3 ways that Charities are Playing with People’s Trust

April 23, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Arts and Society, Fellowship 

For the Easter break my wife and I took our son to a stately home, spending the day wandering around lovely gardens and an old house in the sunshine.  Before we had even seen the place though I almost derailed the trip by getting into a polite disagreement at the front desk because two rates of entry were offered, the standard rate and a higher ‘gift aid’ rate – something that seems to have swept across the heritage landscape over the past couple of years.

I told the woman at the desk, no doubt a volunteer, that I wanted to pay the standard rate but that I was happy to sign so that they could claim gift aid on it.

Two genuine options?

       Two genuine options?

‘You mean you want the gift aid rate?’

‘No, I want the standard rate, but gift aided, because you can claim gift aid on any rate.’

‘But the standard rate doesn’t include gift aid.’

‘But it can, so you might as well claim for it.’

I’ll spare you the rest of the exchange before my wife paid and led me away.  I admit I was a bit unfair on the woman who was simply doing her best, but the charity (which I won’t name) is not being truthful.  The way gift aid works is that for any charitable donation by a UK taxpayer the charity can claim the tax back on your donation.  You don’t pay more, the charity doesn’t pay more, it is the UK tax payer who contributes the extra.  There is no such thing as a gift aid price.  You can pay any price and the charity can claim back gift aid on it, whether it’s 20p or £200.  I would have been happy to pay a couple of extra quid, it was the underhand way they were trying to get it out of me that irked.

Why this is important is because the public’s willingness to give to charities is based on the perception that they are morally sound.  They are organisations trusted to do the right thing.  Charities trade on that trust and use it to solicit money from people.  Conning people to pay more by pretending gift aid works in a certain way when it doesn’t is a sure way to undermine that trust.

Two other areas where charities need to be careful are firstly around delivering public services.  Charities have carried out public services for hundreds of years – the salvation army was paid by the government to take children off the street in the nineteenth century – but in recent years the number of charities delivering public services have increased sharply, as has the areas they work in.  From care for the elderly to supporting people looking for work to helping run prisons, charities are carrying out services on behalf of the Government in return for pay.

If trust in charities declines, donations are sure to decline as well.

The problem is that the public doesn’t realise that charities undertake so much public service delivery.   If they did the question back to charities would be along the lines of ‘why should I give £10 to you to help homeless people when you’ve just won a government contract for £4 million to do the same thing?’  That question can be answered, but it’s much easier to do so proactively rather than when you’re under attack.

Furthermore not every charity is perfect so in the future there is bound to be a scandal involving a charity running a government contract.  At that point the public outcry about what charities are doing running services will be damaging.  This disconnect between what charities actually do and what the public thinks they do is being ignored because it’s easier to leave the public in blissful ignorance.  However leaving people in the dark could well come back to haunt them.

A third area, which has been discussed more often, is around charity finances, in particular administration costs and CEO pay.  The amount of money charities spend on administration is much lower than the public perception.  A few of the larger charities tried to highlight this a few years ago but seem to have given up.  There is also the perception that charity CEOs get paid too much, despite the fact that the median salary for charity CEOs with a turnover of less than £150,000 is £34,600 – hardly a bunch of fat cats. These are the kinds of misconceptions which can eat away at charity trust if they aren’t robustly challenged, but they aren’t being challenged at the moment.

Charities survive on their reputation for being morally spotless.  That is always a fragile place to be and, once sullied, hard to regain.  They need to think about everything they do, and act together, to ensure they retain the confidence of the public.  A short term gain of an extra pound or 2 on a ticket price is not worth the damage to charities as a whole if this trick is exposed. Removing it will also spare the poor volunteers I encounter when I come across it.

