February 1, 2011

Social innovation, Nordic style

Last week I travelled to Denmark as a guest of the British Council to speak at two of their Young Creative Entrepreneurs club events, in Copenhagen and Aarhus (the second city). Standing in the austere, modernist Aarhus town hall designed by Arne Jacobsen, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. It was my first visit to Scandinavia, and on the face of it the country seems wealthy, well organised and calm. The streets are clean and the people friendly.

After a very warm welcome from the municipal Mayor-in-waiting, I told the story of Livity and some of our favourite projects, including a cameo appearance from Bill Hicks urging everyone in marketing and advertising to “kill yourselves”, to around 70 up-and-coming creative entrepreneurs, who mainly work in the arts and cultural industries. They were super-engaged and interested in Livity’s work and how the principles we’ve developed could be used in their own work.

One of the key challenges I took from the lively discussion after my speech, was that everyone is very used to turning to public funding to get their work off the ground. Livity’s use and engagement with brands definitely seemed like new thinking. Aarhus is bidding to be European City of Culture for 2018, and there was a palpable sense of ambition about showing what the city is made of, and a frustration at being hampered by the municipality who hold most of the power over funding (and funding that is set to dwindle). Could brands come to the rescue?

Among the crowd were about 15 Kaospilots: students at the Kaospilot academy set up by radical Danish entrepreneur Uffie Elbaek. These students spend three years learning how to become creative entrepreneurs and changemakers, as an ‘alternative’ degree course (but one that is accredited by reputation, rather than an official mark). They have a controversial reputation, but the energy and excitement of the place, full of young, ideas hungry students from around the world, was infectious. To get in, you endure a two-day an initiation ceremony designed by first year students rather than an entrance exam, and part of the course involves being posted off to far flung countries like Columbia to spend three months running a social innovation project. At dinner with their Irish head of learning, Simon Kavanagh, we talked about the possibility of Kaospilots doing placements at Livity.

After a snowy train ride across to Copenhagen the next morning, I had a quick meeting with Anne Sofie and Thomas from the Danish Centre for Social Economy. They gave me a snapshot of the social enterprise sector in Denmark, which is slowly emerging, and suffers the same confusion around definition of what a social enterprise actually is (Livity would NOT qualify under Danish definitions!). The idea was mooted of Live Magazine doing some reporting at the Roskilde festival, which has a strong interest in social enterprise projects.

That evening I gave a second, shorter talk at Republikken in the city centre: a hip, homely small business and freelance space which houses graphic designers, architects, creative entrepreneurs and even a sword importer. The talk seemed to strike a chord, with lots of feedback on how Livity’s work was ‘inspiring’, especially for young entrepreneurs looking for ways of getting ideas off the ground and bringing social innovation into their work.

In my talk, I tried to emphasise that social innovation didn’t just have to be about ideas for the poor in Africa: and that focusing closer to home could be a better place to start. It was only afterwards, speaking to someone who runs a charity in Copenhagen, that I heard how creative businesses are generally not engaging with some of Denmark’s social issues: especially the problem of non-integration of immigrant communities. I let wanting to know more, but wondering – given the overwhelmingly positive reaction I got from people in the crowd – about the scope and possibilities for replicating some of Livity’s ideas to a place like Denmark. I came back home to a message from the Mayor, saying he would be in touch…

November 17, 2010

Giving social enterprise a bigger voice

It’s confirmed; the biggest social enterprise conference in the world is to be held at the biggest entertainment venue in the world.

Voice11 will take place on 29th and 30th March at The O2.

It’s all set to be an amazing event that will give Social Enterprise the exposure it needs and deserves.

Being part of the dedicated group of people who’ve worked hard to turn a vision into reality is something Livity is extremely proud of.

For more on this historic announcement for the social enterprise sector please click here

By Joshua

November 9, 2010

Laughing all the way to the Bank

Grameen Bank is a microfinance social business in Bangladesh that makes small loans to people who can’t get credit, to enable them to get out of poverty.

Grameen means ‘village’, and yesterday, we visited one of thousands of villages transformed by Grameen Bank.

My prejudices of a ‘poor’ village’ in rural Bangladesh, meant that no matter how well briefed I was, an air ‘poverty tourism’ accompanied me into the village,

Until a group of women ‘borrowers’ shattered my preconceptions and taught me a lesson in entrepreneurship that I will never stop learning from, for as long as I live.

