Social enterprise and the power of breaking stuff

I think we can pretty much accept that the traditional model of making the world work and surviving in it has broken, even for bankers. Whether this be the status quo for those on benefits, the funding mechanisms for start-ups, the charitable foundations, those looking to sponsor stuff and those seeking sponsorship right up to those who have done well for themselves – nothing is guaranteed and pretty much every system except celebrity is broken. So who can really blame the kids and adults for seeking a future through game and talent shows on TV – that’s basically the only model that has thrived and survived (dear Daily Mail commentors).

I think that I am a pretty odd person. I was odd at school: geek/nerd/books/computers/maths but I also survived. When I started relationships and breeding I guess I normalised – my weird edges were moulded into something vaguely resembling a mother and a worker – I never got the wife thing right and I am definitely appalling at school run outer-wear. But what I do have is a keen sense for survival – therefore I am what is socially classed as a serial entrepreneur. Yet I do not plan on retiring in five years having sold a business idea for millions – I plan on putting my talents to use doing things I can do and working with the very best of the best to making stuff I like doing happen. I think it is just happenstance that what I like doing is for the greater good – I wouldn’t champion me that much, there is an element of selfishness in there.

I also (as you might expect from the brief bio of my youth) am not excellent at networking and people. This makes my working life harder, but I can overcome that in a variety of brilliant ways – these do not include mass events with lots of people but definitely include my fabulous twitter family.

This is by the by…

OK so assuming we accept that traditional stuff is broken, but the broken society requires innovation and energy (as shown most successfully through TV talent and celebrity shows) – so how do we shred the tradition, without fear and look to what’s left.

I have been there and so I think I can help

I love Rewired State and Young Rewired State. Let’s be honest, Rewired State is probably about three years too early if it is to survive through hack days that pay developers for rapid R&D – we can survive, definitely – but we will have to do other stuff. Meanwhile we have a network of over 600 developers keen to help pretty much everybody – except recruitment agents and people needing code monkeys – the devs want to do strategy and innovation and in a digital world, you’d be bonkers not to let them; but in reality the world is not yet quite ready for that, it is broken and hack days are not traditional.

FACT: many want hack days because they have now become an OK way of dipping your toe in the water of  innovation, but they do not fit with traditional R&D and so there is no budget, therefore your hack days have to rely on the benefaction of developers willing to work on your problem/idea for free/FA so… you are pretty stuffed. Let me give you an extreme example. We are running a hack day, on a boat, in Cannes, at MIPCUBE, presenting to attendees of MIPCUBE and MIPTV and we are not awash with developers keen to do this. Why? Because of developer apathy, a whole other blog post. So if you want to actually engage devs in a hack day, for sod all and you can beat a boat in the South of France and one of the most high profile geekTV events in the world then you may have a chance of attracting a few – if you don’t, I would rethink it until the budget meets the ambition. Please do not believe the myth that devs will code in a garage for free on your stuff. They just won’t and why should they?

I digress…

Here is what I wanted to share with you

Knowing me as you do either in person or through blogs and twitter, I work relentlessly for the things I believe in. But paying for these things in traditional fashion means that I do not meet the demands of mortgage/tax/life for myself nor fair work for people I represent and the organisations I think can make a difference to, I refuse to accept this so I have had to be inventive. Here’s how to break the world and survive (I am only in stage 2, I have not yet officially survived but I think I can see the light, so come with me)

  • work with the knowledge you have to build a vision of what you want
  • social funding is there – benefactors have set up organisations to pay for stuff to happen if you can prove its worth – use them
  • talk to everyone and be honest – through doing this with Simon Peyton-Jones one day, he then introduced me to a retired man who was the ex CEO of Shell and BCS, who came to my house and learned about what I was trying to achieve and has since helped immensely from toilets at Bletchley Park to Scouts and tents to mentoring me and championing the work of YRS – you cannot buy that
  • I cannot tell you the people I have been exposed to though being honest and fighting for what I believe, I met Conrad Wolfram and had an hour on the phone with him after the fact chatting about how he could produce stuff to help YRSers get more maths out of coding
  • I had an email from Douglas Rushkoff – with advice…
  • through NESTA I discovered the peoplefund.it site and have begun crowdsourcing for Young Rewired State 2012
  • through tweeting pics of my dad’s BBC Micros and my old educational software I talked to Chris Monk from The National Museum of Computing who fixed the micros for free and then came to Learning Without Frontiers to showcase the old Micros and now they are hosting the show and tell for YRS2012
  • At my dining room table yesterday I had a volunteer and a YRSer working for on YRS2012 in return for a bottle of cold coke, tea, fruit and haribos
  • Rory Cellan Jones and Stephen Fry tweet about what we do – not because they happened upon it, but because we are relentless and we are good and we work hard – this is not an insurmountable problem for anyone, we can all be good at what we do and work hard

Make no bones about it, it is flipping hard.

