This is the second in a series of blogs exploring the work of Fellows across the world and is a guest blog by Alain Ruche, RSA Connector for Belgium.
With the Fellowship present in nearly 100 countries, and new ideas regularly springing up, we are in exciting times for the international impact of the RSA. If you would like to find out more or have ideas of your own, please contact Laura Southerland of the International team who will be happy to assist you.
As the European capital and a vibrant city, Brussels has great potential for growing a dynamic RSA Fellowship network. Since I joined the Society three years ago and became the RSA Connector for Belgium, I have been gathering Fellows at the wonderful Garage Culturel which my wife Olga, now a Fellow as well, is running at our place. With Olaf, the latest newcomer to the group, we have been stubbornly meeting on the first Friday of every month between 18.00 and 20.30 for about 8 months now.
Growing a community of Fellows outside of the UK is not without its challenges – we recently opted for organising a social event mixing Fellows with non-Fellows whom we believe might be interested in joining, or share the same values and interests as Fellows of the RSA. Among the attendees, were several accomplished artists (dancers, actors and a pianist); representatives of international organisations (British Council, Club of Rome), diplomats, academics, NGO professionals, social activists and EU officials – in total, 35 people representing 15 nationalities from four continents. The evening was lively and entertaining as we were able to hire a jazz band comprised of a number of talented young musicians.
We are now thinking of testing another approach with our network in order to invite discussion around important social issues. A member of the group will introduce a topic and initiate a meaningful conversation, followed by socialising for those who would like to stay on. We will adopt the ‘etiquette’ of the world’s cafes: connect, listen carefully, ask focused questions, look for new insights, allow for disagreement but avoid pushing individual agendas. Such a meeting would end with a concrete action that all involved can endeavor to undertake in the short term. We will be starting this new format in September and as RSA Connector, I will be introducing the first topic – ‘the role of culture in international relations.’
Then in late September we will welcome Michael Bauwens FRSA at the Garage to lead a conversation on the emerging collaborative paradigm of which he is himself a world-known actor, as founder of the P2P Foundation.
We remain persistent in our mission to raise the profile of the RSA in Brussels. We believe that we can have fun and meaningful conversations. The Garage is a great place to meet people and connect. I happen also to be a Fellow of the Salzburg Global Seminar and of the Club of Rome EU Chapter, and a global ambassador of Kosmos Journal, but every one of us has useful connections to bring to the table. Recent research shows that connections within local neighbourhoods provide a more powerful means of relating to the world than long distance contacts.
Let’s build on this social capital together and see what emerges from it!
If you are a Fellow based in Brussels and would like to join the emerging Brussels network then get in touch with Alain, at email@example.com. Information about the next meeting at the Garage Culturel is detailed below:
When? Thursday 25 September 2014, 7-10pm
Where? www.garageculturel.com, 79 rue D’Albanie, B-1060
Who? Michael Bauwens FRSA
About? The emerging P2P paradigm
In 1754, eleven inquisitive individuals went out on a limb and decided to lend their support to a then unknown organisation that wanted to change the world.
160 years later, on 24th June 1914, those who called themselves members of the RSA, became a Fellowship, in recognition of their shared commitment and personal contribution to the RSA’s vision.
Last week, 100 years to the day, we marked the beginning of RSA Fellowship by gathering 150 of our most engaged Fellows in the Great Room to create positive social impact in real time, and award one of our most successful Catalyst ventures the RSA Fellowship Centenary Venture Award.
Prior to the event, the Catalyst panel selected three projects that had previously won Catalyst grants and had since made significant progress using the funds and support provided by Fellows. Each of the three finalists then gave a persuasive four minute pitch to the audience who was asked to vote for the project they would most like to win the award.
Whilst the votes were being counted, Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation strategy, spoke about ‘creative communities with a cause’, triggering no end of conversation around the RSA’s new, emerging world view ‘The Power to Create.’
When the results came in we were delighted to award the Centenary prize to StudentFunder, a project lead by Juan Guerra FRSA, who won over the room with his cool and convincing solution to the lack of postgraduate funding opportunities in the UK.
At present, there are no student loans available for post-graduate study or further professional education, meaning that thousands of creative individuals are unable to realise their potential and thousands of UK companies are losing this untapped talent.
The prize will give StudentFunder the benefit of a further £3,000 which will enable it to tour the UK to start new collaborations, plus it will gain extra support from RSA staff to raise its profile.
