannot unilaterally decide what ‘our bit’ should be – for that we look at the actions of comparable countries. This position is hardly heroic or inspiring, and makes my heart sink, but let’s accept that it is at least understandable.
Which doesn’t prevent us from saying it is wrong on a number of levels.
Those attacking the priority of energy security could ask why we can’t significantly reduce our energy demand through lifestyle changes. Or they might ask whether it’s ok if the power goes off every so often. Couldn’t we live with back-up generators maybe, as many in affluent parts of India do? If that sounds like political suicide, more powerful is to challenge the contention that renewables alone can’t provide that stability, as Marc Jacobsen and others are doing with increasing conviction, or(more controversially) that we need more nuclear power.
Those attacking the priority of fuel poverty might begin with the old suggestion to wear jumpers rather than turn the heating on, as David Cameron recently did, which chimes with social practice theory arguments about ‘energy need’ being socially constructed, but feels much too facile. The key challenge, surely, is to the billions of pounds offered in fossil fuel subsidies, without which renewable energy would not struggle to be seen as affordable. An even more fundamental question is whether profiting out of energy provision – now an essential human need – makes sense at all? Could there even a case for renationalising control of our energy, as 69% of the population seem to want?
You will notice, in each case, that few of the arguments or suggestions sound straightforward or completely convincing, and even where they feel necessary, they sound politically difficult if not implausible. That’s why we have a genuine energy trilemma. Something has to give.
Jonathan Rowson is Director of the Social Brain Centre at the RSA and the author of a forthcoming report on Climate Change ‘stealth denial’ in the British population. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathan_rowson
The South Central Region of the RSA is holding a series of events aimed at sharing ideas about education. These events are run by and for RSA Fellows with the aims of:
- Sharing knowledge and ideas about education
- Meeting and networking with other Fellows
- Clarifying existing, and provoking new, ideas for potential projects
- Sharing information on Catalyst funding which could potentially support the growth of the ideas.
On Wednesday 30 October Professor Guy Claxton FRSA led a discussion on ‘Building Learning Power’. Guy is Co-Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning and Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester. This is a guest blog from Guy about the event.
I liked the idea of the RSA regional events on education – but not so sure about the One Big Idea. But there were 50 or so of us in the austere grandeur of one of the new lecture theatres at the University of Winchester, so I had to have a go… If I did have one idea, it was a pretty simple shift in perspective on what goes on in classrooms. Usually people focus on the Content or the Assessment, but I think we need to focus more on what is happening at the learners’ end – and especially on the cumulative effect on young minds of the way they are being put to use in classrooms. What kind of mind training is going on, day in, day out, as the students plough through Adding Fractions, The Tudors or the Periodic Table? You can use the Tudors as an ‘exercise machine’ to develop the skill of Empathy and an attitude of Resilience…or you can use the same subject matter to develop Passivity, Dependence and a Credulous attitude towards knowledge. Are we training young people to think like 19th century clerks…or like 21st century explorers?
Are we training young people to think like 19th century clerks or 21st century explorers?
So I think the battle ground for 21st century education is not going to be whether we teach Dryden or JK Rowling, or whether we grade GCSEs from A to F or 1 to 9. The point is: do we really know what kinds of mental habits will enable the next generation to thrive in the tricky, turbulent world of the future, and are we giving them the right kind of mental exercise to stretch and develop those habits? That’s what BLP has been working on for the last 15 years – with considerable success. With BLP, youngsters do better on the tests…AND at the same time they develop the tough, supple, adventurous minds they will surely need. What’s not to like, Mr Gove?
What kinds of mental habits will enable the next generation to thrive in the tricky, turbulent world of the future?
For more information about BLP go to www.buildinglearningpower.co.uk.
And all of this kind of thinking sits well within the idea of ‘expansive education’ which I have created with my colleague Bill Lucas. BLP, as well as other approaches like ‘habits of mind’ and ‘thinking schools’. You can find out more – and ideally join us – at www.expansiveeducation.net.
