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.
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 Big Idea: Nalibeli is an online platform created by Blair Glencorse FRSA and Surabhi Pudasaini that helps citizens in Nepal to navigate complicated public services, and uses crowdsourcing to give people access to the information they need. Here, Blair explains more…
Accessing basic services, like obtaining a new passport or renewing a driver’s license, is a difficult, complicated and messy ordeal for citizens in Nepal. There is no clear and readily available information – of the sort taken for granted in a country like the UK, whose gov.uk website won Design of the Year award – to help Nepalis understand the services the government should provide. As a result, it can take numerous visits to offices and a great deal of confusion (and bribes) to navigate the administration.
That is why we’ve started a crowdfunding campaign on the RSA crowdfunding area to support our Nalibeli portal. Nalibeli (a Nepali word that gives a sense of understanding the intricate details of something) helps citizens navigate government and make more informed decisions about issues that affect their lives. With generous support from the RSA US Challenge fund and RSA Catalyst (which supported initial development, research and network-building on the ground) we are using web-based tools, like Facebook, to gather ideas on the problems that Nepalis care about. Then we are using our contacts across the country to organize, package an disburse relevant information through a wiki-tool (using MediaWiki, the free, open source wiki product that was evolved from Wikipedia).
The story so far
We’ve begun a massive outreach campaign around the country and despite our small budget, results so far have been impressive: Nalibeli has over 115,000 hits and over 400 pages of information on key services in both Nepali and English. We began with higher education and mapped information across over 60 college campuses and 38 faculties, and we’re now mapping services through District Administrative Offices (with which all Nepalis have to interact for obtaining birth certificates, marriage licenses and so on). We’ve held numerous “wiki-a-thons” at colleges in different parts of Nepal as well as numerous informal wiki-sessions to build a committed user base and demonstrate the importance of what we are doing; and we’ve built up a solid team of 5 people and an informal network of over a dozen institutions and organizations who, on a volunteer basis, give us their time and expertise.
All of this has taken just a few months. There have been challenges of course. Crowdsourcing information under difficult conditions has been harder than we thought it would be, and bridging the digital divide is proving tricky, but we are working on these problems and making fantastic progress. The wiki is fully functional and has a truly vibrant community developing around it. Now we need it go from a useful tool to the essential resource it should be for every Nepali citizen to ensure that the provision of government services is equal and fair for all.
The next stage of the project involves recruiting plenty more volunteers, scaling up the amount of information in the wiki to cover all public services, and greater outreach efforts to ensure the tool is as usable and accessible as possible. Friends from elsewhere have also indicated that Nalibeli would prove valuable in their countries – and we are keen to pilot it in other South Asian contexts and beyond. Citizens everywhere want reliable and up-to-date information on government, after all, even if the government itself is unable or unwilling to provide it.
How you can help
We’ve had tons of interest in the project from Fellows so far. We’d love to speak to any other Fellows in the technology field, with experience in crowd-sourcing information or who may have grown projects like this across issues and countries.
We’d also welcome any support for this next stage which you can do through the new RSA Kickstarter crowdfunding area. There are plenty of amazing pledge gifts up for grabs including Intercontinental Holistic Missiles (ICHMs) – collections of medicinal, cooking and other healthful herbs grown in Nepal (all in Nepali embroidered bags!); vedic astrology charts and much more! Please help us continue to build transparent and accountable government in Nepal.
Support ‘NaliBeli: Helping government work in Nepal’ by finding his Kickstarter campaign on the RSA curated area. To get in contact, email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @blairglencorse.
The Big Idea: this December, Jack Watling FRSA and three colleagues will run Rwanda’s first Debate Camp, bringing together over 200 students for ten days of intensive training in analysing issues and policies, constructing and deconstructing arguments, and using rhetoric.
As a journalist I speak to a lot of people who care deeply about politics, society and community, but do not feel confident that they can articulate their views in public. As a result their views are not heard and their input is withheld from the decision making process.
Debating is an excellent tool for social empowerment, giving people the confidence to express themselves with concision, conviction and clarity. As a seasoned debater, I became a trainer at the Central London Debating Society (CLDS) to build a platform to encourage people to develop debating skills. CLDS organises public debates around London for over 1000 members and runs training programmes in schools and businesses.