Juan was presented with the award from RSA Chair Vikki Heywood and thanked the audience for their support.
The support from the RSA fellows at the Centenary Award Ceremony is something I will never forget. I have kept the cards with their votes. And there was even more good news this week. In February, I met a 19 year old who was unemployed. He had been offered a place on a three month course after which he would be earning good money as a web developer but he couldn’t pay for the course in the first place. StudentFunder helped him pay for his course in February. Yesterday we went for breakfast and he showed me his office. He is very happy in his new job as a web developer. That’s the kind of thing that really gets me up in the morning.
StudentFunder has helped 18 people so far, but they are aiming for 100 in the next year.
The runners up for the award were Incredible Edible lead by Pam Warhurst FRSA – an idea that has grown into a nationwide movement for growing local food; and 3,2,1 Ignition* the world’s first science pop up shop that uses abandoned retail units to run workshops and change the public’s perception of science.
Although the room was filled with some truly inspirational people who have worked with and contributed to the RSA in so many different ways, the Catalyst projects stole the show.
As Oli Reichardt, Director of Fellowship asked in his recent blog, what will the next 100 years hold for the Fellowship? The answer may lie with Fellows out there on the ground, creating real world change, unafraid of the obstacles and clear in their vision. They are the future of the Fellowship and we will continue to support them in every way possible. What an exciting prospect.
Alex Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA. If you would like to know more about any of the projects mentioned above, or about joining the Fellowship then get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jobs for an intern: make tea, edit references, keep your head down and do the grunt work. Perhaps, but not at the RSA – here they encourage you to speak up, to blog and to generally make your voice heard. It is both refreshing and a little intimidating. So when I got invited to attend a meeting at the start of this week I managed to do what I perhaps should not have done: I took a lot of notes and kept my mouth shut, but my ears open. There is much to condemn this strategy but I tell you something, you tend to learn a lot that way. As one might expect from a meeting between think tanks, there was some general confusion as to who was meant to be facilitating who but if anything this seemed to lead to a very productive meeting. The subject of the meeting: How can local government help communities be more resilient despite devastating flooding in the UK – especially since the climate change models seem to suggest this is is going to be a more regular occurrence in the future.
How can local government help communities be more resilient despite devastating flooding in the UK – especially since the climate change models seem to suggest this is is going to be a more regular occurrence in the future.
Filed under: Arts and Society, Design and Society, Education Matters, Enterprise, Innovation, Uncategorized
Today is a big day.
Nine months ago on September 1st 2013, we launched our eight RSA Student Design Award briefs for the year and thousands of students across the UK, Europe and Asia began applying their design skills to a range of social, economic and environmental issues such as improving hygiene in low-income areas, managing water in urban areas, addressing changing work patterns, and many more. Over 600 students sent their work into the RSA and our judges began the arduous task of reviewing and scrutinising the work, looking for key insights and clever design thinking. Those 600+ entries became a short-list of around 80 and today, after interviews with all short-listed entrants, I am pleased to present the 18 winning projects and the designers behind them.
Today’s impressive list of emerging designers and innovators – some working in collaborative teams and some working individually – represent the best of what happens when good ideas meet good design (and good briefs too, I think!).
This year’s winners include proposals for new packaging made from beeswax, an alarm clock app to improve well-being amongst 18-25 year olds, an affordable sanitary towel for schoolgirls in low-income areas, and a frugally-designed hygiene pack for use in refugee camps. Read more
The sun has been shining on the RSA Family of Academies again this week, both literally and metaphorically!
We’ve had a great response to our call for West Midlands based Fellows to get involved in a new mentoring scheme for students at our Academies. If you’re interested but haven’t yet got in touch it’s not too late to sign up and there’s an initial event in Birmingham on Tuesday 22 May.
This Tuesday Hilary Chittenden was at Ipsley CE RSA Academy, giving the school a welcome distraction from this week’s SATs. She was working with a group of 12 and 13 year olds on their pupil design awards – our new school-age version of the student design awards – demonstrating how youngsters can unleash the power to create.
On Wednesday I joined the Principals of the schools in the RSA Family to work out how to create a really top-notch teacher training offer that supports teachers at every stage of their career, from their initial teacher training right through to headship. There was huge enthusiasm for co-ordinating and developing the great existing practice in our schools, and also for developing the link with the RSA to give teachers in our RSA Academies more opportunities to engage in research and enquiry in the way that today’s British Education Research Association report advocates.