RSA crowdfunding: not your traditional report card

April 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Enjoy this infographic about our crowdfunding support. Needless to say, I picked up the free infographics software infogr.am from, you guessed it, a crowdfunding campaign. Three other things to explore:

  • find out more and apply for support for your venture. Our next deadline is this Sunday
  • browse or add to this list of social innovations that have crowdfunded (the 17 RSA Fellows and another 40 inspiring projects)
  • help with our evaluation of the programme by adding a comment below and I’ll send you a 15-page review we will be preparing in late-May.

2014 04 23 infographic

The Big Idea: a directory for media companies to access more diverse voices

April 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The Big Idea: a directory, advice and contacts for writers of colour to help media companies access voices that better reflect our diverse society.

“But everybody on TV is white and all the nice people are blonde.” This is the title of an article I published on www.mediadiversified.org last year. It is also a quote from the 5-year-old niece of Hana Riaz who wrote the article. In those 10 words is the reason I set up the publishing platform and diversity in media advocacy group. Alternatively Whoopi Goldberg has said “Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.” And this is why representation matters. Hopes and dreams and the resulting opportunities in life start when young. If black and minority ethnic (BAME) children only see themselves on screen mired in stereotypes and hear themselves and the adults around them talked about in pejoratives on the radio, the windows of opportunities we create for ourselves, narrow.

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I founded Media Diversified in July 2013 after reading The Evening Standard of Whiteness, in the Voice newspaper. The author Rodney Sealy, had counted the photos of BAME people in one edition of the London paper. The results were not alarming. Only four pictures, two of them of U.S music stars were of non-white people, this in a city where 40% of people are ethnic minorities. Rodney is a teacher and in one of his classes a student had said to him Why are we “Sir, if all the images of black males shown to me are negative, therefore my perceptions of black males are negative, how am I supposed to succeed?”

Media Diversified crowdfunding campaignOur aims at Media Diversified is to help writers and journalists of colour be published in national newspapers, magazines and get their voices heard in the broadcast media. We do this by giving them advice, contacts and promoting their work online. The network as well as providing a resource for the media has also provided a much-needed lifeline and vibrant forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences. It’s a mothership of affirmation and nurturing for writers, building resilience for the future and supporting people to take risks in tackling controversial topics and subjects that others aren’t. By including a great diversity of writers, Media Diversified applies the brakes to banal racism in the media that includes crude stereotypes. It also articulates how racism works in so many areas of life be it from colourism to the fashion industry. The worst of this can be seen in the moral panics but more positively/subversively what if having more writers of colour in the media undermines racism?

In order to address and to reverse decades of under-representation of ethnic minority voices in the media. The team at Media Diversified is running a crowdfunding campaign which you can find on the RSA’s crowdfunding area to build a custom interactive directory of writers and experts available for media outlets such as the BBC and ITV to subscribe to in order to commission guests for TV and radio shows or to write articles. This is a tangible resource that could lead to real change and we’ll be meeting with media outlets to promote its benefits. By working towards greater representation, promoting change (by encouraging newspapers and broadcasters to sign up to an online directory) and providing a creative and supportive publishing platform for writers of colour, we are meeting policy and social needs for greater equality.

“game-changer for online, print and broadcasting” World Association of Newspapers – Editors Forum

We are coming towards the end of the campaign having just reached our goal, which we hope to surpass in order to also provide a series of workshops for ethnic minority writers in London. These will aim to develop skills in publishing, journalism, and professional networking, as well as building much needed confidence to help our writers pursue their future careers. We hope to expand the workshops across the country.

How you can help
What we need now is for you to get involved in our project. According to the National Union of Journalists in a report in 2012 94% of journalists are white. However 1 in 6 of the population is not. With just a few resources we can make inroads in this troubling lack of diversity in the UK’s media and try for real change. You can show your support for our goals by sharing our kickstarter campaign with friends, family and your colleagues. You can get yourself posters, books or workshop tickets by getting a reward. Or you can get your media company access to the directory. Or get in touch (see below) if you are interested in working with us to deliver a workshop where you live along the lines of the above.