Debating is an excellent tool for social empowerment, giving people the confidence to express themselves with concision, conviction and clarity.
This summer CLDS was approached and offered a unique opportunity: to send trainers to Rwanda and run the country’s first Debate Camp. The camp will empower a cohort of Rwandan students to become civically engaged and will open up a world of opportunities through international debating competitions and scholarships. It will also provide a framework for practicing and developing skills that will be essential for Rwanda’s future lawyers, civil servants and entrepreneurs as Rwanda aims to become a medium wealth country by 2020. At the end of the camp Rwanda will hold its first National Debating Championships. The competition will train staff in how to run and judge competitions so that they can prepare their students for international contests.
The legacy of the programme will be managed by the local charity IDebate Rwanda, who will assist the students attending the camp to set up and run competitive debating clubs in their schools and universities. Planning for the camp is well under way: the Rwandan Ministry of Education has already granted us use of Gashora Girls Academy, and accommodation and living expenses for students attending the camp will be funded by the Goethe-Institut/Liaison Office Kigali.
How you can get involved
We have not raised enough yet to avoid charging students attending the camp. This is why we need your help: if we can raise £2500 by December then attendance can be free, broadening the range of students who can attend. We would therefore be extremely grateful if you can spread the word about the camp, contribute to the project via our crowd-funding page, or attend our fundraising events throughout November. To raise awareness and funds for the camp we are partnering with the Rwandan Embassy in London and Parliament Week to host three panel debates on women in politics, Rwanda being the first country to have a female majority in its Parliament. The first event will be held on Tuesday 19 November, 7pm at the City of London School. We are hosting a panel discussion at Portcullis House on Thursday 21 November and Morgan Stanley is hosting the third on Thursday 28 November. We would really appreciate the assistance of Fellows who can help spread the word about the camp.
We would also be very grateful to sit down with any Fellows with experience working in Rwanda, especially people familiar with the Rwandan economy, in order to moot workshop example topics and exercise themes. Please get in touch and we look forward to working with you to kick-start debating in Rwanda.
Jack Merlin Watling FRSA
07429 368 206
“The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything…or nothing.” – Viscountess Nancy Astor, the first woman to be seated in the British Parliament
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the graduation ceremony for fifteen female entrepreneurs who had recently completed Make it Real – a business support programme for aspiring women run by The Centre of Excellence for Women’s Entrepreneurship (CEWE) at the University of East London. Held in the impressive surroundings of the Museum of Childhood amid a live market place which allowed the finalists to showcase their work, the event saw each winner congratulated with a cheque of £2,000 to grow their business.
The ceremony kicked off with a lively speech from Lisa Burger, Head of Customer Experience at easyJet. Lisa has been with the airline right from its entrepreneurial beginnings and she outlined how this has shaped her approach to life. During her speech she passed on many words of wisdom to the audience, but there was one thing in particular that stuck in my head:
“Don’t be afraid to ask the question.”
Lisa Burger is a confident, successful woman but she was keen to relate to her (mostly female) audience and acknowledge the psychological barriers that often stop people from achieving – specifically, the fear of speaking out and being seen to be wrong.
So, honouring her request, here is the question I am slightly fearful of asking: are women inherently less confident than men when it comes to putting themselves forward and creating the career they really want?
Are women hiding away?
I am not the only one to consider this question. Since the RSA set up its Catalyst fund, it has supported ventures lead by some inspirational women and many of these have focused specifically on helping other women. Dr Catherine Fieschi FRSA was inspired to set up her enterprise – 50 Foot Women, precisely because she happened to notice a worrying trend whilst recruiting for positions in her role as Director of Counterpoint.
”While male applicants were more inclined to over-emphasise their skills and ability, the women tended to under-sell themselves -”
This direct experience was enough to merit the birth of 50 Foot Women, a mentoring scheme that she hoped would boost women’s confidence and their potential. Cooking with Mama is another Catalyst supported enterprise specifically targeting women. Set up by Jennifer Fong FRSA, the project offers cooking classes run by mothers who might otherwise be out of work or not have the confidence to return to work. The classes address both problems by employing and empowering at the same time.
