Q&A: Maria Ana Neves FRSA shares her inspirations… and social media challenges

August 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Maria Ana NevesNow that the RSA has it own Fellows’ network of Regional Digital Champions – see their profiles and blog post about the Champions’ role – to support and inspire Fellows’ online activity, we thought it would be rewarding to hear from individual Fellows (including RSA Catalyst project leaders) about their challenges, hopes and experiences in the online space, and beyond.

Our first interviewee is Maria Ana Neves, the co-founder and Design Strategist behind Plan Zheroes, an RSA Catalyst-funded project to connect food businesses with charities that can donate their surplus food to people who need it – and reduce the 1.6 million tonnes of surplus food the UK food retail industry sends to landfill every year. (You can read more about her project in this Fellowship blog post: ‘The Big Idea: surplus food to those who need it’).

As well as sharing her passions and inspirations, Maria Ana also shares some of Plan Zheroes’ unrealised opportunities – and invites help from digital-savvy Fellows.

Matthew Mezey
(RSA Online Community Manager)

Q 1: What are your key challenges/passions/inspirations?
My current key challenge is how to balance ideas and capability. It really is great to have great ideas and visions, but is as important to build capability and that sometimes means stop the ideas-machine and focus on implementation… sometimes the two clash!

Leadership – I love teamwork and flat/shared leadership – but I still need to learn how to get it right!  With everything I’ve been involved in, the ideas were more important than the people. I am now starting to understand that people are much more important than ideas – this is a fantastic shift and a challenge for me.
Being an unreasonable person with a fertile imagination and not that much focus on financial returns is a challenge!
Keep up to date with technology! It really is challenging for me, as I am not that literate in this field.

Being an unreasonable person with a fertile imagination and not that much focus on financial returns is a challenge!

My passions are learning, travel, and ideas – discover new things everyday! Also Design. And Zero Waste: as a designer, I am obsessed with finding solutions to human needs, and a big passion is to design out waste from our world. Design out is not about creating solutions for waste, it’s about creating systems, products and services which are 100% waste-free. It’s starting the journey with the simple design principle: we cannot have waste.

Social challenges (homelessness at the top): I really dream of a 100% inclusive society.

Inspirations: first (and probably the most important one) is nature. I believe nature has all the answers.

I am now starting to understand that people are much more important than ideas – this is a fantastic shift and a challenge for me

My mind works in a funny way – it is constantly making connections between things that have not been connected before. In innovation management we call it “intersectional innovation”. For this reason everything is an inspiration: a bird or a cloud, a word spoken, the music in the underground, a biography, a product that doesn’t work, a conversation in the Gerard bar, a discussion on Linkedin…

Q. 2: What has worked out well for you on the online/social media front?
For Plan Zheroes, we are still in the early stages with social media and we know it will play a great role in developing our mission. At this stage I am conscious we are still learning and building capability. But without an expert (or maybe a team) we can’t take the best from such great resource. You know the African Expression “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others” ? I think social media seems to give us a new paradigm:  “we can go fast and far with others“.

Q. 3: And what has not worked so well?

Up to this point we have only used Twitter and Facebook at a very basic level, knowing we are missing out on their great potential. We haven’t had the time and expertise to look at social media at a strategic level.

We haven’t (yet) asked the right questions such as…  “what would happen if we used Twitter to get more food businesses on to the Plan Zheroes map?” or “to find the top influencers” or to recruit volunteers… or “how can our community build stronger relationships through social media?”

What would happen if we used Twitter to get more food businesses on to the Plan Zheroes map?

Plan Zheroes we still have a challenge to consider: most businesses do not want to shout about what they are giving, and people at the front line are not willing to be exposed -  and many charities are not online and even less on social media.

There are many things we can solve with social media – but we need to better understand it first!

Q. 4: What are the areas where you would like online-related (or other) help from RSA Fellows, or feel that you could be missing out on potential opportunities?

Plan Zheroes only has a simple mission: connect businesses and charities and do whatever it takes to get them to give/receive the surplus food to people in need and prevent food from becoming waste.

Using online tools and social media to connect these two groups and raise awareness of the issues of poverty and food waste comes naturally for us.

It’s still a learning curve for us! Looking to the future however, learning from RSA Fellows who have previously used online platforms and social media as fundraising tool and a way to better connect with potential donors and receivers of food would be invaluable to Plan Zheroes (especially when many of the people we communicate with are not in offices or using computers!).

Additionally, not having an office (we will have a virtual one soon, using Basecamp!) and managing a diverse range of volunteers, from a range of different backgrounds, with a variety of different commitments is a constant challenge for Plan Zheroes, it would be brilliant to hear how other RSA fellows have overcome this in the past…online and offline!