Thank you!
Samantha Asumadu FRSA

Email Media Diversified
Tweet about @writersofcolour
Find Media Diversified on the RSA crowdfunding area
Read a blog by RSA staff member Maya Goodfellow on how Media Diversified is helping the ‘power to create’, namely to give everyone the freedom and capacity to turn their ideas into reality
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture through grants, expertise and crowdfunding visit our Catalyst webpage

The acceptable face of creativity: how Media Diversified creatively challenges the “ubiquity of whiteness” in the media

April 15, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Fellowship 

A couple of months ago, I was watching music videos with friends when a band made up of Cambridge graduates came on the TV. As images of the musicians flashed in front of our eyes, someone made a “joke” about one of the non-white band members: ‘he can’t have gone to Cambridge, he’s black’. While it’s easy for some to dismiss this as a harmless aside, this one comment tells us a lot about British society. Even if a minority ethnic person succeeds at their creative endeavour (whether academic or musical), the focus is not on their talent, but the colour of their skin.

This is because we rarely see non-white people in stereotypically respectable creative jobs ( which are seen as different from the jobs of singers, performers or presenters in the ‘entertainment industry’). Take the creative terrain of journalism, a recent campaign Media Diversified has highlighted that the mainstream is dominated by white people: until Amol Rajan was appointed to head up the Independent last year, there had never been a non-white editor of a mainstream British newspaper and between 2009-2012 the number of minority ethnic people working in the media fell from 6.7% to 5.4%. Much in the same vein, even though there are many successful ethnic minority musicians in the entertainment industry, they are seen differently from their white counterparts. Britain’s Got Talent judge and black musician Alesha Dixon was told by a journalist that they wouldn’t ‘put a black person on the front cover because the magazine wouldn’t sell’. Ultimately, what all of this evidence shows is that there’s an acceptable face of mainstream, ‘respectable’ creativity. And this face is white.

Media Diversified

To address this kind of institutional racism, we, as a society, should take a lesson from the person who made the crude but unmistakably clear racist joke. We need to stop skirting around racism in the UK and start calling it what it is. Only then can we disrupt the status quo that privileges white people and their creative products above others. So I’ll begin: Britain is an institutionally racist society and society needs to find creative ways to do something about it.

Media Diversified is making a start. Launched by journalist, film-maker and RSA Fellow Samantha Asumadu, Media Diversified combats the lack of diversity in British media by showcasing the work of minority ethnic writers. In doing so, the campaign proves that the whiteness of British media is in no way due to a lack of talent in non-white communities but rather embedded racism in the media. What is particularly powerful about this campaign is that at the same time as highlighting unfair media representation, it provides a platform for minority ethnic people to speak for themselves, and not just on issues of race.

Yet the campaign which is crowdfunding via the RSA crowdfunding area still has a way to go to meet its target. You have to wonder why. My guess would be that when we talk about overcoming institutional racism, most people can’t agree on the most effective way to do so. Many still buy into the age-old, misinformed false dichotomy that pits ‘equality of opportunity’ against ‘equality of outcome’ and leaves us mired in abstract debate as opposed to taking effective and positive action, like Media Diversified hopes to do.

 there’s an acceptable face of mainstream, ‘respectable’ creativity. And this face is white.

The proponents of ‘opportunity’ over ‘outcome’ imply that if everyone was given an equal chance in life then people would succeed on hard work, talent and merit. The old chestnut of meritocracy appears again. Yet, the political terrain of 2014 proves beyond doubt why this approach fails to unpick the racism that’s embedded in British society. At the start of the year, it emerged  in a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) report that austerity has a disproportionate effect on minority ethnic groups, the most disadvantaged of whom are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. Even when minority ethnic people are from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, they fare worse than their white counterparts. So while the ‘equality of opportunity’ argument shouldn’t be dismissed (I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t look to create a fairer education system, for example) when it comes to race it fails to undo the systemic racism that circulates throughout our society.