On Thursday Arrow Vale RSA Academy’s Ofsted report was published, awarding the school a judgement of “outstanding” in every category. The weaknesses of the inspection process have been well documented, and the dominance of Ofsted’s arguably narrow mechanism for describing and assessing education brings with it significant problems. Nevertheless, in this instance the inspection team have got it spot on, understanding Arrow Vale’s many strengths, and also how the transformation of a school that had never previously been rated as better than “requiring improvement” has been achieved in such a short space of time.
The inspectors have appreciated that whilst the role of the Principal, Guy Shears, has been absolutely key, he has not succeeded by working alone. By the time the school became an RSA Academy in September 2012 Guy had been working closely with the RSA and with Whitley Academy, another outstanding school in the RSA Family, for nearly a year, and this three way partnership has been crucial.
The RSA’s model of school improvement, whereby support is provided by practicing teachers and head teachers from a school improvement partner school in the Family rather than by a central pool of advisers, is relatively unusual in the world of Academy chains. It requires no small commitment on the part of the partner school. Whitley’s Principal, Lorraine Allen, has dedicated enormous time and energy to providing support and practical advice to Guy and his team. Whitley have also seconded a senior member of staff to work as Vice Principal at Arrow Vale for the last two years, which has provided an excellent professional development opportunity for him as well as benefiting the school. But the partnership extends more deeply than this – staff at all levels, including business manager, heads of English, the SEN co-ordinators and so on have worked together, bringing benefits to staff in both schools.
As well as bringing benefits to both the school providing the support and the receiving school, our model of school improvement has the added advantage of being self-sustaining. With Arrow Vale RSA Academy being judged to be outstanding our capacity to grow as an RSA Family is increased. So, when I was asked by the lead inspector, “what next for the school?” part of my answer was that Arrow Vale will be able to take on the role of school improvement partner for another school joining the RSA Family, just as Whitley has supported Arrow Vale. What I wasn’t able to tell her was where that new school would be. So, if you work with a school in the West Midlands that might be interested in joining the RSA Family of Academies and working with the RSA and the fabulous schools in our Family, do get in touch…..
Meditation is simply about being yourself, and knowing something about who that is. - Jon Kabat-Zinn.
(The following post is a selection of ideas and links to add some texture and critical apparatus to help people better engage with the growing mindfulness phenomenon. It is by no means an exhaustive account, and was written mostly to make sense of how mindfulness connects with RSA’s work, past and present, which I refer to at the end. While one can and should distinguish between mindfulness meditation and meditation in general, Kabat Zinn’s statement captures why RSA’s Social Brain centre is interested – mindfulness is a form of practice that helps to cultivate self-knowledge.) Read more
Filed under: Design and Society, Enterprise, Innovation, Social Brain
The RSA is, almost fundamentally, a place of debate. We debate at lectures with speakers; we debate online with the media; but most of all, we debate amongst ourselves. We debate the morning’s news over breakfast; we debate project and report details at lunch; we debate existentialist dilemmas and the meaning of life over late-night drinks; and the cycle begins anew. Read more
The RSA has a history with coffee. The RSA’s eighteenth century founders first met in Rawthmell’s Coffee House in Covent Garden, and conversations they had shaped the society around them.
The coffeehouses of eighteenth century London didn’t just provide a place to meet; they were the focal point of an active community of pamphleteers, publishers and political activists. Their talk wasn’t just talk – it was a means to action.
In November last year my colleague Matthew Mezey introduced me to NESTA’s idea of Randomised Coffee Trials – an initiative where staff are randomly assigned a different colleague each week with whom to ‘go for a coffee’. We both thought that something like this would be interesting to to try at the RSA. Still new and enthusiastic (although scared of sending ‘all staff’ emails) I agreed to set it up, and since then about half of the organisation has taken part.
I think one of the reasons it is so needed – and therefore has potential for significant impact – at the RSA is because the physical space in which we work doesn’t afford many opportunities for serendipitous conversations.
“Randomised coffee trials are a fantastic way to create a networked structure in an organisation that doesn’t allow for casual staff interaction within its building (no staff room/cafe/lunch room). I have had conversations with people that I didn’t even know existed, and am now able to create a much better picture of how we might work together across teams.” (Nat)
It is much more than fun. It’s starting relationships and developing friendships, all of which makes you better at the work you do.
