Welcome to the Museum of Social Innovation
I’ve wanted to be a social entrepreneur for as long as I remember — I just didn’t know that’s what it was called. Being a white, middle class (although my parents love to testify they’re working class) male who was brought up in a lovely part of the country with two loving parents, I’ve had a privileged and protected life.
Strangely though, I used to get in trouble a lot. I vividly remember a childhood that consisted of arguing lots with teachers and having frequent fights (both physical and verbal) with people I thought were d*cks. For a long time myself and others thought there was something wrong with me. I had counselling and anger management training as a teen. I’m sure there was something a lil out of whack there, but as the years have passed I’ve realised that I didn’t just like to cause trouble for the sake of it. What motivated me was a passion for justice.
I rarely engaged with schooling, but when I was 17, I was lucky enough to study political philosophy at A-Level. It’s pretty cliche, but one of the most formative experiences of my life was reading Malcom X’s autobiography (check the privilege). I was exposed to the politics of class and race. The passion I had throughout my childhood to oppose injustice was now able to take form alongside political activists.
Because of my previous lack of educational interest, I almost flunked my A-Levels. I remember looking around my hometown and thinking “f*ck, this is it? This is all my life is going to be?”. Let’s be totally honest, the area I was going to be ‘forced’ to ‘settle’ in was one which featured 4, 5, even 10 bed houses, quaint villages and wide open (and safe) spaces. Seemingly a perfect area that many people aspire to. But that wasn’t for me. To the deepest depths of my soul, I wanted more. I wanted purpose.
Somehow I scrapped myself into a mid-tier university to study International Relations. This seemed like a subject that had a good mix of what I was interested in — politics, development and society, as well as all of the messy causes that lay behind the systems that govern our world. I loved the subject and worked hard. I was driven by the fantasy of working for — and eventually leading — the United Nations. I was p*ssed that people were starving to death, that we had leaders of countries talking about who had the bigger D — for defence budgets — and that there were ineffective and discriminative counter-terrorism policies.
I interned and worked with charities, I became a member of think-tanks like Chatham House and started to take my steps to work for the Civil Service. Instead of spending my Uni days boozing and bantering, I spent them studying and shaping this path into the world of geo-politics. In my last year of University I learnt about the biggest issue the world is facing today — climate change. I attended a conference (which I forget the name of now) where I heard from different ‘actors’ in society — charities, politicians, activists and, strangely… entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs? At the age of 20 I didn’t really even know what an entrepreneur was. I knew there were people who owned businesses but I didn’t want to own a cigarette company, car dealership or clothing company. To me, I didn’t see the point. But now, who’s this Elon Musk person who I’m hearing about redesigning cars to be more environmentally friendly with Tesla, innovating the global energy sector with SolarCity or revolutionising space transportation, with the ultimate goal of making life multi-planetary, at SpaceX?
Characteristics I obsessed over and adored: innovation, fast-thinking, iteration, creativity, doing things differently and (to be totally transparent) financial accomplishment, were all cherished and encouraged in entrepreneurship. Now I was shown people like Elon Musk (who I’ve now learnt has personal and professional faults that at my young age I was too naive to know) who were combining entrepreneurship with my deepest values— promoting societal progress and opposing injustice. Excitingly, this way of doing business that was mission-driven and social-impact focused felt like my calling.
(It also helped that I was rejected multiple times from many, many applications to think-tanks, the civil service fast stream and various charities…).
In 2016 I graduated and landed a place on the prestigious New Entrepreneurs Foundation entrepreneurial development programme that, each year, develops around 40 of the most talent entrepreneurs in the country. Whilst on the programme I worked in the FinTech company Ormsby Street, and was then promoted at the larger sister company BCSG. My intention was to absorb all there was to know about business and take those skills into solving the most pressing issues facing the world.
With a background in politics, I was aware that I was lacking business acumen. As much as I learnt a lot about the way of business during my time in FinTech, the balance went the other way and now I was lacking any kind of social impact.
That was when I discovered Year Here, a platform for professionals to test and build entrepreneurial responses to inequality. Finally, my passion for addressing injustice could combine with my passion for entrepreneurship. Alongside the much needed exposure and insight into social issues (of which I gained insight into informal caring and have since co-founded Curo) — I was surrounded by a cohort and alumni of inspiring, social impact focused, game-changers.
A good day for me is one where I’m working on addressing some of the world’s most challenging issues, where I’m witnessing game-changing / groundbreaking innovators in action and where I’m learning/developing. When I’m lacking in inspiration I have my go-to platforms for social impact focused content: positive.news, Atlas of the Future, the Conduit Podcast to name but a few.
As much as I love these providers, I still feel that there’s something lacking. There were days where I was hungry for inspiration, ready to learn about the problems of the world and wanting to see aspirational, ambitious and ultimately scalable solutions to these problems. I would search and search, maybe having only part of my wants ticked. Perhaps I would learn about a new problem, but I would feel the solution was innovative/ambitious enough, or perhaps I would only get surface level insight into the problem/solution.
Like all good ideas that have been born from experiencing a problem first-hand, I’ve decided to set up my own blog because of the frustration I’ve felt with being left uninspired, unexcited and unexposed to social innovators. I plan to shed light on people putting themselves out there, determinedly and ambitiously addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues.
There is a famous quote from Jeff Hammerbacher, former Data Scientist who was involved in the early build of Facebook: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks”. I hope to inspire and excite people about the potential of social innovation and encourage great minds to tackle real issues that matter. Over the coming weeks, months and years I’ll be interviewing social innovators, learning about what they do and how and why they do it.
To start, that’s going to look like written blog posts like this one here. Eventually I hope to have a digital and interactive museum, curating and presenting the greatest minds of our generation who aren’t thinking about how to make people click ads, but are thinking about things like how to give informal carers a well-earned break at CareFree, addressing health inequlities at Appt or developing the social entrepreneurs of the future at Year Here.
I look forward to having you along for the ride!
My first post, interviewing the CEO and Founder of Year Here, Jack Graham, will be coming shortly…