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

April 15, 2014 by · Leave a 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
Filed under: Fellowship 

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.

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 

Chatting to the neighbours: makes us happier, saves lives, comes to the rescue when we lose our keys

March 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

At about 7.30am last Thursday I heard a tentative knock on my front door.

Standing on my doorstep, shivering in pyjamas and with a look of acute embarrassment on her face, was my new neighbour Carolina* from the studio flat downstairs.  Her bathroom is across the hall from her flat, and she’d managed to lock herself out after going to the toilet without her keys. Critically, she had also managed to lock her keys and phone inside her flat, and was stranded in the stairwell.

I gave her my phone so she could call her office to explain that she’d be late. We have the same landlord so I called him to explain the situation, and invited her inside to wait while he drove a spare key over from Essex. I had to leave for work, but my girlfriend had a day off and so sat with Carolina for the next couple of hours and made her breakfast and tea. They chatted. They got along quite well.

The situation had initially felt  all the more bizarre and awkward given that I’d only moved into the building that weekend, and had met her before this only once, as I was carrying furniture up the stairs on my moving day. I’ve lived in buildings before where I never spoke to – or even saw – my neighbours, but given that I now work on the RSA’s Connected Communities programme I thought I’d make an effort to practice what we preach, and made sure I chatted her when I spotted her. We didn’t speak about anything hugely exciting on that occasion – essentially we told each other our names and said hello – and it didn’t feel particularly important at the time. But how long would she have sat helplessly panicking in the hallway on Thursday if we had not bumped into each other and exchanged small talk earlier that week? Would she have knocked on my front door when she did, or would it have seemed too difficult to inconvenience somebody she had never met before in such an embarrassing situation?

This is partly what the founder of the Big Lunch, Tim Smit, means when he says that ‘Small talk is in fact ‘big talk’ – it’s the code or tool which enables us to overcome our shyness’. The Big Lunch have published research this month that they say shows that ‘the chattiest streets are the happiest streets’, with seven in ten people surveyed saying that simple conversations with their neighbours make them feel more in touch with their community – but with one in twenty reporting that they have never spoken to their neighbours at all. This is worrying because not having these kind of local connections might not just make us less happy – or leave us caught short when we forget our keys – but it can be highly damaging to our health as well.

Last week, the writer Will Storr wrote in the Guardian about his own reluctance to talk to the people around him, and about how he is trying to change this. Contrary to the popular image of British villagers coming together at times of adversity, he recounts being rude to an environment officer and having an argument with a neighbour who wanted to borrow sandbags during the recent flooding in Somerset where he lives. Prompted by these negative interactions he decides to learn more about loneliness and is told by a genome biologist that isolation has a similar mortality risk to smoking , and so he decides to make a conscious attempt at being friendlier to his neighbours:

‘That evening, the man fails to return my sandbags. I wonder if he might have done had I responded to him differently. Worried about the flood, which is now just steps from my door, I walk around the corner to find them being used to corral a stream of water into a bubbling drain. Under the irritated gaze of the affected homeowner, I lug them back, one by one. Then I stop and return. With a smile and an apology, I explain who I am and why I need them. We have a chat. As it turns out, he’s quite nice.’

This friendly small talk between people who live near each other are the kind of interactions that Talk To Me London, a new campaign group in the capital, want to see more of. It’s a simple aim, but we think it’s an important one and that’s why we worked with them to pilot their approach in south east London, and why we’ll be supporting them to raise funds for a city-wide launch on the RSA-curated section on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website. Watch out for that and get updates by following @talktomelondon on Twitter.

When I went back to my flat after work a few evenings ago, Carolina had left a little box of chocolates for my girlfriend and me as a thank you. Where in other places I have lived my neighbours have been strangers, now I have some form of connection with Carolina. We’ll look out for each other now and, who knows, maybe become friends. We might support each other in any future tenancy disputes about the building or the landlord. We might hit some bars to explore our new neighbourhood together. Or we might just keep a spare key for her in case she gets locked out again.


*Not her real name.

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

Watch this space for further updates!

Richard Blissett

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 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

Top 3 Crowdfunding Myths – why you can do it too!