Similarly, we won’t unpick racial discrimination by simply investing all of our hopes in the ‘equality of outcome’ idea. This line of argument suggests that if you promote minority ethnic people to positions of power, racism will slowly be eroded. I’m in no way suggesting that society shouldn’t look to promote the many qualified minority ethnic people within British institutions. Rather, the problem with relying solely on this American-style affirmative action is that although minority ethnic people may be in positions of power, they are still operating within a system that privileges the views of white people over all others. And there’s a risk they become the ‘token’ non-white person, expected to speak on behalf of all minority ethnic people.

So, instead of buying into the idea that either approach on its own will somewhat passively erase racial (and gendered) discrimination, we need to recognise the merits of both ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘equality of outcome’ and invest time and energy into addressing racism in a multifaceted way.

To start with, race needs to be a mainstream issue (after all, four months since the DWP report showed minority ethnic people suffer disproportionately under the cuts, what is being said or done?). This must include deconstructing contemporary and historical fallacies about non-white people: they are more than capable of going to Cambridge or becoming journalists and editors at mainstream newspapers.

With this in mind, for those of you reading who want to help ameliorate institutional racism, I would urge you to support the creative solution Media Diversified offers to institutional racism in the media, by donating via the RSA crowdfunding area. This campaign directly challenges conventional myths that ethnic minority people aren’t as talented as their white counterparts and does so by allowing people of colour to speak for themselves. Only through innovative solutions such as this will we begin to move towards a world in which creativity is respected in more than one colour.

The Big Idea – unleashing the power of talking in London

April 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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team_picture_large - talk to me London x160The Big Idea: reducing loneliness and isolation through launching an annual Talk to me London Day to encourage people to speak to complete strangers.

Hello! I’m Ann Don Bosco FRSA. Along with fellow co-founder Polly Akhurst, I run Talk to me London, a not-for-profit that seeks to find ways to get people talking in London. Polly and I started Talk to me London because we believe in a world where people should feel able to talk to each other.

It can be hard to connect in a big city like London. It often seems like everyone is in a rush and it can be tricky to strike up a conversation. We think this is not only a shame but that it’s also having a detrimental impact on our society. We see incredibly high levels of isolation with over 25% of Londoners say they feel lonely often if not all of the time.  We see London voted as one of the most unfriendly cities in the world. And we see people brush past each other and not see each other as humans. It’s because we’ve lost our sense of commonality – our community.

We want to change this. And we want to do it through talking.

We believe in the power of conversations. One conversation can make you happier. It can inspire you. It can make you understand another point of view or it can just make you feel a little less alone.

We believe in the power of conversations. One conversation can make you happier. It can inspire you. It can make you understand another point of view or it can just make you feel a little less alone.  Talking is what makes us human and what enables us to connect to each other. We want to harness its power to make London a better place. We’re raising money for a Talk to me London Day in August 2014. The day aims to put the importance of talking and its link to broader social issues such as well-being and community connectedness on the agenda. On the day we’ll use badges, stunts, events, flash mobs and public art to encourage Londoners to chat to people they don’t know.

Talk to me LondonSince launching our Kickstarter campaign just over a week ago, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response we’ve had so far. We’ve been featured in Time Out’s blog and Kickstarter’s global newsletter.  And just today a controversial piece written about us in the Guardian has prompted many people to express their opinions on the subject of Londoners not talking to each other. We’ve also received messages from all over the world, such as this one: “I love this. I’ve never even been to London, but I backed this project just now. This is a problem in many cities across the world, and it would be wonderful to start changing our culture.”

We’re now close to reaching our initial Kickstarter target, but ideally we want to reach it as soon as possible and surpass it so we can show how many people are behind this idea – and to prove to our cynical Guardian commentator that Londoners really do want to talk! With more money, we can make the day bigger and better, and truly London-wide.