Discovering a problem in your locality and working to address it is the essence of RSA Fellowship. When it comes to tackling inequality in the workplace, things are definitely changing and entrepreneurship is a big part of the equation. Unfortunately, the question of why there are less female CEOs is a highly politicised issue, and my worry is that this will lead many women (and men) who have great capacity to help, to steer clear of the problem altogether.
The lesson illustrated by our Fellows is that it pays to ask the question but not get too caught up in trying to solve the whole problem – instead, focus on what you can do, and who you can help, right now. Do not become overwhelmed by trying to change everything at once and risk changing nothing. It was not until 1928 that Viscountess Nancy Astor became the first women seated in British Parliament, yet the RSA has been offering woman a platform to participate in public life and improve society from its inception in 1754. This in turn influenced other societies to do the same and slowly, things changed.
The Fellowship continues this legacy by letting innovative people like Catherine and Jennifer change the landscape for women, one bit at a time.
If you’d like to find out more about the projects mentioned, or would like to apply for Fellowship then contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If there is someone you know who would make a great addition to the network then why not nominate them?
Alex Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA, @alexandrabarke1
This Monday 21st the RSA had the privilege of hosting Kendel Ratley, Director of Outreach for the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, for an interactive seminar on how to create a successful Kickstarter project, and what Kickstarter is all about. As we’ve explained in previous blogs, the RSA has recently launched its own curated area on Kickstarter, giving its Fellow-led projects the chance to stand on the shoulders of the crowd and reach even greater goals. You can read Fellowship Councillor Ed Whiting’s blog post on why the RSA has chosen to get involved in crowdfunding or watch a panel event from 16th September on “Crowdfunding: where next, how far, and what are the limits?”.
At Monday’s event, Kendel gave the complete lowdown on Kickstarter campaigns. Her advice ran from what makes a successful campaign video (note: it does not have to be Hollywood-quality), to how long a campaign should be (Kickstarter recommends 30 days).
It’s not all about the money
However, listening to Kendel’s presentation, what really struck me was how well Kickstarter’s philosophy fits in with the RSA’s. As she emphasised in her presentation, Kickstarter is not just about the money. This statement might be hard for some to buy into, but that’s precisely the reason why Kickstarter even hesitate to use the word ‘crowdfunding’ in their own branding. Instead, the philosophy behind Kickstarter is about building communities, and it permeates every aspect of their organisation. In fact, one of the reasons why they make their funding model all-or-nothing (such that a project only gets the money if it reaches its target) is that it encourages people to mobilise their networks even more, creating an active community of online supporters.
With that in mind, you can now visualise a project’s success in terms of the strength of the community it has created. As Kendel emphasised, why Kickstarter is different from both charitable websites and investment-based models is that it gives the backers a chance to be a part of the project’s story. This reasoning is why she encourages projects to send updates to their backers during the campaign, keeping them involved throughout the project’s development. Moreover, the community does not disappear once the project has reached its target. The project’s creator will have access to the email addresses of all the backers to continue sending updates and news. A campaign’s community of online support can become the first group of people to participate once the project hits the real world.
The strength of a campaign’s community can also be a dividing line between successful projects and unsuccessful ones. As Kendel said, while some projects do get substantial support from people simply browsing the Internet, most successful project creators reach their targets through hard work put into mobilising their networks.
The strength of a campaign’s community can also be a dividing line between successful projects and unsuccessful ones.
As a creator you have to make sure that each aspect of your campaign emphasises involvement, whether it’s getting people to share your project on social media, or making sure backers can participate in the final product. In terms of rewards for different levels of contribution, we can’t really be sure that putting a backer’s name up on a ‘Thank You’ wall equates perfectly to £25. However with this exchange, a new relationship has been established with someone who before was just another member of the ‘crowd’. This backer is one more person who has been brought into the project’s story, another new member of the dynamic community of support, another person who wants to see the project evolve from idea into reality.