Book now for upcoming events in the Ideas Education series:
To find out more contact Fellowship Councillor for South Central Bethan Michael.
If you are a Fellow in the South Central region and you have an initiative which you would like Fellows to support, you can feature it on the Ideas and Actions Noticeboard. You can also ‘like’ RSA South Central on Facebook and follow @RSASouthCentral on Twitter.
This is a guest blog from RSA Catalyst supported West Midlands Fellow John Blewitt. He reflects on the impact of Catalyst and the new Library of Birmingham on his work to connect spaces and people with democratic actions.
Over the last couple of years I have been working closely with the library service in
Birmingham and Worcester and have been fortunate to have become a Library of Birmingham ‘Face’. The Library of Birmingham is a prestigious public project at the heart of the city centre aiming to animate the city socially, economically and politically. Architecturally engaging and ‘iconic’ in the true sense of the word, it is most importantly a major investment and commitment to the public sphere and citizens’ right to the city.
Libraries need to become event spaces for democracy, culture and learning
Public expenditure cuts have led to the closure of many libraries in the UK but these financial pressures have also coincided with a need to completely rethink the nature of public libraries as a public space and place. Mobile digital technologies, tablets and smart phones, the Internet, e-books, Twitter, Facebook and the like are shifting the way we socialize, communicate, access information and learn about the world around us. They offer us all sorts of amazing new opportunities unimaginable only a few years ago, but there are problems.
Some of those problems are well known – lack of skills or access and perhaps a growing passivity that comes with the ease of clicking here to buy, to vote or to think, or watch the aftermath of a hurricane or Strictly Come Dancing. The term ‘clictivism’ has now entered our language. In some ways, of course, it was ever thus and I’m sure there were analog equivalents.
What is really worrying is the sense that civil society needs reactivating. It needs to be given a life that is not completely composed of 0111001001111 and commodified entertainments. There has been a great deal of talk about the need for increased literacy and numeracy, social engagement in volunteering, and a more responsive political democracy and a less disaffected citizenry. The Big Society has come and gone as has the Occupy movement, the flurry of student protests over £9000 per annum fees and the urban riots that targeted mobile phone and fashionable shops.
Public libraries, a space for active debate?
We no longer seem to have spaces and places where we can come together physically, openly and freely to discuss issues and events that are in essence political. Democracy needs an informed citizenry. It needs public spaces and places that are connected to other spaces and to people as citizens who want to learn and discuss issues that are not filtered and framed by News Corporation, Google, or Jeremy Paxman. Public libraries are such places. In fact, they are one of very few public spaces and places left in our increasingly commodified and privatized world where this can occur.
Democracy needs an informed citizenry
I recently used the wonderful Library of Birmingham to run two public events supported by the RSA Fellowship and Aston University. The first was focused on the concept of resilience – a term used with increasing frequency in business, sustainable development, society, urban government and education. How the term resilience is being used was the topic of a book I recently wrote with Daniella Tilbury, which served as the basis of a genuinely interesting discussion on what we humans want to do with our future. People from business, education, charities and from the city came together on the evening of Halloween to deliberate, think and learn. It was a public event, in a public place and it was free. You can get an idea of what was discussed at the event here.
Two weeks later I ran and chaired a larger event held in the Studio Theatre at the Library of Birmingham. The topic was the future of our public services in an era of austerity and ecological limits to economic growth. The Green House Think Tank presented its views as expressed in Smaller but Better? Post Growth Public Services, and a panel consisting of Matthew Taylor (CEO, RSA), Heather Wakefield (Unison), Cllr Stewart Stacey (Birmingham City Council) and Josie Kelly (Aston University) responded energetically. However, it was the questions and comments coming from the audience that produced the most interesting and thoughtful contributions of the evening. The event lasted two hours but could have easily gone beyond. As I was preparing to leave the reasons became for this became obvious. Some departing audience members said to me, “why don’t we have discussions like this more often?”, “what are you putting on next?”, “you don’t get this on the TV” and, from one of the theatre’s A/V technicians, “that was really interesting – most things are so boring”.