We have the RSA to thank for helping us get our project of the ground. We worked with the RSA’s Connected Communities team to run a pilot project, Talk to me SE London Week, and we’re now being supported with our crowd-funding campaign through the RSA Catalyst scheme.

How you can help

What we need now is for you to join us. Show that you believe that the power of talking can make us happier, less alone and more connected. Please help us make Talk to me London Day 2014 a reality by donating and sharing our Talk to me London Kickstarter page with your friends. Thank you!

Ann Don Bosco FRSA
Visit the Talk to me London website

Visit our campaign on the RSA crowdfunding page


To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture through grants, expertise and crowdfunding visit our webpage.

Learning about the city – Bristol

April 3, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Fellowship 

I’ve always enjoyed living in Bristol and although not a native have a strange sense of pride about the city.  Everyone always has positive stories and thoughts about Bristol, some not even cider related!  The city regularly features in top places to live surveys, in fact it topped one published last week.  So, when the City Growth Commission decided to hold one of its hearings in Bristol, I was curious to find out what key public figures had to say about the city and the issues it faces.

The City Growth Commission is an inquiry (led by the RSA) into how the UKs major cities can thrive, how we can change thought processes and create inclusive and sustainable growth.  The inquiry is currently holding a number of hearings across the UK to further the Commissioners understanding of key issues in cities in the UK and will produce a report in October 2014.

The hearing in Bristol IMG_1110based itself in the Lantern House at the beautiful Old Council House and we settled down to listen to three different panels in rotation.  The panels were asked to respond to the same questions (see below), and consisted of an interesting group of people including the mayor, George Ferguson, and the Happy City founder, Liz Zeidler.  There was a strong RSA Fellow contingent on the panels also, with Carolyn Hassan, Knowle West Media Centre, James Vaccaro, Triodos Bank and Stephen Atkinson, Aukett Fitzroy Robinson, all making their points.

The key questions the Commission asked were -  What are the cities challenges and opportunities?  What might the city want, if anything from central government?  What else would enable the city and wider economy to thrive?

Varying responses and arguments were put forward, I was interested to learn that Bristol is the only city in England to positively contribute to the GDP, but that there is a ten year difference in life expectancy across different parts of Bristol, pointing to issues around inequality.  There was also a plea to be given the freedom to fail – and being less risk adverse.

Some of the clear issues that came out of the hearing, were those I heartily agree with – transport services, housing, need to improve employability and skills of young people.  The Commissioners certainly went away with a lot to think about and take forward.


We carried the debate on into the evening with an informal Fellows meet up, and discussed a few key issues that weren’t bought up during the hearing.  The high concentration of creative companies in the city and the South West as a whole “is a hotbed of creative and digital media and the sector is growing more rapidly than anywhere else in the UK, employing more creatives than any other region outside London.” (Universities SW.ac.uk).  Also the green agenda having for a long time been a priority in the city (see my previous blog).

I look forward with interest to the Commission’s report and hope to continue the conversations about Bristol, with the Fellow-led Making our Futures series.

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter


The Big Idea… More than just coffee!

March 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

mark ashmoreHello! I’m Mark Ashmore FRSA and I founded Future Artists where we work under the motto “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”. I wanted to introduce you to a project that RSA Catalyst is helping me to crowdfund which I think totally epitomises this phrase, so hang on to your hats while I take you on a journey to a wet and windy city in the North West of England…

What if a coffee shop was able to generate £100,000 a year in grants that will enable a community to grow – enabling exploration of the arts and sciences, benefiting health and well being, and being a space to meet, share and create…? That’s our dream, and with your help, we can make this a reality…

Most high streets are full of identikit shops, repeated formula, and the same repeated sequel. When the Manchester rain beats down on its work force and the icy chills of the northern wind blows in, the high street offers little escape. For some, Starbucks and Costa Coffee’s bohemian commercialism is as offensive as the Manchester wet season itself!