March 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

A fortnight ago, we held our first ‘Introduction to RSA Crowdfunding’ event, open to both Fellows and non-Fellows who were interested in learning more about crowdfunding. People were able to attend the evening session both in-person at the RSA House and remotely over free videoconferencing software. After nearly 6 months since the launch of the RSA curated area on Kickstarter, we have realised that the main difficulty facing project leaders is how intimidating crowdfunding can seem. Fellows often have lots of questions and reservations about it, ranging from how high a fundraising target they should set, to how much work a campaign actually is. In this session we set out to allay some of those fears. By simply going through the basics of crowdfunding, we were able to ‘totally demystify crowdfunding,’ in the words of Jane Glitre FRSA, who attended the event. Here are the answers to just a few of the worries people had about running crowdfunding campaigns.

By simply going through the basics of crowdfunding, we were able to ‘totally demystify crowdfunding.’ 

-          I don’t think my project/social enterprise is suitable for crowdfunding. While it is true that massively, out-of-this-world successful projects tend to be things like video games or technology products, many different kinds of campaigns have the potential to be successful, and there are crowdfunding platforms for all different kinds of projects. Kickstarter, on which the RSA has a curated area, favours ‘creative’ projects. However, the term creative should be interpreted broadly, and depending on how you phrase your project, can accommodate a wide variety of projects that don’t initially seem creative. For example, Nalibeli, a project seeking to create an online wiki educating Nepalese citizens about their rights, successfully crowded for over $3,200 on our curated area. Projects that receive our support to prepare for a crowdfunding campaign can choose to go on other platforms—such as Indiegogo, which is what Sunday Assembly decided to do—but at the moment we can only offer our publicity to FRSA projects on Kickstarter.

-          How much work is crowdfunding, really? Anybody who has run a crowdfunding campaign will tell you that it is a lot of work. In fact, we brought in a Fellow who had recently crowdfunded to talk about her experience, and she said that her campaign almost became a second job. However, I think the underlying fear here isn’t the amount of work, but rather the possibility of wasted effort. What we’ve found after six months is that most project leaders who are able to put in the necessary time and effort towards a crowdfunding campaign end up being successful.

Fellows and non-Fellows gather together to learn more about crowdfunding

Fellows and non-Fellows gather together to learn more about crowdfunding

Conversely, a common theme of unsuccessful campaigns was that they suffered from a lack of capacity from the start. Kickstarter cites the statistic that of the projects that reach 20% of their target, 80% are eventually successful. It is also worth mentioning that many rewards-based crowdfunding campaigns are selling a product or service directly to its potential audience in the form of rewards, which provides the project leader with valuable information on the demand for the project and experience with marketing it.

-          What happens if my project doesn’t reach its target in an all-or-nothing campaign? Even if your project is unsuccessful you will be able to message your backers through Kickstarter. In many cases, some backers are still willing to donate to your project even if the campaign hasn’t been successful because they really want your project to happen. In other cases, you can use the support for your Kickstarter campaign in things like grant applications as evidence of the demand for your project. MAKLab, an FRSA project which did not reach its target on Kickstarter, used their 64 backers to convince foundations to provide the funding for the project, still housed in Somerset House, at a slightly lower budget.  No matter what, you’ll have a new group of people who liked your project enough to back it and who can get involved in your work in the future.

Since crowdfunding support is a unique offer from RSA Catalyst, we plan to run several more ‘Introduction to RSA Crowdfunding’ events in the future, open to both Fellows and non-Fellows. If you are interested in crowdfunding for your project or social enterprise, or would simply like to learn more about this fast-growing source of funding register for our next session here, which will be held on Wednesday 19th March, 6:00-7:30pm, both at the RSA House and online.

Interested in FRSA projects involved in crowdfunding? Check out This University is Free (IF) on the RSA curated area, a project to provide a free humanities summer school to young people priced out of higher education. You can also read Jonny Mundey FRSA’s Big Idea blog about the project.
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.

The Big Idea: using the free cultural resources of a city to create a university

February 24, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The Big Idea: This University is Free (IF) is a new project co-founded by Jonny Mundey FRSA offering free humanities courses to young people priced out of today’s higher education market, by using London’s cultural wealth in innovative ways.

