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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @blairglencorse.
Our most recent social enterprise breakfast was an illuminating affair for me. We have been holding these breakfasts for a couple for years now so it was high time that we focused on communications, and specifically how we approach communications in the social enterprise sector. We were joined by Peter Gilheany, PR Director for Forster Communications, a communications agency which was set up by Jilly Forster in 1996. Jilly’s aim was to set up an agency with similar ethics to her previous workplace, The Body Shop.
Peter explained how Forster works with socially focused businesses; they don’t like to get involved in definitions of ‘social enterprise’, hence the emphasis towards working with those with a social purpose. He went through some of the considerations when communicating your social enterprise; the why, who (ie. audience), what and how.
Your messaging should be a conscious exchange with your audience, matching up their motivators and answering their perceived barriers.
Peter gave us a lot of useful information but here are three key points which stuck for me:
Point one: the best marketing tool is you/your impact/your opinions
As a social enterprise without marketing budgets or a team to carry out the communications, the best tool you can use is ‘you’- ie as the founder/director/CEO of an organisation. Your ability to tell your story and that of your enterprise is one of your most powerful tools. It has the personal touch so try to scout out speaking engagements, blogs and editorial articles as much as possible. If time is an issue make sure you can still communicate your impact in a clear, dynamic and relevant way. Similarly if you are not someone who likes public speaking, try to identify someone in your team who can be the ‘external face’ for your organisation.
Point two: the difference between owned, shared and non-owned channels (and don’t spend so much time on your website)
When we spoke about the ‘how’, Peter highlighted the difference between owned channels (those you have control over, like website and newsletters), shared channels (mainly social media sites where you produce the initial content but it can be forwarded, interpreted and translated) and non-owned channels (essentially the media which gives you little control but high influence). Most people spend far too much time on their owned channels bearing in mind how much (or little) traffic and promotion they generate. Having said that, if your website has a high hit rate, having a slick, clear and well-structured website is worth it – so find a balance.
Point three: people don’t care whether you are a social enterprise
Now, this last point has got me thinking since Friday’s breakfast – when I asked what was the biggest mistake made by this sector with regards to communications, Peter said that telling people that you are a social enterprise is meaningless: it means nothing and “why should they care?” This jarred with me slightly, as surely by the fact you are helping people/the environment/society (as a social enterprise or social business) people should and will care? But then it hit me – the ‘social’ aspect of a business is secondary or even tertiary to demonstrating a quality product or service and being able to convince people why it will benefit their lives. You can then follow up with the fact their money is going towards a good cause but don’t lead with it. It comes down to cold, hard business sense that you have to be relevant and convenient for people to spend their money on you – even if you have the most amazing story.
The ‘social’ aspect of a business is secondary to demonstrating a quality product or service and being able to convince people why it will benefit their lives.
So that was our journey on Friday morning. Thanks to everyone who came along and in particular to Peter for giving us much to think about. It was a reminder for me that the Social Entrepreneurs Network is a great resource to have your thinking challenged. I remember a Fellow once saying about the network, “no-one I know thinks how you all think” which can only be a positive thing. You can get involved in the network by visiting the online group. The next breakfast will be on Friday 29th November at 9am so I hope to see you then.
Fellowship Communications Manager
Follow her @SarahTucker10
“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 email@example.com. 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.
- 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 Ann Nkune who received funding for parent-cubator from RSA Catalyst.
Bloomsbury Babies started small: a blog for new mums and dads to discover local activities and connect with one another, at a time when their worlds were being transformed by the experience of parenthood. Four years on and – thanks to the support of RSA, RBS and UnLtd – Bloomsbury Babies is transforming too: building networks of local parents who are helping one another to grow their own businesses and social enterprise ideas.
We’re building networks of local parents who are helping one another to grow their own businesses and social enterprise ideas.
The momentum caused by the initial support I received from UnLtd and RSA’s Catalyst fund has allowed me to gain further funding (£10k from RBS) and interest from Camden Council.
We’re now looking for mentors, expert speakers and angel investors, as well as parents who wish to attend the course. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch.
• Free parent-cubator taster events: 24 September and 8 October 1.30-3pm. Register here for 24 September and here for 8 October.
• Free parent-cubator course, 5 November 2013 – 15 April 2014 (12 sessions). Click here for more details.
