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 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

Young Rewired State 2012 – an update

You may well ask why I am doing this on my personal blog: simply because the news is too tasty to wait for the soon-to-be-relaunched YRS and RS websites.

Young Rewired State 2012 is gearing up a notch. We still have b*gger all sponsorship because raising sponsorship is hard and takes time/money to do, neither of which we have as we need to keep the lights on in Rewired State by running our fabulous hack days. However we do have a huge community of people willing to help, so once more we are doing this on a wing and a prayer but we know it is going to be awesome – more than that we are super excited

Here’s the story:

We were sitting around my dining room table (our current office) trying to solve the problem of running YRS2012 slap bang in the middle of the Olympics, with a Friday show and tell in London. When Adam McGreggor our multi-talented genius said “Hang on a minute, why don’t we run it at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park?” From there it developed into an excited frenzy of telephone calls, emails and tweets to the rather wonderful museum and Chris Monk and a decision to run the end of the big YRS2012 event as a big festival style sleepover in tents in the grounds of the museum, with access to the museum itself (yes, BBC Micros) and the show and tell to be on the Saturday afternoon.

This is genius. Not only because it is not in London, but also because we are always a bit sad that the YRSers from the various centres from across the UK do not get a chance to mingle much on the Friday when they all come together, as it is such a massive rush to do the show and tell and catch various trains. This way they can all work together, be mentored together and practise their presentations. Also, more of you can come and see what was built as it will not be a work day!

You can’t get much better than the museum. It is staffed by a litany of incredible volunteers and many of the young people will not get a chance to see the history of what they are doing now and it is the centenary year of the birth of Alan Turing. And it will be all festival-y and Summer and so on and so forth.

So we are very happy.

Naturally, the cost just went up by a few thousand! We will have to have a far bigger hardship fund pot for those young people who cannot afford the fare to Bletchley and we will need to cover all manner of things like toilets and tents for those who do not have any, and marquees and whatnot – but we are never shy of a challenge.

I will be asking for sponsorship soon and will find ways to crowdsource some funds – but if you know of any organisations who might want to be a part of this festival of young geek talent then please do get in touch with me We don’t do these things for profit, and we do have a great band of volunteers – but there are necessary costs and we do need to cover them. So please do help

Before I bounce off, a huge thank you to the National Museum of Computing who have been so gracious, excited and helpful. I would like to point out that the Museum is a separate entity to Bletchley Park itself, even though it is in the grounds of Bletchley, and as such does not benefit from large benefactor donations – so we are even more thankful to them. What a Summer we are going to have.

I cannot wait…

Update on Funding! The wonderful STEPHEN FRY (no less) has tweeted about us and encouraged people to support us through which has resulted in a great start in community fund-raising – do help us by pledging a tenner 🙂 and here is a copy of his tweet…

Stephen Fry@stephenfry 

The UK’s young coders are at it again #YRS2012 looks even more intriguing this year, help support it over here…