Given the opportunity, the experience, the place and space for democratic discussion many people do and will engage with enthusiasm, commitment and intelligence. Far from being disaffected I believe there is actually a hunger for public spaces where public democracy can be enacted. And, public libraries offer such spaces because they are trusted, respected, neutral and, most importantly, PUBLIC. But to prosper in our consumerist digital age they need to remain public, remain relevant and remain committed to public education and public democracy. They need to become event spaces for democracy, culture and learning
As an RSA Catalyst Award winner I am concerned to connect these trusted spaces and places to a range of activities that will help engage people as citizens rather than as consumers, as active learners and as creators and producers of a vibrant civic public sphere. Public libraries are an important but threatened element of our public sphere. My Catalyst project titled Connecting Spaces and Places, recognises the very important physical spaces libraries offer can be complemented by digital technologies but cannot be replaced by them. Thus, public libraries are becoming culturally open ‘event spaces’ and they need to be promoted and used as such if they are to survive as democratic spaces.
The Library of Birmingham has a space, ‘Brainbox’, on the first floor which could conceivably be used for any creative and innovative activity. What it will be used for will be determined by the people using it. No predetermined plan, no strategy, no prescriptions but genuine innovation and free exploration. The RSA funding I received has enabled me to practically encourage people to use and view library spaces in ways they would not previously have done. It has attempted to make real that global call to make real our right to the city.
OK, my two recent events involved talking but talking is doing too as we must all talk democracy to make democracy happen. I intend to initiate other library based events, activities and hopefully exhibitions in the near future. If you want to join me and continue this debate please get in touch via email.
As it grows ever colder and darker outside, it’s nice to be reminded that once – it seems like a lifetime ago – London was bathed in sunshine. So I was pleased to come across these photographs, which were taken by young people working with Kings Cross-based charity Global Generation, led by RSA Fellow Jane Riddiford.
Photo by Nene Jayne Camara
Jane and her team work with young people in and around Kings Cross, London, creating opportunities for them to be creative, enterprising and environmentally conscious. Over the summer, two photographers worked with some of the young people involved in the programme to develop their skills through documenting the organisation’s work – from beekeeping to woodwork – on camera. Here’s how they described the experience:
“The young artists progressively took creative lead in all aspects of the photographic and documentary process. From the point of exposure to editing and exhibiting, Generators were challenged to reflect on why their images were compelling, potentially enterprising and representative of the Global Generation ethos and program themes.
It is our hope that through the lenses of these young photographers and their reflective writings, visitors to the exhibit can expand perceptions of often-overlooked details that connect all of us.”
Photo by Yakub Talan
You can read more about the project (and see some more photographs) on the Global Generation website.
If this inspires you to pick up your camera (and why wouldn’t it?) have a look at the RSA Flickr group for inspiration. We’re always glad to see people submitting photos that reflect interesting things they’re doing through the RSA – even they do reflect the gloomier weather.
The Big Idea: The New Cross area of south London could gain a new arts space. A previously closed public library has re-opened as New Cross Learning, inspiring and uplifting thousands of local users. Catherine Shovlin FRSA has launched a crowdfunding campaign to develop a creative arts space working with the local community…
Over the last 10 years we, Artmongers, have been stirring things up in Deptford and New Cross, South London with thought-provoking public art that changes the way people relate to space. Now we want to create New Cross’s first public artspace: a giant 3D lightbox on the ceiling of New Cross Learning. We will work together with local groups, running workshops to create multimedia artworks that change every six months. Central to our aim, we will be collaborating with emerging artists in our local community as well as school children, community groups and Goldsmiths students. To do this, we need to raise nearly £5k.
This is where we need your help. Through RSA Catalyst we have launched a crowdfunding campaign, Looking up in New X, to raise the funds needed to bring a much needed art space to the New Cross area – and we have ten days left to go!
The story so far
Since it opened in 2011, New Cross Learning has quickly developed into a vibrant community hub. Locals go there for books of course, but also for computer access, street dance, poetry group, baby bounce, community meetings, training sessions, Chinese dragon making workshops and much more.