Both events will be held at Calthorpe Project, Grays Inn Road, WC1X 8LH
The journey so far…
I took over Bloomsbury Babies a year ago from its founder, Sabine, who had the inspiration and energy to create the site when her little boy was just a few months old. She was a Bloomsbury resident by accident after her baby was born prematurely whilst she was visiting in-laws with her partner. She fell in love with the neighbourhood and all it had to offer new mums. She started by creating an easy to read weekly timetable of free drop-ins a “pram push away” from our local park, Corams Fields. This remains our most popular page: scrunched up, highlighted copies of it lurk in the bottom of many a nappy bag! She made a household name of Bloomsbury Babies locally, with some great marketing, an invaluable site and face-to-face activities, including a breast feeding support group.
When she returned to Germany, Sabine offered me the opportunity to pick up the baton. At first it was a hobby – posting activities my 3 year old & I were going to, and hoping to enthuse others to get involved. But very soon, I realized that it had a huge potential to grow, based on its loyal following from every section of the truly diverse local parent community. I wanted it to be a platform for parents to develop new groups, perhaps based on their cultural heritage or passion for a musical or sporting activity. I also wanted to try to solve some of our over-crowding problems by swapping or selling on the baby & toddler equipment that was jamming up our small flats. The Calthorpe Project offered me space and I began to run small scale markets. (Look out on our website for more details about forthcoming nearly new and handmade markets.)
In the midst of all this, tragedy struck when a friend of mine, a young mum of two little children, killed herself. She was a bright, positive woman, always full of ideas and utterly devoted to her children. It was devastating news which few of us could believe or accept. I soon learnt more about her circumstances: things that she hadn’t felt able to tell the circle of mums she was close to. It made me determined to find ways for the many women who are dealing with difficult family circumstances to feel safe to talk about it with one another, and reach out for help. I also wanted Bloomsbury Babies to be able to honour Michelle’s phenomenal entrepreneurial and creative spirit.
RSA and social enterprise
I went along to a great RSA Fellowship social enterprise event & pitched the idea of a ‘mummy blog with attitude’. I received a warm response and practical offers of support from other Fellows. I also approached UnLtd, the organization for new social entrepreneurs. Their award manager Guri Hummelsmund invited me in and grilled me – she liked my community project but wanted something more sustainable and more ambitious. I realised that I’d heard inspirational ideas from nearly every parent I spoke to: an innovation to improve the lives of parents, a great new product or a desire to make a change in their own career. So, with Guri’s help I developed the ‘parent-cubator’: a space where parents can grow their own business ideas, while their babies & children play in the crèche alongside them. I started the first 12 session course in June 2013, with an amazing group of parents whose ideas range from a breast-feeding app to life coaching notebooks, from new baby slings to comedy shows for new parents. During our fortnightly meetings members share their significant pool of skills and experience with each other and expert speakers help us plug any gaps in the groups’ collective knowledge. Halfway through the course they have already made great progress with their projects and built strong personal and professional relationships with each other.
We’re now looking for mentors, expert speakers and angel investors, as well as parents who wish to attend the course.
I wanted to provide support past the end of the course, and to bring the idea of the parent-cubator to a wider audience. So, I worked with some of the RSA Fellows I’d met at the network events to develop a Catalyst Bid for a mentoring programme for my current course participants and taster events aimed at any parent and featuring some inspirational women entrepreneurs as guest speakers. I was delighted that the bid was successful.
Spurred on by the success of the Catalyst funding bid, I decided to apply to other funders: I have recently won a £10k RBS ‘Inspiring Women in Enterprise’ award to run two new parent-cubator courses over the next year, launching 24 new women-led businesses. The first 12 session course starts on 5 November 2013.
London Borough of Camden has invited me to develop a business case for a co-working space, where parents can use a work ‘hub’ alongside a crèche. If successful this will be launched in January 2014.
Complete our quick survey about the proposed co-working space, and be in with a chance to win a £20 John Lewis voucher.
Once the project has demonstrated positive outcomes in terms of employability, reducing isolation and improving self-confidence, it will be able to attract sustainable funding through participant fees, private & public sector investment. It could also be replicated in other neighbourhoods, perhaps using a social franchising model.
