I was interested to read Matthew’s blog about his day yesterday and the impact it had in giving him a positive boost. Working for a progressive, forward-thinking organisation like the RSA it is easy to sometimes presume that every working day must be a frenetic stramash of world-changing ideas, inspirational figures and jaw dropping enthusiasm. Some days it’s not quite like that, the burdens of administration, negativity or heavy work load combining to fuel despair.
Luckily enough for me, I’m sitting in Belfast International Airport with a pint of Guinness having had a trip to Belfast which has been very much rooted in positivity.
RSA Ireland is in a strange predicament in many ways, crossing a historically tense border, struggling with low numbers of Fellows and trying to find a place for itself in rather fraught political contexts. For a long while it has been seen as being a bit of lost area for the RSA, the Fellows who existed doing a good job of surviving but in many ways operating disconnected from the main Society. Tim Walker the Chair for RSA Ireland has done a great job of keeping a group going in Belfast alongside a well attended Annual Dinner; a group in Dublin has continued to meet on a monthly basis; and John McMullan has represented Ireland well on the Fellowship Council.
However, what was inspiring on this trip was the desire, enthusiasm and commitment amongst Fellows and interested partners to build on this and really make RSA Ireland a vibrant, important resource.
I feel that one the RSA’s greatest opportunities is to work in the gap between communities, to facilitate the conversations and difficult questions which no one else is supporting. And in Ireland, both North and South, there is a real need for the RSA to step up to the plate. I met with an exciting arts organisation, Belfast Exposed, who are working to develop greater understanding in Northern Ireland of the benefits which the arts (in their widest sense) offer to society and the economy. Who do they view as an ideal partner for taking this forward? The RSA.
Following this, we had a meeting to explore the Civic Innovator’s Network which Denis Stewart one of our Fellows is looking to organise. Aiming to bring together civic leaders across the North, it was responded to so enthusiastically by Fellows that we will now have an initial Fellows’ session before the follow-up event.
We then had a wonderful meal at The Edge (would highly recommend!) as part of the Belfast Telegraph’s wonderful meal deal. From that one meal we brought in three new Fellows; several new exciting projects including at least one which will apply to Catalyst; and a shared desire for growth and activity.
Finally, today I met with Denis and a new Fellow Matt Johnston to discuss some fantastic ideas for creating 21st Century Enlightenment spaces in Belfast, supporting an active programme of activity and building an online space. Instant outcomes have seen the creation of the RSA Ireland group on the Fellowship ning as an online meeting space and the agreement for a live broadcast of the President’s Lecture on the 10th March.
One of the outcomes which is apparent from the trip has been that the role of the Networks Manager is an important one in supporting the development of networks and energy in an area and this can’t be underestimated. However, the crucial aspect of success it that Fellows grab hold of the agenda instead of waiting for someone else to deliver it for them. This isn’t easy given the time constraints which Fellows face, however, it is essential for sustainable events to be developed and delivered.
I think that the coming year will be an exciting one for RSA Ireland, but only if Fellows support each other in achieving the aims that they set. My role is to support this work and I will enthusiastically do so, and to disseminate the information to a wider audience. For while RSA Ireland may have a small quantity of Fellows it certainly has a high quality and I think that there will be much that can be shared across the Fellowship.
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