On Tuesday afternoon, I joined three inspiring speakers at SB ’14 London to learn more on how to create lasting and impactful movements for social good. The session was hosted by Dan Burgess, who runs a wide range of social projects including Good for Nothing, Break the Silence and Project Wild Thing. He was accompanied by Ivo Gormley, founder of GoodGym, and Gail Gallie of Project Everyone.
Burgess opened the workshop with a proclamation - "Human energy and collective intelligence are the most untapped resources on the planet" - and the session gave three insights into the practical steps we can take to harness the power of social collectives to tackle our societal and environmental problems.
Project Wild Thing
In the developed world today, we live in a digital age where fun comes with buttons and entertainment is something that’s watched through a screen, so many kids aren’t active. According to Project Wild Thing, the roaming distance that children play from their home has shrunk by 90 percent in 30 years, with time spent playing outside down 50 percent in the space of just one generation.
What does this mean for our society? Kids are less healthy, less happy and less knowledgeable about the world. Childhood obesity is on the rise and our children’s generation is set to be the first in history to have a lower lifespan than their parents. How can we get kids and their families back outside, active and reconnecting with nature?
By spreading information, gathering people around a common purpose and creating a space for action. Project Wild Thing started as a documentary film, which formed a hub for people and organisations that shared its concerns. Charities such as the National Trust and community groups such as Good for Nothing took up the cause. Soon larger organisations including Arla Foods and the NHS wanted to become involved in tackling the problem, and the ‘Wild Network’ was born. Now the movement has nearly 10,000 members on its website, who use it as a virtual playground through which to share tips on how to get kids outdoors, create events and explore ways to make the most of nature.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, “13 percent of people over 65 in the UK say that they often or always feel lonely, and 40 percent say that television is their main company.” Far from being a personal issue, loneliness clearly has far-reaching effects on the wellbeing of our nation. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health and that lacking social connections is has as negative an impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“Britons waste £37m a year on unused gym memberships!” was the headline of a UK consumer report in January 2011. Although research revealed that the nation’s top priority for the following year was to lose weight, 77 percent of consumers later admitted they weren’t actually following through on their gym resolutions.
How can we tackle these two very different issues? GoodGym came up with the idea of using them to solve each other. By uniting elderly residents who lack company but often have a surplus of ‘things that need doing’ with people who want to ‘do stuff’ but lack the motivation, GoodGym has been able to create a ‘community gym’ movement where participants work out by doing useful jobs such as digging, lifting or carrying, or simply jog or cycle over to spend time with their new gym ‘coach.’ GoodGym’s role is surprisingly simple: It acts as the middleman, putting the two communities in touch and taking care of legal requirements such as insurance.
When the new UN goals on equality, healthcare and eradicating poverty are announced in September 2015, Project Everyone has set itself the goal of getting them out to every single person on the globe within a week – that’s seven billion people in seven days.
How do you get an initial call to action out into the world quickly and effectively? “Leverage every communication channel,” Gallie advised. “Create a pop-up radio station, convince the ‘Oprahs’ of the world to take your cause up on their shows, or bring it directly into schools.” What about areas of the world where citizens lack schools and electricity? “Use the global power of brands. In the most underprivileged communities where vital medicines struggle to get through, the Coca-Cola truck often does. Get your message stuck to the side of that truck!”
So, what are the key elements needed to harness the power of social collectives?
1. Get the word out using every available channel.
2. Gather people round a common cause, or unite people with complimentary needs.
3. Create a space where it is easy for people to take practical action
As Interface’s Nigel Stansfield demonstrated in his plenary talk on Inclusive Business that morning, “At the end of the day, none of us are smarter than all of us.”