Jonny Mundey Photo (3)Late last year I met my colleague and soon-to-be IF co-founder Barbara for a coffee. Our meeting was billed as a routine catch-up but by the end of our talk we had posed ourselves a question it proved impossible to ignore: what if you could use the free cultural resources of a city, the web and shards of donated time from academics to create a series of free undergraduate-level courses? The IF Project was born.

The principles that have driven the project from day one are that an education in the humanities is an education that should be available to all (not just a luxury for the sons and daughters of the wealthy) and an education worth having, with the capacity to enrich young people’s lives and benefit society as a whole. In short, why shouldn’t the inspirational liberal arts education Barbara and I enjoyed be within reach of all school-leavers and young workers who wanted it?

There is clearly a demand for free self-driven learning: mass open online courses (MOOCS) have been expanding at a furious rate. Unfortunately, a lot of students abandon on-line learning. What they are probably missing is the college-type experience of debating and learning with and from fellow students; the fun and excitement of studying.

The IF project uses London as a giant lecture-hall, guiding students to free events relevant to our introductory short courses in subjects such as history, philosophy, music and the visual arts. It also brings together a network of academics and thinkers to lead weekly workshops, lectures and seminars with IF students.   So far, we’ve forged partnerships with academic organisations such as Gresham College (which offers free lunchtime and evening lectures of the highest academic quality); recruited professors from top universities to offer free lectures; and connected with youth organisations who work with the young people who have been priced out of the current loans-based education market.

The IF Summer School  

In May we are running our first course - a four-week humanities Summer School taking in history lectures at the Gresham College, visual arts experiences via the V&A’s standing collections and discussions around free concerts at The Festival Hall. We will use the Summer School to test out the logistics of IF and seek feedback and advice from our first students on how to expand the idea into something much bigger.

Get Involved with IF

We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign (as of yesterday!), supported by the RSA, to raise funds for the IF Summer School. We would be hugely grateful for anyIF help in spreading the word.

We would also love to hear from Fellows and contacts interested in being involved in the IF project. To expand we need to connect with volunteer academics who can provide, say, one lecture a year. We need academics and thinkers and post-graduate students who love their subjects and want to talk to and enthuse new students about what they are doing in seminar sessions. We want to hear from organisations who can donate space for seminars and lectures. We want to form close links with cultural institutions sharing our aims.

Just as we have been inspired by the community of UK “free university” projects along the way, if we succeed in London, we hope others will copy the IF model.

Jonny Mundey FRSA
Visit our crowdfunding campaign

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

RSA and Clore: investing in individuals to create long-lasting change

February 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Many thoughtsAs part of my role at the RSA, I frequently meet and speak to people who have a personal goal to start their own business or social enterprise…at some point.

Starting up on your own is certainly no easy feat – in fact we often discuss the potential obstacles that lie ahead at the RSA’s monthly Social Entrepreneurs breakfast. However, one thing I have noticed is that the first barrier is not (as you might think) imagined lack of capital; it’s simply getting started.

Seemingly, a number of skilled, imaginative people are just unsure how or where to begin.

It wasn’t until I began working at the RSA that I fully appreciated the value of having a support structure. I thought breaking out on your own was something you should do…alone? I soon learnt that successful leaders do quite the opposite: they join a network, get training and tap into all the help that’s available.

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted an evening event at RSA House for thirty individuals currently undertaking the Clore Leadership Programme which focuses on those with experience working in the Arts, and the Clore Social Leadership Programme which is primarily for people with careers in the social sectors. We were privileged to have a mixture of current Clore Fellows join us for some drinks, networking and an historical tour of the building.

For those who don’t know, the Clore programmes are designed to develop strong leaders in the cultural and social sectors so that more individuals are better equipped to engender positive change in their communities, organisations and the world around them.

Given the electic mix of experience and knowledge in the room a number of interesting conversations were initiated – from discussing the trajectory of the Walt Disney corporation, to the role of art in school curriculums –  Clore Leaders are inspiring and inspired company. For more information about the current cohort of Clore Cultural and Social Leaders you can view full profiles on the respective websites.