The front of the building got a great facelift in 2012 (thanks to RSA Catalyst and the Funding Network) with a participatory artwork that marked the beginning of community ownership and involvement. Now we want to do something about the inside. New Cross doesn’t have a public art space so we are raising money to make this happen.
Last year’s flash mob on the A2 (for those outside London, the A2 is a major road connecting London with Kent) highlighted the challenges pedestrians face getting from one side of New Cross to the other. We didn’t break any traffic rules but we definitely caused a stir. And this year’s campaign to plant 1000 sunflowers has involved hundreds of school children, Goldsmiths University, local businesses and community groups. It brightened up the place and more importantly it encouraged people to realise the possibility that it is our environment and we can choose how it is. Then recently we worked with another RSA supported project – Talk to Me London to create unexpected creative interventions at bus stops in New Cross including a disco.
Taking back ownership of public space encourages all sorts of social benefits – not least the improved sense of well-being while you’re taking part.
Taking back ownership of public space encourages all sorts of social benefits – not least the improved sense of well-being while you’re taking part. Enough downcast acquiescence, people in New Cross are ready to LOOK UP and improve their public spaces for themselves. Backers get to be part of the creative process, and some will even get a piece of art for their home. Most importantly, those who support this project will know that they are part of transforming an area and empowering local residents.
How you can get involved
Those living around New Cross will know how much community spirit there is in the area. We want to give something back and give local residents the chance to express themselves through art – and in a local space everyone can enjoy.
We need your help to make this happen. Please visit the RSA crowdfunding page and find our project - Looking up in New X – and help us to reach our target. If you would like to get involved in the project or would like to visit us in New Cross, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter.
Catherine Shovlin FRSA
New Cross Learning and Artmongers
The end of November saw RSA Academies hosting the Student Leadership Conference for Year 12 and 13 student leaders from Arrow Vale RSA Academy, Whitley Academy and RSA Academy, Tipton.
Here are some of the TOP 5 TIPS from the students and the RSA Fellows who joined in for a day of inspiration and conversation.
Marie Nixon, Chief Executive at Sunderland University’s Students Union starts us off.
1. You’re a leader all the time. You don’t have to wait for the ‘big’ job or opportunity to start being a leader. You can be a leader in your community, in your area of interest, in anything. Get on with leading and the big leadership opportunities are more likely to come your way.
2. Don’t be scared of ‘don’t know’. One person can never know everything. Surround yourself with brilliant people and together you can know all sorts – and work out the answers to what you don’t.
3. The power of the unthinkable. Don’t be afraid of ‘mad’ ideas that might seem beyond the realms of possibility. It’s a great spark for exciting conversations which help you decide on ambitions and exciting things you want to change and do.
4. The boldest measures are the safest – changing something a tiny bit usually requires exactly the same effort as changing something radically. Be bold, be brave, attempt to do what you really want to do rather than what you might get away with. It’ll take the same effort and you might as well go for what you want.
5. Telling it like it is. Feedback is super powerful and it takes a bold soul to give it. Feedback is essential to make sure you’re getting to where you want to be. When you’re giving feedback make sure you do it with accuracy and kindness and that you’re doing it for the good of the person affected or the project. It’s NEVER a chance to be mean.
Followed by Prince Chivaka and Cynthia Ariana, Head Boy and Head Girl at Whitley Academy in Coventry.
• Communication is key
• Develop confidence in the role
• Be very firm, but friendly and be assertive and considerate in a team
• Plan an agenda for each half term and meet with Student Leadership Group and the Principal
• Encourage others to become leaders, be a role model
And Rick Hall from Ignite’s 5 Rs: the characteristics of creativity… and leadership
1. Resilience – be determined and learn from your mistakes, this is part of the process of getting towards the solution
2. Resourcefulness – working out what to do when you don’t know what to do
3. Referencing – see something is like something else and make the connection, learn from this
4. Reflection – step aside and observe, use mind mapping as a technique to help
5. Risk taking – pushing the boundaries, going outside your comfort zone
And lastly from Andrew Watts, Head Boy at RSA Academy in Tipton
• Plan, plan, plan – set goals, what do you want to achieve?