The RSA and Kickstarter—a perfect match
The RSA is all about turning ideas into action through collaboration with its 27,000 socially-minded Fellows. It has a ready-built community already receptive to the issues these Fellow-led projects are looking to address. With the RSA’s new curated area on Kickstarter, it’s becoming easier than ever for Fellows to come together from the UK, America, Nepal, and Kenya (just a few of the bases of FRSA projects) to support each other’s efforts across the world. To me, this emphasis on building communities around innovative projects is precisely the reason why Kickstarter and the RSA are a perfect match. And with four projects from the RSA curated area already having reached their target, we hope the Kickstarter community feels the same way.
Find out about all the projects on the RSA crowdfunding page – see which one inspires you and support them from as little as £1.The current FRSA projects are seeking to:
- support community mental health
- build the future of manufacturing in London
- inspire young people to love science
- support young designers in local market square
Learn how to start a crowdfunding campaign for your project with RSA Catalyst – helping to turn RSA Fellows’ ideas into action. Apply for crowdfunding support from the RSA here.
This is a guest blog from Sanderson Jones FRSA who along with Pippa Evans set up the Sunday Assembly. Sanderson blogs here about their plans for the next few months.
The Big Idea: Helping people live better, help often and wonder more through the Sunday Assembly
The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrates life. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfil their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.
- Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be
- Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other
- Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in.
Since 250 people turned up at our first Assembly in January 2013, in a run-down deconsecrated church in North London, we’ve discovered that there is a massive desire across the country to celebrate life. By June we had over 600 people in our congregation and thousands of people have reacted to our motto of live better, help often, wonder more. We will have 30 Assemblies started by the end of this year and around 1600 people across the world have asked for their own Assembly.
We’ve discovered that there is a massive desire across the country to celebrate life
Supported by RSA Catalyst, the Sunday Assembly is now going on a global tour called 40 Dates and 40 Nights: The Roadshow. The plan: to launch 40 Assemblies in 40 nights across the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. We’re going to 29 cities including Oxford, Milton Keynes, Manchester, Dublin, New York, Chicago, Washington, Nashville, Adelaide and Sydney. The roadshow will be a launch-pad for local Assemblies, allow us to meet the local teams, and demonstrate what goes down at an Assembly: basically all the best parts of church (but with no religion).
Ultimately, we want to reach the 300 million people across the world who have no religion, but to do that we need to get digital.
40 Dates & 40 Nights: The Roadshow is coinciding with a crowdfunding campaign to raise the start-up funds needed to get a global movement and organisation off the ground. We are raising the capital to create a custom-designed, digital platform that will allow the millions of people who believe in good to connect with other like-minded people, and build wonderful life-giving congregations.
It is quite impressive that we’ll start 30 Assemblies in our first year, but if we were to have a site like this we can help start thousands.
We want RSA Fellows to get involved as volunteers and speakers, and to connect us with community projects
- To find people who would like to help organise a local Assembly
- To source inspiring speakers for the Sunday Assemblies themselves
- To find wonderful community action projects with which we could connect volunteers from our congregation. Each Assembly is going to be very focused on helping out in the community, so we’d love to hear from local community social enterprises and charities that are in need of volunteers or who could think of good partnerships.
Please watch our video below to find out more about our crowdfunding campaign. If the Sunday Assembly sounds interesting to you, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch.
This is a guest blog by Lisa Oulton FRSA. Lisa was awarded RSA Catalyst funding for her project to help young people start creative businesses, and is now seeking crowdfunding to run a Festival of Enterprise in November. You can support her campaign on Kickstarter.
The Big Idea: Student Makers’ Markets – street-based business training for young creatives
Creative young people are the most likely group to start up a business straight from education. They are often natural entrepreneurs: creative, innovative and visionary with immediately transferrable skills that lend themselves to self-employment. But they are also some of the least likely to have picked up the skills that they need to grow and sustain a business – failure rates are high – and the reality seems to be that once burnt these early starters often never return to entrepreneurship.
Youth entrepreneurship is being promoted and encouraged as a way of helping young people into the labour market and promoting job creation, but without business skills and resilience entrepreneurial inclination is no guarantee of success. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research identifies that young people in Europe feel less confident about starting up a business than their global peers, with a strong fear of failure and belief that they are ill equipped to start a business.