The Home of Honest Coffeehonest coffee

Future Artists presents to you the ‘Home of Honest Coffee’, a brand new concept that we’re hoping to bring to the Manchester high street this summer. Introducing a coffee shop that’s designed to truly serve the community, not just with delicious fair trade coffee and locally produced snacks and treats, but also with opportunities for business start-ups and encouragement for network growth. Would you like a brownie with your cappuccino? Or maybe a sandwich? How about a business grant? The Home of Honest Coffee will run as a co-operative charity with profits being donated to schemes set up in the city, giving local creative and educational groups and start-up businesses the chance to thrive and develop in an otherwise unaccommodating economy.

We are fortunate in Manchester to be sharing our city with many forward-thinking ethical companies who are creative in their ways of giving something back to the community. All too often, however, these alternative venues and businesses are shoved to the quirky backstreets, overshadowed by the tax-avoiding giants. Why should the high street be dominated by corporations who care far more about their own profits than the wellbeing of the communities they inhabit?

The power is in every one of us, as we stroll down the high street, to choose where we spend our hard-earned money.

Leading up to this project, we have researched our market by hosting a variety of pop-up events in the centre of Manchester. These have included a street art exhibition, and an honesty café in which customers were trusted to sort their own payment and change. Following the success of these, our ambitions have raised and we now intend to take on the city high streets with something a little more permanent. We want to really make an impact by delivering a high street coffee shop that has community support and local improvement at the forefront of its mission. In order to achieve this, however, we first need a little bit of help and support ourselves.

The Home of Honest Coffee Crowdfunding campaignHow you can get involved

We are hoping to raise capital through Kickstarter and have so far been delighted with the amazing positive responses we’ve been receiving from the general public. Please find our campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area and see how you can get involved.

If you like our idea and would like to see it succeed, help us spread the word! Use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or just talk about us with your friends or family over the dinner table. Our mission is to prove that we can choose what kind of world we live in; the power is in every one of us as we stroll down the high street choosing where to spend our hard earned money.

In addition, to help with our expansion we’re looking to significantly increase the building and catering expertise we have as part of the project team, so if you can share even just a few hours, please do get in touch on the ‘Contact me’ button on our crowdfunding campaign (click on the image to the left).

Join us for an honest cuppa and vote with your brew!

Mark Ashmore FRSA

Visit our crowdfunding campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” – Frank Zappa

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage

Read the RSA’s 2020 Retail report Shopping for Shared Value which argues that building a future retail model which coordinates corporate operations to maximise local social and economic impact will become a key competitive advantage in a decade in which traditional physical stores are set to experience transition and disruption 

EduKit: Innovating Education

March 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

RichardRichard Blissett is Co-founder and CTO of EduKit, an online platform that will help disadvantaged students by matching them with organisations that can provide specialist educational and personal development support. Edukit has recently received RSA Catalyst funding. This is a guest blog from Richard. 

Just days before Christmas we received the amazing news that we’d been offered a £2k Catalyst grant to develop a prototype of our ambitious EduKit application – an online platform that will connect schools in deprived areas with youth programmes being run by social enterprises and charities (aka providers). Our prototype is important as it will help us to demo our planned online tool to teachers and students and to collect vital feedback that we will need before we start system development. In addition to this, we had also selected three schools with whom we decided to pilot our approach manually. We were all set for 2014 to be truly eventful – and momentous.

And we have certainly not been disappointed. In early January we handed our system design to our developer Christian, a bright new graduate, who set about turning our vision into reality. After two months of hard slog we have now almost finished developing a prototype which demos the different log in screens i.e. for teachers, school admin staff, students etc and shows the results and analysis that will be available for users. We have also finished our paper pilot during which we matched 29 students (each with interesting, high quality local programmes that they would otherwise have been unaware of) and are just waiting to hear back from schools as to which programmes they will be enrolled for. The feedback from the schools has been exceptional and each has provided us with a testimonial of the service!