We were also joined by Asma Shah FRSA who spoke to the room about her social enterprise Ladies Who L-EARN. Asma demonstrates exactly how transformative the Clore programme can be. With a background in the Arts, Asma was a Clore Cultural Fellow though as she pointed out, you wouldn’t know it now as her current work sits firmly within the social sector.

Upon finishing the programme she joined the RSA Fellowship and by applying to RSA Catalyst, Asma was able to get her project off the ground. Since then she has been able to access further funding, attract more volunteers and ultimately, help more women.

Asma was keen to point out the combination of the Clore Fellowship and RSA Fellowship is a powerful one. This cannot be overemphasised. Asma began working with women in her community who had limited access to the kind of training or social capital that she had gained from joining influential, supportive networks like Clore and the RSA.

The RSA has partnered with Clore Leadership for nine years now and we continue to work together because of our mutual belief that investing in individuals is one of the fundamental ways to improve society.

Part of investing in people is offering them a framework to carry their ideas, so that getting started is never an obstacle.


Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordiantor at the RSA

If you would like more infromation about RSA Fellowship or any of people or projects mentioned above, then contact

The Big Idea: Educating girls, one tampon at a time

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

The Big Idea: Auntie Daisy is a new service that delivers sanitary towels and tampons discreetly through women’s letterboxes every month. 100% of profits go to Camfed - a charity educating and empowering girls in Africa. Matt Lill FRSA is the co-founder of Auntie Daisy.

When my partner Claire lived in Tanzania and taught English to young girls, she noticed how some of them would often miss school at certain times of the month. Without access to sanitary protection and without proper toilet facilities in schools, some girls in Africa can miss a whole week of lessons every single term – just because of their period. This leaves them way behind, which is just not right.

One evening many years later, Claire told me about the girls she met and the problems they faced. My brain automatically turned to my background of working with social enterprises, and a few glasses of wine later Auntie Daisy was born!

Matt Lill x1000

Matt Lill presenting Auntie Daisy at a recent RSA Engage event

Auntie Daisy is not just about supporting girls’ education with our profits. We want to hit a chord with women in the UK by relating to something they use every single month.

We aim to inspire women to change their shopping habits ever so slightly, and buy their sanitary products through Auntie Daisy. By buying social, they can have a direct impact on girl’s lives in Africa and help Camfed educate more young women of the future.

The RSA Catalyst grant has been fundamental in getting Auntie Daisy off the ground. We invested the funding in the packaging for our boxes, which will be hitting women’s letterboxes soon. The boxes look amazing and hopefully women who receive them will agree and enjoy opening them each month.

As well as funding, the RSA has provided us with some invaluable advice from its fellows, including those with expertise in marketing – essential for helping as many women as possible to hear about Auntie Daisy. We have also received a lot of advice and encouragement from other fellows we’ve met, including at the excellent recent #RSAEngage event (and I don’t say that just because I was speaking at it!). We look forward to meeting more inspirational fellows over the coming months.

As for next steps – well to be honest as a new business everything’s a next step at the moment! But we definitely have some exciting times ahead. The first thing we want to do is find out what women really want when it comes to their periods. Together with Mumsnet, we’ve launched a survey about women’s monthly trends and habits. The responses will help ensure that we’re offering the best service we can, that appeals to women and gives them one less thing to think about each month.

Auntie Daisy needs you!

Auntie Daisy provides convenience, discretion and a contribution to a cause for our customers – we want to get these messages out in front of as many women as possible. We think that one way to do this is through partnerships with established women’s networks.  Accordingly we would be grateful for advice from anybody who has held a senior position in such a network, or negotiated such a partnership, to make sure we get our pitch right, in a way that will be valuable for both sides.

RSA Fellows can help Auntie Daisy get it right from the start – please take the survey and pass it on to any women who might be interested. If you think Auntie Daisy is a service that could work for you, please visit our website and sign up. Again, please pass the link on to any women you know. You can also show your support and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

We’re really excited about what the future holds for Auntie Daisy and we strongly believe in everything it stands for. But we’re always very open to more suggestions and ideas. Please do get in touch at – we look forward to hearing from you!

Matt Lill FRSA

Follow @AuntieDaisyUK 
Visit Auntie Daisy at
Take the survey at

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

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