Today marks my first anniversary as a Networks Manager. Birthdays and anniversaries evoke mixed responses for me – a chance to celebrate all the achievements of the past 12 months whilst trying to ignore the dread realisation that the passage of time accelerates with each passing year (it’s a fact - the time between my 16th and 17th birthdays was at least ten times as long as the time between my 30th and 31st. God knows what it’ll be like when I’m 60)
To mark this occasion, I’ve decided to embark on a blog mission and share my thoughts with the ether. As far as I can tell from reading other RSA bloggers such as the Projects team and Matthew Taylor, good blogs need to be: relaxed and informal in tone (check); self-deprecating (I’m not very good at that yet); and, above all, connect different experiences and thoughts in a way that throws new light on them (the tricky bit). Oh, and always end on a cheesy line (you’ll have to wait and see about that)
Well, here goes nothing…
If someone were to ask me what has stood out about my debut year at the RSA, I’d be hard pushed to think of one particular moment. However, at a recent staff meeting I enjoyed a flash of enlightenment. We were given a brief presentation by Jamie Young, author of the recent RSA Pamphlet ‘How to be Ingenious’. In it he argues that ingenuity, rather than creativity, will be the key attribute in these uncertain times; in fact, the definition of ingenuity is finding solutions to problems by using limited resources in new and surprising ways.
(At this stage, I must confess it was his use of the A-Team as an example of ingenuity that inspired me to read the pamphlet straight after the meeting. As a child of the 80s, knowing how Hannibal, Face, Murdoch and BA Baracus got out of another scrape on a weekly basis was essential to my playground standing.)
In the pamphlet, five principles of ingenuity are explored:
I can see why he chose the A-Team to illustrate his point…
What struck me most about the time I’ve spent travelling around the south-east corner of England, meeting Fellows and helping to set up local networks, is the enormous potential for ingenuity that can be found in these small groups of passionate, dedicated people.
Maybe it’s best if I give a couple of examples to back up this grandiose claim. Last week, the Brighton & Hove Fellows’ network celebrated their own paper anniversary with a look back at how far they’ve come as a group. Just 12 months ago, they were 25 strangers assembled in the upstairs room of a pub, wondering what they should do. During the course of the year, they have become a benevolent dragon's den - running project surgeries in which they lend their advice, support and occasional critical eye to a different Fellows’ project each month. Two of the projects to come through the sessions have already been given Catalyst funding and I’m sure the next year will see even more.
And it’s not just Brighton. Last December, the Fellows from the Surrey network were looking for a place to have a Christmas meal. They had spent the previous six months discussing issues which have both a local and national impact, one of which was social justice. Because of a connection made with a local charity called Surrey Jobmatch that works to help ex-offenders into employment, they decided to eat at the Clink – a gourmet restaurant situated within the walls of HM High Down Prison, completely staffed by inmates under the tutelage of Head Chef Al Crisci MBE (it was the subject of a recent BBC documentary). Although prison isn’t usually the first place that springs to mind for a delicious meal, I can highly recommend a trip to the Clink
As a result of this visit, eight Fellows have now become volunteer mentors to prisoners who are soon to be released. Not only that, but one Fellow is now using their financial nous to help the charity fundraise and another is helping to raise their profile through their links to a national radio network.
Because of the enthusiasm shown by the small number of Fellows who make up the Surrey network, plans are underway for building a local mentoring scheme to help more organisations badly in need of the kind of expertise that Fellows have.
In truth, I could have picked examples from most of the local networks I’ve been to, from Chichester to Bedford and all points between. It’s been a year of meeting fascinating people and discovering new possibilities.
Only trouble is, next time I’m on a train to a network, I’ll have that theme tune running through my head…”If you have a problem - if no one else can help - and if you can find them - maybe you can hire: a Fellows’ network”
Blog mission accomplished.
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