The students have been able to access support from programmes that are tailored to their specific needs and we have already connected with local organisations recommended by Edukit, who offer support/services to young people. Some of the students are receiving free, regular mentoring, and for others we are hoping to give them an extensive experience of living and working on a farm for a week. The whole process has been so helpful in finding targetted programmes to ensure the needs of our students are being met.” Debbie Coloumbo, Eltham Hill School

“The matches between providers and our students have been ideal. For a number of our students, having an additional resource to support and engage them has meant that they are no longer at risk and are much more engaged in their education. This is equally true of those in Year 11 as those in Year 8″. Amanda Desmond Assistant Headteacher, Southfields Academy

But what has really surprised us is how much we’ve learnt about how schools work. During just three or so weeks, we’ve been able to find out so much about what their challenges and expectations are and how users will use and value our tool. For example, we’ve learnt that whilst schools are entirely committed to helping their students in whatever way they can, they can usually take far longer than we had hoped to get back to us so it’s best to either organise drop-ins to help them fill in their data or build an very user friendly online system which would allow both teachers and students to easily enter their data. We also learnt about how schools plan their budgets in order to finance external support.

It’s been a great learning experience but we’re not quite done yet, based on the feedback we have received we now plan to build a Beta version of the online service. This will allow us to test the online functionality and onboard many more charity programmes into our database. if you’d like to find out more about our progress so far please contact us at info@edukit.org.uk

Watch this space for further updates!

Richard Blissett

Coffee and the RSA

March 12, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The RSA has a history with coffee. The RSA’s eighteenth century founders first met in Rawthmell’s Coffee House in Covent Garden, and conversations they had shaped the society around them.

The coffeehouses of eighteenth century London didn’t just provide a place to meet; they were the focal point of an active community of pamphleteers, publishers and political activists. Their talk wasn’t just talk – it was a means to action.

coffee meeting

In November last year my colleague Matthew Mezey introduced me to NESTA’s idea of Randomised Coffee Trials – an initiative where staff are randomly assigned a different colleague each week with whom to ‘go for a coffee’. We both thought that something like this would be interesting to to try at the RSA. Still new and enthusiastic (although scared of sending ‘all staff’ emails) I agreed to set it up, and since then about half of the organisation has taken part.

I think one of the reasons it is so needed – and therefore has potential for significant impact – at the RSA is because the physical space in which we work doesn’t afford many opportunities for serendipitous conversations.

Randomised coffee trials are a fantastic way to create a networked structure in an organisation that doesn’t allow for casual staff interaction within its building (no staff room/cafe/lunch room). I have had conversations with people that I didn’t even know existed, and am now able to create a much better picture of how we might work together across teams.” (Nat)

It is much more than fun. It’s starting relationships and developing friendships, all of which makes you better at the work you do.

10 weeks on, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s been instructive to see something so simple working so well. It stays interesting and fresh because the connections provide something different each time:

“I was lucky enough to be assigned to Sharliza, who works in the same area as me (Communications) but in a different department. Prior to that we hadn’t even met, which just goes to show how important these initiatives are. As a result, I felt much more able to call on her for help with a new project, and got some great ideas that I otherwise would have missed.” (Conor)

“I met with Thomas a few weeks ago (who I had never spoken to before) and we realised that we had both studied International Relations at Portsmouth Uni… a few years apart. I now keep an eye on a blog he writes on Conflict, Security & International Relations! RCT WIN!!!” (Mark)

The project has attracted participants from almost every team and pay grade. A director might be paired with the CEO one week and an intern the next.

Through these meetings we become more visible, more known.

Through these meetings we become more visible, more known. As a consequence, we might start to ask more of one another, but those asks are more discerning and the newly founded relationships make it easier to say no as well as yes.