It’s about 17 hours a day of hard graft and it depends on a massive slashing of social media and community (but not dependent on real life networking, thank goodness), creating fundable projects for charitable trusts to invest in and ultimately a massive dollop of finding people who have capacity and might welcome a chance to work on what you are doing.

This way we can break the world but make it sustainable. It takes guts and if the world was not so broken it would be much harder to fix, but quite frankly there are many of us in the same position – so carpe diem and do what you want and find a way to live through that thing – forget the traditional routes and benefits. It’s borked.

PS Do not be tempted to secure your foray into the future from the broken past by paying for advice from people who have no proven success in the future. There will be many who offer unique skills, telling you scary things like: “My skills are unique, I scale social businesses and there is no one like me” pay me xxx – these people will not really be worth much, Trusts will help you and guide you through their processes and needs – even if you start from a great idea with no idea. And finally, if anyone asks you for a % of your organisation PLUS a salary, walk away immediately – they do not believe in your success as an enterprise and are only in it for the cash. (Thank you @sleepydog for that gem!)

PPS I am funding Young Rewired State partly through crowdsourced money – yes because I have to but also because so many people get to be a part of YRS, which for me is the greatest thing on the planet. Pledge your hard-earned cash here, and if you can’t, tell your networks, someone will have a tenner

Nesta and Sir Tim Berners Lee

I was going to wait for the webcast to be set live to post about the session this afternoon, but I will do another tomorrow.

Feeling really rather lucky for scoring a ticket I made my way to Nesta this afternoon and was lucky enough to be in the second row from the front, with Euan Semple on my left (mourning his iphone’s passing in a rain storm) and Lloyd Davis to my right (in rather a naughty mood).

The occasion was to celebrate the launch of  Sir Tim Berners Lee‘s latest wheeze: the Web Science Research Initiative (which I believe means less maths more science). However, TBL was the draw and all we wanted was 1. to be in His presence and 2. to listen and – if brave enough – ask him stuff.

When the webcast is live I will link to it, and I really will this time, I promise – so you can share in the joy. But I thought that in the mean time I would note what is resonating with me right now, you might find this interesting.

  1. What is supremely brilliant is that TBL is still so excited by the web and its potential. I expected him to be more jaded, to patter out a presentation and take questions but be, frankly, bored by what he has created. He isn’t! He is clearly still passionate about this, that does not do it justice, he buzzes when you mention ‘semantic web’ in an almost childlike, quivering ‘me, me, please sir’ way – he wants to talk about this and watch his baby evolve. I love that, it inspired me again.
  2. People repeatedly referred to the world wide web as a ‘thing’ ‘it’. TBL tried to explain that we need to stop thinking of it as a thing, it is a linking mechanism. People are following links, that is what creates the world wide web, (um think that might be the web thing).
  3. The www removes geography, the world it created means that everything is one/two/a few clicks away – this redefines the way we associate and communicate
  4. The famous story of how He was able to create the www: his boss at the time did not say ‘no’ to what he was trying to do; led to him mentioning championing the champion, supporting those who are doing stuff a little bit differently in our organisations, and giving them enough room to explore.
  5. He suggested looking at challenges on the macro and micro level. See what we could do as a person, as a member of a community, county, city, country, world wide – and devote some time to exploring that
  6. There was also the ever pertinent cry to keep data free – the whole point of what he created was to destroy the boundaries, never was the ‘free our data’ cry so apt as when it comes from the mouth of TBL… reiterated by the number of stickers on his laptop carrying the same lament

I will share the link tomorrow, or you can search for Tim Berners Lee Nesta 8th July and you will find it – along with his presentation.

My own photos are here – bit rubbish but I was being naughty and using my phone, so trying to be surreptitious. (Sorry Jonathan).

PS There were two other panellists, people I would love to have spoken to: Andy Duncan from Channel 4 and Charlie Leadbeater. An odd decision to share the stage… I am not sure why that happened.