These women are not just borrowers, but also members, shareholders and ultimate owners of Grameen bank.

Of a profitable multi-million dollar bank, the borrowers own 96.65% of shares and occupy 9 of the 13 seats on the board.

We joined a weekly ‘centre meeting’ where ideas are explored, proposals presented, deals done, and loans repaid, with a 98% successful repayment rate.

But, it’s the human transaction taking place that is more significant than money. Women amass interest on their dignity deposit. Ideas and experience are traded across the earth floor. Women make withdrawals of confidence, pride and energy to spend on their homes, families and businesses. Read More…

November 1, 2010

Dubplate Y Mexico 4/4. Don Televicion.

The final meeting before retuning to the two presidential re pitches was with a celebrated social entrepreneur, creative thinker, senior TED fellow and something of an angel on earth.

She’s introducing us to Mexico’s advisor to the UN on youth issues and when it came to TV channels… she voted for scale and significance!

Which was lucky, because of the two presidents, one became a conference call booking and the one who squeezed us in was the big guy, the very last meeting of the very last day.

And so, we’re in the waiting room of El Presidente of the space station that is the channels sprawling HQ and studios, on what is arguably Dubplate Drama’s biggest day out, at 6pm on our third and final day in Mexico, with hours left, feeling a bit nervous.

A bow tied butler arrives to take our drinks order and I fight against every nerve to resist ordering a Vodka Martini.

Our vantage point of being on the top floor with huge windows means we can see the helicopter swoop in and feel it land on the roof directly above our heads and see El Presidente walk down a short flight of stairs and into the meeting room. And then we’re beckoned in….

Don Televicion aka TV God enters the room, white haired, broad shouldered, perfect teeth, a fair face (but one that you’d never fuck with) a deep voice that didn’t say much but didn’t get disobeyed, ever. All immaculately turned out, in a monogram tailor made shirt.

As I noticed a hand shaking as it picked up its glass, I decided not to drink any more water, and we began.

As we explained the interactive aspect of the show and talked through our favourite dilemma ending (season two, episode 6) his perfect poker broke a smile.
He talked about which option he would have voted for and we began to discuss values, morals and principles, and how best to encourage these debates amongst young people, he talked about his vision for the station and of it’s role in civil society, and their responsibility to educate and empower.

Anyone can do a values speech, but this wasn’t anyone speaking, we talked of exciting future plans and of the social, cultural and philosophical programs the channel fund, all, obviously balanced with their competitive and commercial imperatives.

Good talk, for the head of an entire network.

We talked of our ambitions for a Spanish speaking locally produced version of Dubplate Drama and the effect it could have, we discussed the business end of a deal and we left shaking hands and agreeing to talk over the next few weeks with a view to potentially making something happen.

We drove away watching the sunset over Mexico City and it felt a little bit like it was Mexico City was making the decisions for us.

None of this would have been possible without the British Council and they’re amazing teams in both London and Mexico. In particular Angelica Atristain and Claire DeBraekeleer.

October 30, 2010

Dubplate Y Mexico 3/4. A Tale of Two Channels.

Being stopped during a pitch so the commissioners of the TV station you’re presenting to can go and get the president of the channel, doesn’t happen often.

And it’s never happened to me before, until this week.

Which made it even crazier when the same thing happened again, the next day, on the other side of Mexico City at a rival channel.

Neither president was present, so second meetings were set up and a tale of two channels began.

The second largest Spanish language TV network on the planet renowned for it’s world conquering Tele Novella’s Vs the pioneering public service broadcaster, borne out of a university, radical, socially principled, but quite a bit smaller, rival.

Trying to weigh up the pro’s and con’s of each, we zig zagged across Mexico City meeting the other key players and components needed to make Dubplate Mexico a reality, with a few pavement restaurant meetings along the way.

We sounded out brand partners and sponsors and met everyone from the world’s largest handset manufacturer to the planets most popular sportswear brand and a few more in between.

Luckily the one we were most excited about was the one most excited about us.

We met with the head of the British Council and have never been left so open jawed by a vision for cultural and social
improvement achieved through creative and social enterprise. If he pulls it off, his plans will be a lesson for Social Enterprise
around the world.

We asked everyone we met to vote on the right TV station for us in the great big Dubplate channel debate.

Vote A to reach all of Latin America vote B to keep it real.

And everyone surprised us with his or her answers.