With the support of RSA Catalyst and the Canterbury Festival’s Prosper Programme we have created Student Makers’ Markets, a street-based programme of business and entrepreneurial training. It gives young people a supported space to come and test their business with access to informal training, workshops and on-going mentoring whenever it’s needed.
We bring young entrepreneurs together to create vibrant mini-markets within established street markets, festivals and galleries. We supply free stalls and equipment for unemployed young people, graduates and school students from communities struggling with high levels of youth unemployment and other social and economic problems.
The ease of selling through online platforms like eBay, Etsy, Big Cartel and Facebook means that many young entrepreneurs are already trading from bedrooms, sheds and kitchen tables. We’ve been surprised at the range of businesses we’ve found, from complete beginners to established on-line shops. Our ethos is to look for the “bright spots”, inspired by the Heath brothers’ book Switch: we look for what’s working and how can we do more of it, the don’t solve problems – copy success.
Connecting young people already running successful businesses to those just starting out creates amazing enthusiasm: when young makers meet those of the same age who are making a living from their creative skills it shows them what’s possible. It has been extraordinarily exciting for everyone involved – the market traders, the business community and ourselves – to find just how much drive and talent is already out there.
We offer free business advice during the markets and we’ve been astounded at the requests so far. Our assumption was that our traders might ask about setting up a business, accessing government loans or writing a business plan. Instead, we are answering questions from young people about exporting to multiple countries, registering for VAT and employment versus outsourcing. Taking part in a rolling programme of markets and training means the young people can access learning when they feel they need it, from realising that they’re struggling to make sales at one market, to learning vital sales techniques before the next.
We want our young people to be excited not just by the opportunities that are open to them, but those which they can create themselves: to make their mark on their community, be visible and to inspire others.
We’re working in Kent and have been given an opportunity to extend our work into Folkestone to create a month long pop-up shop and Festival of Youth Enterprise. We’ve been given a beautiful old arcade building for the whole of December, where we are planning a programme of inspiring talks and workshops covering a wide range of subjects, from crowdfunding and social enterprise to printmaking and digital manufacturing. A production space will enable those without facilities to create work for the markets and a Christmas shop will enable everyone to sell what they make!
How you can get involved
In partnership with the RSA we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to support this initiative. The building we’ve been given is large and empty; we need to equip the production space and create a fabulous shop for visitors.
Our funding campaign is live on Kickstarter and we are aiming to raise £2,000 by 2 November. We would be very grateful if you could pledge your support, or help spread the word by sharing our campaign with your contacts. To find out more please contact me by email (email@example.com) or via Twitter @StudentMakers.
Take advantage of a special launch offer to the first 200 crowdfunding pledges made by RSA Fellows. The RSA will match the campaign(s) you have backed to a maximum of £10 if you tell your network which project you’ve backed via: a comment in the RSA Fellows LinkedIn group discussion on crowdfunding; tweeting using the #RSACrowdfunding hashtag; posting a status update on the RSA’s facebook group.
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit our website.
- What makes a successful crowdfunding campaign?
- How can it help my social enterprise?
- Why should I do a crowdfunding campaign?
These were some of the questions on people’s lips at Friday morning’s social entrepreneurs breakfast as the focus was social enterprise and crowdfunding: how can it help me? We were joined by Fellowship Councillor Ed Whiting and Alex Watson, our RSA Catalyst manager, both of whom have overseen the launch of RSA crowdfunding. Ed ran a crowdfunding platform called WeDidThis and so is well versed in the benefits, drawbacks, ups and downs of crowdfunding campaigns. You can read previous blogs from Ed about crowdfunding and the RSA’s role in it. There are currently seven projects up on the RSA crowdfunding page ranging from a game which reduces social anxiety to a cinema project in Kenya which uses films as an educational tool. You can take a look at the RSA page here.