• It’s crucial to talk to people – what do students want from you? Expect the unexpected.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you don’t have all the answers and learn from the example of others
• You have to make big decisions – consider everything, sometimes what you want isn’t best
• Be willing to get involved – you have to be in it to win it
Duncan Piper at the Young Leaders Consultancy has the parting shot. He encouraged us to think about self-less leadership: how can I help you get to where you need to be?
So the recovery is here but what of the grand rebalancing George Osborne made so much of in opposition and the early days of Government? Imports to exports. Debt to savings. South to north. Filthy rich to squeezed middle. Without substantial evidence of these shifts, Osborne must constantly fear his jowlier, greyer appearance on Newsnight sometime hence explaining to a fulsomely bearded Jeremy Paxman why his legacy was one of bubble and bust.
As he drafts his Autumn statement, Osborne could banish such images from his head by focusing on one potential rebalancing that is widely overlooked: a shift from big to small.
On the face of it, the UK economy appears well balanced in this area with big firms generating around half of private sector turnover and SMEs and micro-businesses generating the other half. That is until you notice that there are only 6,500 of those larger firms while the smaller companies number no less than 4.8 million.
And that is, of course, just the private sector. 45% of GDP is generated by public spending most of which is delivered through public sector organisations, the great majority of which would easily fall within the official definition of a large business.
The truth is for all the political rhetoric praising the contribution and importance of small business, our economy is overwhelmingly dominated by large, and often very large, organisations. Small business is seen as a ‘good thing’ but rarely is its relative weakness seen as a systemic problem. The failure to focus on this imbalance means we miss potential routes to creating the very sort of economy which rebalancing is supposed to promote.
Small = Fair
Take the issue of fairness. The vast remuneration packages that have created a super-wealthy, super-powerful elite originate in the boardrooms of our largest firms. The exceptionally wide pay ratios that now exist in the biggest businesses are not a feature of smaller companies.
One reason, of course, is that small businesses simply have less cash to splash around with such abandon but it is also about the extent to which a firm’s directors are genuinely exposed to the competitive and financial realities of the market. It appears that those with the enormous organisational power of a blue chip CEO can make sure they are handsomely rewarded no matter what the market conditions. SME leaders are not so lucky. How else to explain the fact that while the pay of the directors of the biggest firms continued to rise in the wake of the 2008 Crash, that of the directors of smaller businesses barely shifted?
Small = Creative
Then there is the ever present goal of ‘winning the global race’; becoming a nation that consumers around the world want to buy from. Economists cannot agree on whether small or larger businesses provide the best conditions for the creativity that drives such success but what is not contested is that allowing innovative start-ups and SMEs to genuinely challenge big business creates an economy more likely to offer better products and a better deal to consumers. Sectors like energy, transport and public services reveal how far we are from such competitive conditions. A recent report for the RSA and the Fairbanking Foundation, for example, showed how the real innovations in customer care in banking are happening at the much smaller end of the sector while the behemoths remain locked in to a flawed model predicated on opaque products.
Small = Stable
As we learned from the Crash, size also brings with it enormous risks but ‘too big to fail’ is not necessarily just a concern for the City. Allow a large part of an economy to fall under the control of a handful of very big firms and the risk that one or two dysfunctional organisations can pose is vastly magnified. The result is not just a less stable economy but also an undue reliance on the taxpayer to bailout firms when things go wrong and, somewhat ironically, a much greater capacity for those large firms to demand special favours from government to make their trading conditions less challenging.
We have already seen how the state has been forced to step in to crucial areas like transport and banking but who can doubt that something similar would happen should one of the mammoth energy firms collapse. An economy with its core sectors under the control of a wider range of smaller companies would necessarily be less risky for the long-suffering taxpayer and more stable for all.