10 weeks on, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s been instructive to see something so simple working so well. It stays interesting and fresh because the connections provide something different each time:
“I was lucky enough to be assigned to Sharliza, who works in the same area as me (Communications) but in a different department. Prior to that we hadn’t even met, which just goes to show how important these initiatives are. As a result, I felt much more able to call on her for help with a new project, and got some great ideas that I otherwise would have missed.” (Conor)
“I met with Thomas a few weeks ago (who I had never spoken to before) and we realised that we had both studied International Relations at Portsmouth Uni… a few years apart. I now keep an eye on a blog he writes on Conflict, Security & International Relations! RCT WIN!!!” (Mark)
The project has attracted participants from almost every team and pay grade. A director might be paired with the CEO one week and an intern the next.
Through these meetings we become more visible, more known.
Through these meetings we become more visible, more known. As a consequence, we might start to ask more of one another, but those asks are more discerning and the newly founded relationships make it easier to say no as well as yes.
“Going for coffee’ is always a pleasurable thing to do. So mixing coffee with colleagues seems like a fun idea. In practice though it is much more than fun. It’s starting relationships and developing friendships, all of which makes you better at the work you do.” (Georgina)
A few friends have mentioned that they’d like to try something similar at their own organisation. NESTA have some great tips.
From my experience I would add:
- Organisational buy-in is a big help – we can build these interactions into our working day without feeling like we’re skiving.
- I’ve found it easy to run, in a not too labour-intensive way, just using an Excel spreadsheet.
- I decided to send out the matches on a Wednesday so if someone had a week’s annual leave they’d still be able to keep up with their coffees; this seems to work quite well.
- I think it was right to start with weekly meetings, so as to gain momentum and normalise it, but after feedback that it’s easy to get behind with your coffees we’re moving to fortnightly matches. 10 weeks seems like a good length of time to embed the initiative.
I’m now starting to think about how the principles behind the Randomised Coffee Trials could be used to the benefit of RSA Fellows. Could we build structured but serendipitous interaction into Fellows’ experiences of the RSA and in doing so strengthen Fellowship? If you have any ideas, let me know.
Have you seen our latest RSA Short: How Cooking Can Change your Life?
“Eat anything you like, as long as you cook it yourself?” Pretty intriguing advice, no? Did it make you want to get home and buy, unpack, wash, peel, chop and fry some potatoes?
Not quite? Well this reheated blog post full of hidden salt, sugar and fat from July 15th might help to convince you.
I wrote it after listening to the podcast, which gives a much fuller picture of the important argument, and which I would strongly recommend listening to, ideally in your kitchen with a good chopping board and a few willing vegetables.
More than half a year later, I am even more sure that the idea is worth heeding and reflecting on for its political implications. The basic idea sounds trivial (let’s all cook more, ha ha…) but it might just be the kind of small revolutionary act that could lead to significant systemic change if it really took hold.
The idea that we should (in the pragmatic and moral senses of the term) all cook more might even be relevant to the RSA’s emerging world view around the power to create; at its heart it’s about shifting the balance of power from big to small, and distributing a daily act of creativity much more widely. It’s also fun, good for your health and ecologically beneficial, but those arguments are small fries….
Potentially much more motivating is the Bachanalian carnival of aromatic delights that lies dormant within your very own unsuspecting kitchen.
Why not start tonight by adding some cumin to your beans on toast?
That title (Is Cooking a Subversive Act?) makes the content sound like a combination of self-help and how-to, but it’s much more political than that. The speaker, Michael Pollan, is a professor and activist who sees food in general, and cooking in particular, as a critical driver of the economic and social order.
That might sound a little bourgeois and worthy- Who has the time? Who has the kitchen space? But the evidential case is pretty strong. Processed food generally tends to be much less cheap and convenient than we imagine, for instance, and the relationship between cooking and health is apparently very robust.
He starts the talk with the example of the fries sold at a famous fast food restaurant having to be long to look right in the red boxes, which means a special kind of long potato has to be grown, and that that strain of potato has to free of blemishes, which means you need a certain kind of pesticide which is highly toxic…and this is one example of thousands- the food we see every day carries with it a huge range of generally hidden public health and environmental issues.