Two of the Fellows with current live crowdfunding projects were able to join us at the breakfast. Lisa Oulton who is running Student Makers Festival sets young designers up with stalls at local markets (currently in Folkstone, Kent) to sell what they have created. The young people she works with are students, unemployed young people and graduates based in an area struggling with high levels of youth unemployment. Lisa would like to raise £2000 to fit out a production workshop and exhibition space and help support young designers to fulfil their potential. Her campaign is currently 40% backed with 33 days to go and she describes the highs and lows of the campaign as being on a rollercoaster. One of the reasons she has run this crowdfunding campaign was to introduce her young people to the possibilities of crowdfunding for their products and to galvanise their networks into promoting the campaign.
Rick Hall’s 3-2-1 Ignition project is trying to bring science to the masses and our local high streets in ways which demystify science and show that it is for everyone and not just the archetypal wild-haired scientists (think Doc Brown and the flux capacitor – though that’s just the 80’s child in me!) Rick’s campaign is currently at 33% at 31 days left. He says the key thing he has learnt is that just having a good idea doesn’t make a crowdfunding campaign – you need to define your project campaign, focus on the tangible outputs and finally be able to articulate it. I was interested why Rick has chosen to go ahead now with the campaign and he said two points which I liked: 1) if you get an opportunity (like the one the RSA was offering) you should go for it and 2) he was at a stage where he wanted to test whether his idea and social enterprise was viable. He has his first shop and wondered whether he could grow the idea and take it to the next level. Which is where crowdfunding comes in particularly hand; it is also a type of market research. A lot of these points also came up at the RSA crowdfunding launch event on Monday 16 September which you can view online on RSA Replay.
What are the top tips for crowdfunding?
Out of our discussions, we distilled the key tips for crowdfunding campaigns down to these points:
- Define your project – you can’t just focus on your cause; what is your project and how are you going to get people’s ‘buy-in’?
- Set realistic targets – you might want £200,000 but is this realistic bearing in mind your reach, rewards and project?
- Use it to test your viability – it is an excellent market research tool so use it to test what works.
- Offer exciting outputs/rewards – part of defining your project is to work out what rewards and gifts you can offer to those who donate.
- Use your networks – promoting to those you know and getting friends of friends and friends of friends of friends involved is vital in the momentum for your campaign especially at the beginning.
- It is ‘forced’ promotion – a good point was raised about using crowdfunding campaigns as a marketing tool in that you HAVE to promote it. The campaign will fail otherwise. It is reliant on you to build momentum so it can be used for the slightly-more-reticent promoters to push their projects out into the ether.
Crowdfunding was suggested as a ‘fun’ way to raise finance amongst a number of different options social enterprises have. Whether as a social enterprise you are going to be more or less successful as a crowdfunding campaign is questionable – are people more likely to give backing to your social enterprise based on the feel-good factor of helping a good cause? The jury is still out on that but Ed did highlight the difference between a project and a ’cause’. One of the things that a crowdfunding campaign (and in this case Kickstarter) will do is to force you to package up your idea and think about the tangible products your enterprise or project can offer. Just stating you want to help reduce youth unemployment or carbon emissions is not enough – you need to focus on the outputs. This made me wonder whether giving to a crowdfunding campaign appeals to our selfish motivations of having ‘stuff’ and especially as a momento that reminds us of the good deed we performed to help out another person. This is a personal element of the social side of crowdfunding.
It is exciting times ahead for both the current projects live on the RSA crowdfunding page (good luck to Lisa and Rick and everyone else looking for support) and for those to come. Help them to reach their targets. Two things you can do now:
- Find out about all the projects on the RSA crowdfunding page, see which one inspires you and support them from as little as £1.
- Join the Social Entrepreneurs Network online here. The next breakfast will be Friday 25 October so we hope to see you then!
Fellowship Communications and Events Manager
This is a guest blog by Martin Webber FRSA. Martin received a grant and help to run a crowdfunding campaign from RSA Catalyst for his ClearFear Game combating social anxiety. He is currently running a crowdfunding campaign through the new RSA curated area on Kickstarter to further develop his project.
The Big Idea: harnessing the power of fun and games to combat social anxiety through a real-life participatory social game.