Global trainer brand say go with the little guys it’s about perceptions.

Awe inspiring Social Entrepreneurs with hands on experience working with kids on the street say go with the big guys, it’s social change at the greatest scale that is required.

We were incredibly lucky with the access, interest and opportunity we had, and we tried to make the most of it.

The only meeting we didn’t get to have was with someone who’d recently decided it was time to leave Mexico City when their five year old children were given ‘Getting away from Kidnappers’ training at school.

That stopped us in our tracks.

As did the Chocolate Social Entrepreneur who made and sold chocolate shaped grenades and bombs to raise awareness and money to help heavily exploited cocoa farmers.

We also had our preconceptions of the Telly Novella challenged. There are strong social and moral messages core to the Telly Novella and a significant history of them focussing on specific social issues and raising awareness and working in partnership with relevant advisory and support networks.

Not entirely unlike Dubplate Drama, just a lot, lot longer.

We were further put in our place as we were reminded about the validity of the simple escape of the Telly Novella if you travel four hours round trip to work a 12-hour shift every single day.

Our cynical assumptions and hesitations about Big Broadcaster were beginning to shift.

If you took the proven change Dubplate achieved in the UK, in terms of behavioural change in young people and the complete shift in audience we achieved for Childline, and then magnified it to a country of 122 million with a average age of 25…. Just as your starting point…?

If you add to this the discovery made during our research that Big Broadcaster has for five years run a daily show dramatising real life stories sent in anonymously by women who can’t speak about them elsewhere, tackling issues from abuse and rape to anorexia and alcohol abuse and then promoting the services, around the show, that these women need to break the cycles they’re caught in…

Our choice of channels was beginning to sharpen.

Less than a day left and a deal to be done…

– –

None of this would have been possible without the British Council and they’re amazing teams in both London and Mexico. In particular Angelica Atristain and Claire DeBraekeleer.

October 28, 2010

Dubplate Y Mexico 2/4. Comienzo de las negociaciones

If the question was can Dubplate Drama work in Mexico, and can we apply a methodology of music and interactive drama to cause discussion and debate amongst young people on issues that matter…AND can we do a TV deal in three days in Mexico City to open a door to Latin America… ?

One day in, and several meetings later (a fortunate number of them by the pool) the answers are beginning to appear…

Dubplate UK told real life stories from the underbelly of the music industry, exposing myths and letting young people see that sometimes the ‘dream’ can really be a nightmare. In Mexico a well known, and loved, singer, who crossed the line of a drugs and gangs lifestyle, wound up beaten, raped, his fingers cut off and left in the street to die.

Can we create compelling dilemmas based on true stories?

Dubplate UK put the stars of the show into cliffhanger dilemmas that real young people had faced for the viewers to decide the outcome. In Mexico a gang strolled into a concert, shot fatally into the crowd and asked the band to ‘choose’ if they would like to leave the venue and come to perform at their ‘party’.

Is there a young audience for Dubplate in Mexico?

Dubplate UK racked up a couple of million views online, a 300% viewer increase in it’s best performing TV slot and still receives daily comments and likes from it’s young (but niche) audience… In Mexico, a country of 120,000,000 people, the average age is 25 and the equivalent of half of the UK (nearly 30 million people) are at school…

America buys the drugs that keep a violent war alive across the northern border of a beautiful country and an ancient culture. As well as providing the demand, America also supplies the guns, and a dodgy Gangsta rap mentality too. An entire police force is viewed (not wholly innacurately) as corrupt and the perceived value of life counts down on daily news reports that, literally, run a rolling tally of the (mainly young) people who’ve been shot.

At the same time a beautiful and brilliant people desperately want to make a difference, against these significant odds, but are faced with a political and media status quo that would make George Orwell proud, the ubiquitous Tele Visa TV just launched the next presidential candidate, who alongside his Tele Novella national figure of a starlet wife, is already accepted to have won… 2 years ahead of a vote.

Young people in Mexico are rarely given an honest chance to have a say, and the young people we’ve heard from clearly want one… even if it is just to decide on a drama, even it is only a reflection of real life.

Perhaps this is why at 15 minutes into our first presentation to three senior commissioners at a major broadcaster (and in Mexico a major broadcaster is the size of a space station) We were stopped whilst they went to get the President of the entire network…

There’s two days left to do a deal…

Comienzo de las negociaciones

– – –

None of this would have been possible without the British Council and they’re amazing teams in both London and Mexico. In particular Angelica Atristain and Claire DeBraekeleer.