“Going for coffee’ is always a pleasurable thing to do. So mixing coffee with colleagues seems like a fun idea. In practice though it is much more than fun. It’s starting relationships and developing friendships, all of which makes you better at the work you do.” (Georgina)

A few friends have mentioned that they’d like to try something similar at their own organisation. NESTA have some great tips.

From my experience I would add:

  • Organisational buy-in is a big help – we can build these interactions into our working day without feeling like we’re skiving.
  • I’ve found it easy to run, in a not too labour-intensive way, just using an Excel spreadsheet.
  • I decided to send out the matches on a Wednesday so if someone had a week’s annual leave they’d still be able to keep up with their coffees; this seems to work quite well.
  • I think it was right to start with weekly meetings, so as to gain momentum and normalise it, but after feedback that it’s easy to get behind with your coffees we’re moving to fortnightly matches. 10 weeks seems like a good length of time to embed the initiative.

coffeeI’m now starting to think about how the principles behind the Randomised Coffee Trials could be used to the benefit of RSA Fellows. Could we build structured but serendipitous interaction into Fellows’ experiences of the RSA and in doing so strengthen Fellowship? If you have any ideas, let me know.


becca.massey-chase@rsa.org.uk | @becca_mchase


The Big Idea: women entrepreneurs and the Secret Pillow project

March 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The Big Idea: Through the making and selling of the Secret Pillow – a blanket that folds up into a pillow - Fritha Vincent FRSA shares the secrets of entrepreneurship with women.

I work with groups of women in India who have completed basic job skills training in tailoring and sewing. I run workshops on how to make a charming product called the Secret Pillow – a blanket that folds up into a pillow. On behalf of the women, I sell their Secret Pillows on the world market, achieving an excellent profit margin. For a relatively low risk and for sizeable gain, women get a kickstart to financial independence, as well as experience what it feels like to be successful, creative and independent.

group x 1000My vision for Secret Pillow Project is simple – I want women’s groups worldwide to have the opportunity to make and sell Secret Pillows. My focus is on women who without this opportunity would struggle either financially or otherwise to start up an income-generating business on their own. I am clear with the women that Secret Pillow Project will not offer them a constant stream of orders and that with their new resources and new perspective they need to diversify and create new income streams.  This is already happening with the first group I worked with in India.

This project is about women doing business with women and about consumers buying something because they really want. Neither the way I deal with women nor the way I sell will be heavily influenced by the social cause behind the project.  My aim is to work with the women’s groups long term to support them to produce set collections that can be sold on the Secret Pillow Project online shop (coming soon!) and in top department stores and boutiques. The sewing techniques will be a subtle celebration of the women’s heritage and culture. I have proven that consumers in the West desire the Secret Pillows; our aim has always been that the Secret Pillows are of the highest quality and good enough to compete with top brands.

Fritha and coNext steps

I have a busy couple of months ahead. I am about to launch a crowdfunding campaign aiming to get 500 Secret Pillow orders. Thanks to RSA Catalyst I got some great help from RSA Fellow, Stephen Parkes. He was a great source of advice to me and the project and he has kindly said, “Secret Pillow Project is a unique and exciting concept. It was pleased offer marketing advice on Fritha’s Kickstarter campaign strategy.” With the resources the campaign generates I will dedicate time to scaling up this project over the next year as well as delivering beautiful Secret Pillows to my campaign backers. I will fly to Kenya to run my first workshop with African women and am excited about the diversity of fabrics a new continent will offer. I hope during my Africa trip I can celebrate the success of the crowdfunding campaign.

Get involved 

There are two ways you can help me. First, back my Kickstarter campaign by finding my campaign on the RSA Curated Area on Kickstarter and become the proud owner of a Secret Pillow.  Secondly get in touch with me if you know a charity working with a women’s group who might be interested in getting involved with the project. This could be either here in UK or overseas.

Contact me at fritha@believeyoucanmakeadifference.co.uk or through our Facebook group. Thank you for your interest in the Secret Pillow Project.

Fritha Vincent FRSA

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our webpage

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