To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit www.thersa.org/catalyst
Sarah Osei* moved to London from Uganda a number of years ago. She trained as a social worker, and currently manages a community centre which supports migrants who are at risk of violence and homelessness. She frequently travels back to Uganda where she runs a number of business and charitable projects, supporting girls to stay in education and working with women to maintain financial independence through making and selling cheese. She is just one of more than 500 people who have applied to take part in the RSA’s new Diaspora ChangeMakers programme since the recruitment process started three weeks ago.
Diaspora ChangeMakers, funded by Comic Relief and Unbound Philanthropy, seeks to identify and support a network of people from the African diaspora who are passionate about driving social change in their communities of heritage or countries of origin. The project takes its cue from the original ‘ChangeMakers’ work led by my colleague Ben Dellot in Peterborough last year, which posited that there are key individuals, rooted in their communities, who have an appetite to apply their skills to local issues. We believe that by mapping and bringing together networks of these individuals great potential for positive change can be unleashed.
The new project combines these principles with the international interest in the contribution of people in the diaspora in supporting development in their countries of origin. By identifying key ChangeMakers in the diaspora and supporting them with a programme of leadership development courses, peer support, knowledge exchange, mentoring, project development workshops and networking with our 27,000-strong RSA Fellowship, our hope is that these individuals will be able to achieve a greater impact in their various enterprises which benefit the lives of others.
But we’re not simply looking for maverick ‘community leaders’ as commonly defined. In line with our other work in the RSA Connected Communities team, we’re interested in social networks, and we want to find the individuals who seem to be in key positions of influence through having connections to different groups of people. When people apply to take part in our project, we don’t only ask them about what community work they have done in the past and what change they want to see in the future – we ask them who else they consider to be ChangeMakers. We will then contact these other people who have been nominated by others, and encourage them to apply to the programme too – and ask them to tell us about yet more ChangeMakers from their own networks. Over time, this will give us a good idea of how our potential ChangeMakers interact with each other, how they can influence others to share the burden of bringing about the change they wish to see, and how they themselves might change as a result of working with others as part of a network.
Gandhi is often quoted as saying ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ But there is no specific record of Gandhi ever having said this. It is a misquote and a misconception. If we introspectively focus on changing only ourselves and assume that the world will catch up with us eventually, we are unlikely to achieve much more than misplaced self-satisfaction.
What Gandhi actually said was ‘We but mirror the world[…] If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him […] We need not wait to see what others do.’ The key words of this passage are the ‘if’ and the ‘attitude’ of others. Completely changing the self would change the tendencies of the world, but this is difficult or even impossible to achieve on one’s own as we are but ‘mirrors’ of wider society (for more on the importance of understanding the individual as a mirror of society, read about our Social Mirror project). What the individual can do is to take a lead, without waiting ‘to see what others do’, and gradually change the attitude of others towards him or her. Once the attitudes of others begin to change, then the social world might change too. It is because of this necessity of influencing and cooperating with others that the Diaspora ChangeMakers programme focuses on networks as well as individuals, and relationships as well as leadership.
Pleasingly, we can already see some of those networks and clusters of connected people who have nominated each other as ChangeMakers. The image below is a visualisation of the applicants from the first two weeks of the recruitment period – before we had even approached the nominees of initial applicants.
Each dot is a potential Diaspora ChangeMaker who has completed our application survey, and the lines linking the dots represent connections between those people. Here is a close-up of a few of these groups of people and they are connected:
Some of these people are recent immigrants to the UK who have lived most of their lives in Africa, and some are people who were born in Britain and whose families have lived here for generations. Their careers, interests, and ambitions vary hugely. But all of them feel a personal link to the African continent in some way, and all of them are passionate about achieving social change that benefits African communities, either in the UK or in the African continent.
If you are a Diaspora ChangeMaker and want us to know about your place in this network, or if you’re interested in benefitting from the Diaspora ChangeMakers programme activities, then please complete the application survey and find out more about the programme at www.diasporachangeakers.com
*name changed in line with data protection procedures
On 16th September we launched an area on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter www.kickstarter.com/rsa. Fellowship Council member Ed Whiting has led the work to set this up. Here you can read Ed’s reflections on why crowdfunding, why the RSA, why now and how you (or your project) can get involved.
Online ‘crowdfunding’ started in the US around 4 years ago and today is growing all the time, with hundreds of platforms catering for different needs and interests (have a look at this and this directory to get a sense of the range of platforms currently operating) and breakthrough innovations and products happening all the time, as well as bigger and bigger campaigns. Nesta recently estimated that within five years crowdfunding will grow to £14.5bn of finance annually in the UK and account for 50% of charitable donations.