October 6, 2010

Seeing is believing…

The worlds of O2 and social enterprise converged last week when O2’s 12,000 strong workforce opened their doors to social enterprise.

The social enterprise road show hit each of O2’s five main sites, touching down in Leeds, Bury, Runcorn, Slough and Glasgow. From Divine Chocolate and Pants to Poverty, to Elvis & Kresse and Create, O2’s staff were introduced to various social enterprises and the amazing work they do.

Charlotte from Divine Chocolate said “It was great to see a company communicating to its staff about its business initiatives and in such an engaging way. Reactions to both the chocolate, and hearing about why Divine is a social enterprise, were really positive – and we sold every single bar!”

Mark, a vendor from The Big Issue also commented, “The feedback we received was absolutely brilliant. Everyone was chuffed to see us there and we were made to feel very welcome.”

Since the start of the year Livity has been working with O2 on their commitment to social enterprise. When O2 launched a consultation with the sector in May to inform the first business package designed specifically for social enterprises, it was clear there was a general consensus that what the sector really wants is more exposure and awareness.

The road show was a great way of engaging so many people, and O2 can now boast not just to be the first mobile provider to recognise social enterprise but also to have the most clued up staff around!

Richard Gray from O2 said, “The event was a great opportunity for O2 employees to get first hand insight into what a social enterprise company looks and feels like. Various companies showcased their work, involving the site, forging relationships and changing peoples perception of social enterprise.

O2 would like to thank all the social enterprises that took part in the road show.

Buster’s CoffeeCreateBenchmarkPants to PovertyClarityDivine ChocolateElvis & KresseThe Big IssueThe Soap CoJust Buy campaign

To find out more about Livity’s work with O2, and what O2 is doing to support the social enterprise sector go to

By Josh

September 22, 2010

A messy situation

by Deborah, 18, a Live magazine contributor

There’s no denying that dog mess on the streets is a problem. Could Hastings new campaign against this provide a solution?

One might think that a council’s efforts to eradicate dog mess on the streets would be praised by local residents. However it wasn’t all praises for Hastings council after a local social enterprise launched their anti dog mess campaign earlier this month. Though Hastings council claims that the campaign has been well received on the most part, its still managed to leave a bad smell amongst some local residents.

It’s adventurous slogans such as: “We’re not taking your s*** anymore!”, “Sort your s*** out!” and “Have you got s*** for brains?” seem to be as offensive as the poop itself to some residents.

One mother-of-two from the borough has complained about the impression this gives of Hastings and the influence it will have on children. “I don’t want to have to be explaining to my children why they can’t use that word but it’s OK to see it on posters” was her argument.

However, Hastings council has stood firm in backing this campaign with the council’s spokesman, Kevin Boorman stating “While the residents might find the posters offensive, it’s not nearly as offensive as treading in dog mess and bringing it home”.

I personally think these campaign slogans are humorous with their catchy wordplay but what do you think? Is this campaign to funny to be taken seriously? Is it unnecessarily rude? Or could it work because it’s eye-catching and engaging?

Feel free to leave a comment of your take on this messy situation.

September 8, 2010

The big what exactly?

Everyone’s talking about the ‘Big Society’. During the election it was the sound bite of Cameron’s campaign, but an ambiguous concept to get to grips with.

The idea has developed since the coalition has been in power. The focus is on handing power back to people and communities. So what does this mean for social enterprise? More emphasis on empowering people and businesses to affect change. But at the same time budgets are being cut left, right and centre.

The ‘Big Society’ is a credible idea and in theory will benefit social enterprises across the UK.  But in practice, this has to be supported by contracts, grants and funding backing social enterprises to find innovative spending solutions that will have a positive impact on society. Likewise, any incentives that can be awarded to social enterprises from tax breaks to extensions would increase the sectors chance of making a difference socially and environmentally.

The onus is also on social enterprise to engage with the private sector as well as opportunities to work with government. Any incentives private business can give in return, such as special tariffs and services would strengthen the ‘Big Society’s’ prospects even further. The work we’re doing with O2 and their commitment to social enterprise is something we’re really proud of in this respect. Last but not least, there’s space and opportunity for brands to take ownership of society’s biggest problems.

To find out more about how the ‘Big Society’ will affect social enterprise check out these useful links:

By Josh