This is not a straightforward case of big bad, small good. Larger businesses undoubtedly have their virtues and benefits – most started off as small businesses themselves at some point after all. It’s about the recognition that the economic game will be more stable, fairer and creative when power and resources are distributed more widely to more players. The challenge the Chancellor should meet is how to deliver that change.
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In a Guest Post, RSA Fellow Julian Dobson explains why he’s running an RSA crowdfunding campaign to tell the Incredible Edible story…
At the end of September Matthew Taylor wrote about a ‘revolutionary day’ for the RSA. He was talking not of one of the many exciting projects to emanate from John Adam Street but of the enthusiasm and passion for change of ordinary RSA Fellows.
He wrote that article the day after speaking at the gathering of Yorkshire RSA Fellows in Todmorden, birthplace of the now world-renowned Incredible Edible movement and a far cry from the grim industrial relic once described by the poet Ted Hughes in Remains of Elmet.
Incredible Edible has gone from strength to strength in the last six years, and now is the time to tell its story in a way that will inform, entertain, and most importantly help others. Many have been inspired by visiting Todmorden, listening to co-founder Pam Warhurst’s TED talk or hearing from the many other passionate Incredible Edible advocates and activists. So an Incredible Edible book is an obvious next step.
Incredible Edible has gone from strength to strength in the last six years, and now is the time to tell its story in a way that will inform, entertain, and most importantly help others
The story is told by Pam, chair of the Yorkshire and Humber region, with writer Joanna Dobson. Its aim is to share the learning from Incredible Edible Todmorden’s six years of ups and downs and inspire a new wave of changemakers – and to show that there’s much more to the Incredible Edible story than turnips and beetroot.
Incredible Edible is not just another community growing scheme. It’s serious about rethinking the local economy in the face of climate change. But it recognises that economies start with people.
It’s has come a long way since Pam Warhurst came back from a conference inspired to take action in her community; since community worker Mary Clear dug up her rose garden and planted vegetables with a big sign saying ‘help yourself’; and since ‘propaganda planter’ Nick Green turned the derelict medical centre where mass murderer Harold Shipman used to practice into a free feast for passers-by.
Today there are more than 50 Incredible Edible groups around the UK, linked under the auspices of the community network Locality. In France more than 300 groups have sprouted up, loosely connected via social media; and there are many more worldwide, from Montreal to Mali.
More importantly, the Incredible Edible ethos is filtering into the thinking of many other organisations. Urban designers are looking at how they can rethink towns with edible plantings. Schools and colleges are putting growing and horticulture into their curricula. Universities like Leeds and Leeds Met are creating edible campuses. In Lambeth there’s an Edible Bus Stop.
What’s happening in Todmorden provides clues about how to rethink places and communities in a harsh economic age. The work of organisations like the Trussell Trust with its network of food banks has demonstrated the need to take immediate action to help the rapidly rising number of people in the UK who are going hungry because benefits are delayed, a crisis such as sickness has struck, or because low wages are simply not enough to pay the bills and feed the family.
In such circumstances actions that empower people to take control of their food, that most basic of human needs and foundation of trade and exchange, become essential – not just a nice thing for nice people to do to make their towns look nicer.
What Incredible Edible Todmorden and its many offshoots are finding is that people can take action where they live to reconnect neighbours through conversations about food; they can rethink learning and teach their children skills and knowledge that have been lost in a supermarket culture; and that from that they can provide new opportunities for businesses.
What started with slightly anarchic plantings in public places is actually a model that can begin to reconnect communities and local economies. People are thinking differently about the town as a whole too, with an edible Green Route that connects the health centre, theatre, market, station and canal towpath, bringing a sense of unity to the town and creating important habitats for pollinating insects.
Our crowdfunding campaign fits in with the Incredible Edible ‘just do it’ spirit. Hosted on the RSA crowdfunding area, you can pre-order copies of the book or pledge as little as £1 as a gesture of support. If we don’t hit our funding target, nobody pays a penny. Time is of the essence and the campaign ends at 7am on 12 December, so if you’d like to support it, please join us. As they say in Todmorden, if you eat, you’re in.