The familiar argument is that our reliance of processed foods is a huge public health problem, but the twist is that one of the main things that perpetuates the problem is the idea that cooking is a kind of problem or drudgery that the market should solve for us, rather than a creative and joyful act that we should do for ourselves and each other. In this sense cooking is the fulcrum around a much broader argument for an economy, promoted by nef amongst others i.e. an economy that properly values time and the costs of not having time, and allows us to be a bit less like time-starved consumers and a bit more like time-plenty producers (who, on balance, tend to be happier).
The familiar argument is that our reliance of processed foods is a huge public health problem, but the twist is that one of the main things that perpetuates the problem is the idea that cooking is a kind of problem or drudgery that the market should solve for us, rather than a creative and joyful act that we should do for ourselves and each other
A few ideas/quotes from scribbles on a train (check audio for verbatim quotes):
- Poor women who cook are healthier than rich women who don’t.
- The food industry don’t speak of fat, salt and sugar in terms of ‘addiction’. Instead they tend to use the words ‘cravability’ and ‘snackability’
- Food marketing tends to operate by creating anxiety and the providing a solution (at one point Pollan makes reference to feminism giving rise to a domestic redistribution of labour, in which women who work couldn’t possibly be expected to cook as much as they used to…However this change doesn’t happen without resistance, and the ensuing arguments are then placated by adverts that implicitly say – don’t fight about it, we’ll do it for you…)
- “Special occasion foods become every day foods when we let industry cook for us.”(One example Pollan gives is french fries or chips. They taste great when you cook them yourself, but the process is highly labour intensive(washing, peeling, cutting, pan, oil, splattering, oil, washing up etc) so left to our own devices we might eat them only every month or so as a treat, but many Americans now eat two batches of french fries a day because they have become so convenient.)
- The diet that would work for everybody is: eat anything you like, just cook it yourself.
- Michele Obama’s original speech about food and the subsequent ‘let’s move’ campaign was really powerful/radical, but its impact was lessened when she got into a conversation with the food industry about reformulating the ingredients of processed food. The speaker compared this to ‘low fat’ food being a mixed blessing, because it tends to mean other ‘bad things’ are put in to replace the fat.
- “Slightly improved processed food is a trap”
- “Health is a collective property of the human microbiotica”
- “The environment is not just ‘out there’, it’s passing right through you.
By Jonathan Rowson, Director, Social Brain Centre, Follow at @jonathan_rowson
A few weeks ago I popped into our Folkestone Room to do a short interview for the good people at Swarm about our recent report A New Agenda on Climate Change: Facing Up to Stealth Denial and Winding Down on Fossil Fuels.
This video was shown at the event #whitepencilswarm supported by D&AD, The Global Association for Creative Advertising & Design Awards, which this year created a #NewBloodAwards brief in partnership with Al Gore around Climate Change.
The event included a presentation by the intensely honest Kevin Anderson, and focused on helping professionals within the worlds of Advertising, Marketing & Design to come to grips with climate change in particular, rather than just ‘sustainability’ in general, which they tend to find much easier to navigate. (For more on that distinction, this recent Guardian piece on The Seven Dimensions of Climate Change is a good place to start).
I gave a similar pitch when I spoke at The Hospital Club about Climate Change as part of their sustainability week, alongside Adam Elman, Global Head of Marks & Spencers celebrated ‘Plan A’, Jez Frampton Global CEO of InterBrand, and Jon Alexander, Director of The New Citizenship Project.
The essence of the climate change challenge is the wrong kind of energy(fossil fuels) in the wrong kind of economy(fixated with GDP) pursuing the wrong kind of objective(consumption without end).
In each case I had the felt sense that the challenge for those working in the creative industries is that many of the implicit associations relating to ‘climate change’ (emissions, floods, existential threat) are quite different from the buzz surrounding sustainability(chic, desirable, caring).
The essence of the climate change challenge is the wrong kind of energy(fossil fuels) in the wrong kind of economy(fixated with GDP) pursuing the wrong kind of objective(consumption without end). That’s quite a different vibe for those professionals sometimes termed ‘creatives’ to work with, compared to the challenges relating to waste and broader ecological constraints, which are more tangible and tractable for companies and consumers alike.
Anyway, the video is 16 minutes long, features a yellow jumper, and, in case you’re wondering, there is a cup of coffee at the end of my right arm that you can’t see.
Dr Jonathan Rowson is Director of RSA’s Social Brain Centre. You can follow him on Twitter here.