The two main types of crowdfunding are:
- Donation-based crowdfunding, where projects raise funding for creative projects through non-refundable donations, offering non-financial rewards (e.g. exclusive mementos from the creative process, unique experiences, or access to the team involved in the project) in return for each pledge. Most platforms require projects to work on an ‘all or nothing’ basis, where projects only receive the funds they have raised if they hit their funding goal.
- Equity crowdfunding allows people to own shares in exciting start-ups for the first time without all of the friction normally associated with doing so. As I’ve blogged, there are big differences between donation and equity-based crowdfunding, although both offer exciting opportunities for creatives and entrepreneurs.
In its simplest form, crowdfunding is nothing new – it’s a way of rallying fans and supporters to raise money for exciting creative propositions. What is really exciting about crowdfunding is the way that online social networks enable exciting ideas and projects to gain support really fast, and the way that good ideas can spread across generational, regional and international borders at a speed never before possible. This is also why the prospect of connecting the RSA Fellowship to Fellow-led projects is such an exciting possibility.
Barry James, a Fellow who’s been advising us (who has set up the Crowdfunding centre), put crowdfunding’s benefits as follows: it enables entrepreneurs to build a business from scratch without the difficulty of securing a loan, but with a full order book, a network of supporters and people who’ve given feedback on your creative proposition. The exercise of designing and promoting the simple pitch required by crowdfunding platforms is a great way to shape a business or creative project into a compelling ‘ask’ and rally a crowd of followers behind it – skills and activities that are vital in starting and growing any social venture.
Why the RSA?
At the core of the RSA’s mission and purpose is its Fellowship, comprised of 27,000 Fellows supporting and driving the Society with £160 a year subscriptions. As we know from Fellowship surveys and the wide range of conversations at Fellows’ events that Fellows love to hear about new innovative ideas and are committed to make social change happen. We think that crowdfunding could be a really exciting way to bring Fellows together behind exciting projects for social change, and show how the Fellowship can have real, tangible impact in the world. We also think that an area with successful RSA crowdfunding projects will be a great advertisement for the work of the RSA and its Fellowship, and will be a really compelling ‘calling card’ for other potential Fellows who share our values and ambition.
Last financial year 2012/13 there were 175 Fellows’ ideas for social innovations that applied to the Catalyst programme to get £1,000-2,000 grants, and to get help from other Fellows. While we’re really excited about the range of projects already funded through catalyst, we’ve also seen great potential among the many we haven’t awarded grants, and crowdfunding offers the possibility for many more projects to grow to maturity. And the opportunities to grow the scale of the financial support Fellows can receive through Catalyst are also really exciting: if only 1 in 5 Fellows contributed £20 over the course of the year, we would equal the whole Catalyst grant budget. With this in mind, we’ve expanded the Catalyst programme to offer support, advice and publicity to Fellows who want to run crowdfunding campaigns to build their social venture, and they’ll be projects led by RSA teams doing this too.
How can you get involved?
We are hoping to launch the RSA’s new ‘curated area’ on Kickstarter on 16th September, with an event Crowdfunding – where next, how far, and what are the limits? Part of the RSA Events programme. To succeed, it’ll be vital for Fellows to get behind the individual projects that you find most exciting, so I’d like to encourage you to help us in four ways:-
- Join the debate on twitter by pledging your support with the hashtag #RSAcrowdfunding, with your message displayed on a special ‘pledge wall’ at RSA House.
- Back your favourite project, then shout about it to your network, through email or your social networks.
- Watch the launch
- Start a project; think about what ideas you want to put to the crowd and if you come across a new or early stage idea, share the word that the RSA is the best place to have an idea and encourage them to apply to join our new curated area! If you already have such an idea, read this and submit your application.
Ed Whiting, Former Team Leader of the Financial Regulation Strategy team at HM Treasury and Co-Founder of arts-focused crowdfunding platform WeDidThis, Ed is currently a Senior Programme Manager NESTA working on their Centre for Social Action. In addition, Ed is an RSA Fellowship Council member who sits on the advisory group to our Catalyst programme, launching new social ventures led by RSA Fellows, from which he has driven our work to set up the new RSA crowdfunding area on Kickstarter. Follow him at @edwhiting1