If you think you might be able to help Maria Ana in any of the areas she mentions, please contact her (via Maria Ana’s e-mail or Linkedin profile).

Good online tools or resources that might be useful for lots of Fellows can be added to the ‘Fellows’ tools & techniques’ page. Get in touch if you have something.

If you are a Fellow with successes and current challenges to share around social media – and would like to be a future ’4 Questions’ interviewee – please contact me.


Matthew Kalman Mezey
(RSA Online Community Manager)

A live dashboard webpage showing RSA online activity is here: http://bit.ly/onlineRSA
rsafellowship.com (online community)
Want to become an RSA Digital Champion – or need help from one?: http://bit.ly/RSAdigitalchampions
Is there an ‘RSA Connector’ for your country yet?: http://bit.ly/RSAconnectors
‘7 Ways to become an online Fellow’: http://bit.ly/7waystoengage
Need support for your Fellows’ meetings, network or projects? Go to the Fellows’ tools & techniques page - bit.ly/Fellowresources – for guidance, how-tos and other support.

How to create and not just consume – with RSA Catalyst

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

I saw two main strands to the RSA’s recent Generation Enterprise report written by Adam Lent, our Director of Programme. One charts the increase in entrepreneurialism among today’s generation of young people and analyses its causes and effects. This was explored both by the headlines that the report received in CityAM, Evening Standard and in the RSA Event with Madsen Pirie and Martha Lane Fox. I want to explore the other, Adam’s identification and analysis of the social effects of what he calls ‘self-generated value’. ‘What’s that?’ you might ask:

“in a growing number of areas, the consumer no longer has to rely on the insight of the entrepreneur to obtain value. Instead, the consumer can generate that value for him or herself. Think, for example, how the most potent source of detailed factual knowledge across the world is now an online encyclopaedia written by its readers.” (See my colleague’s blog for some well-known examples of where SGV has been applied in practice).

As Adam, says, the phenomenon has been identified before, and called pro-sumption (the merging of the production and consumption). But he goes on to say:

“What is truly revolutionary about the new worm-hole [caused by the creation of the internet] is not the collapse of the distinction between production and consumption per se but the new capacity of individuals to start generating value for themselves in ways which continue the capitalist trend towards the creation of ever greater value for millions of consumers.”

Though I will be reading Tapscott and Williams’ Macrowikinomics and Doc Searls’ The Intention Economy to find out more, I wanted to illustrate my initial understanding of this through some of the RSA Fellows’ ventures supported by RSA Catalyst in a few different areas of value-creation. In one sense, these examples don’t really do justice to what Adam is focusing on. His focus is on quite conventional products and services purchased in the private sphere (music and t-shirts) rather than any kind of service in the social sphere (personal education, food waste and care). Indeed, half the point was to show the value to society of improvements in private consumption. But I think hope these examples demonstrate the trends Adam identifies in the private sector to an audience from the public and third sectors, drawing on manufacturing and commercial expertise to deliver more effective undertakings explicitly for the public good.

Production of knowledge-based goods. Services like facebook and twitter offer blank slates upon which users inscribe their own value and meaning, together creating huge value for its participants.

  • Omnifolio is building a service for users to track their traits, work experience, formal and, crucially, informal educational (such as books read, lectures attended). They hope resulting profiles will help people find, train for and better communicate one’s suitability to potential employers.

Pricing and distribution. Adam gives some examples of sites dedicated to getting consumers to club together to negotiate on price over a product the ‘crowd’ desires and how consumers now exert greater control over when their purchases are delivered.

  • Plan Zheroes; rather than businesses throwing away and paying councils (sometimes by the tonne) to take good food to waste, this map makes it simple to find a charity nearby and organize to drop off surplus food to a local soup-kitchen, community group or food redistribution programme. Over 300 businesses have signed up so far. By giving the market small amounts of information about waste, participants are helping others provide a service that takes away the guilt of throwing away edible food at the end of the day.

Marketing. It may seem strange to see marketing as an integral part of creating value. But it is indeed since advertising can make low-value product look or feel valuable and that consumers are swamped with a huge variety of products and services, the difference between which is increasingly meaningless.

  • Rate My Care; an online platform for rating social care providers, providing a resource for people unsure where they should residential to an elderly loved-one. As well as opening up marketing of particular services, these ventures also emphasise the need for consumers of services to give input into the re-design and improvement of the services.

The Generation Enterprise publication is a good read and the lecture a good listen. I hope it sparks ideas for a new solution for people to generate value for themselves. If it does this, feel free to throw your idea into the Catalyst programme.

Alex Watson is Catalyst Programme Manager – follow him @watsoalex