Anxiety affects us all. Sometimes, a little bit is a good thing. It can sharpen our minds before a performance or help us to complete a piece of work, for example. More often, though, it can get in the way of leading a normal, productive life. Severe anxiety can stop us sleeping, going out and getting on with our lives.
Research in the US has found that as many as one in ten people suffer from social anxiety disorder – a persistent fear of social situations – at some point in their lives. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance recommends medication or psychological therapy for the treatment of social anxiety. However, only about half of adults seek help and most only do so after experiencing problems with their anxiety for over 20 years.
As we all have fears and anxieties, and because formal treatments are either inappropriate or unavailable, we are creating a game which helps people to confront their fears in a fun way.
With the support of RSA Catalyst, I am working with Philippe Greier of Playmakers Industries to create the ClearFear game. Along the way, we have harnessed the expertise of people recovering from substance use problems at Kingston Recovery Initiative Social Enterprise and researchers in the Connecting People study team to design the game. Through introductions made by RSA staff, we also gained the help and advice of other RSA Fellows David Floyd, Andy Gibson, Ellen Pruyne.
ClearFear is a real-life social game in which players are helped to find their own super-powers. By becoming our own superheroes, ClearFear game players tackle missions with the support of a small team to overcome their fears. Together, game players create a secret smiling society which no longer fears fear.
The ClearFear game has been tested by many people in the UK, Austria, Bolivia and Sweden. Our latest test has been with people recovering from substance use problems in the West Kent Recovery Service, where the RSA is piloting its Whole Person Recovery System.
The feedback we received from players has been positive. The laughter emanating from the attic room in Tonbridge where we last played the game suggests that it can be fun. Perhaps that was because the missions which players completed were completely bizarre, such as asking a stranger to move their car from one place to another or making a box out of twigs. Others included finding out an interesting fact about Tonbridge from someone in a local shop – which took a few attempts – or hugging a stranger – which, as you might expect, met with diverse responses.
The missions took people slightly out of their comfort zone, but as they were completed in a team their successes were celebrated together.
How does it work?
But does playing the game actually make a difference? We don’t yet have an answer to this question, but at the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research (University of York) we’re evaluating a pilot of the game to see if it helps to connect people, reduce anxiety and improve players’ well-being and feelings of empowerment. We have some ideas how it may work.
The ClearFear game superhero narrative provides a fictional frame for the exploration of reality. Unlike psychological therapy which takes people towards their fear, ClearFear takes players away from it into a fictional frame to poke fun at it. This ‘dramatic distancing’ is somewhat paradoxical, but enables players to engage with buried aspects of themselves more profoundly. Fear becomes a nemesis to overcome through a series of fun missions.
Missions are the antithesis of gradual exposure techniques, which are typically used in psychological therapy to carefully expose people to situations which they are fearful of. ClearFear missions are fun, some may say frivolous, but being part of a team of players where everyone has a mission to complete equalises the status of the tasks and reduces individuals’ anxiety about what they have to do. Teams of three can frequently complete their missions in under one and a half hours, demonstrating that exposure to fearful situations with the support of other players can be tackled with fun.
The superhero narrative of the game reminds players that they have strengths. Developing and testing the game with people recovering from severe problems who sometimes feel that they have nothing to offer to society has demonstrated how powerful this can be. Starting off talking about the problems they have experienced in their lives, players help each other to identify what they are good at and enjoy doing most. Asset-based approaches help communities to develop and we see the same beginning to happen with the ClearFear secret smiling society.
There is a long way to go. We need to take the game to the next level and to complete our evaluation to see if it works. To help us, we have launched a crowdfunding campaign on the RSA Kickstarter page last week. We are doing well so far but need to keep up the momentum. Please take a look and help if you can: bit.ly/clearfearfrsa
We aim to source some additional funding to enable us to develop a version of the game with mission cards, a gamer’s toolkit, and a fully-functioning website with clear instructions so that people can share their successful missions. This is to allow individuals to play the game.
If you want to help us reach our target of £5,000 by 31st October, please pledge your support and share it with your contacts.
We all have mental health and we need to look after it. Let’s embrace the possibility that social gaming is good for our mental health. Let’s clear fear together!
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit www.thersa.org/catalyst.