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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 20 November 2011

The RSL Club, and Thinking Class...

I arrive in Sydney airport to the sounds of ‘Tainted Love’ in arrivals. Not quite how I imagined it. For a moment I think I’ve travelled around the world for two days just to turn up at a shopping mall in Dudley, but the glinting sunshine outside and the sight of jumbo croissants and strange looking sausage rolls reassure otherwise.  I wonder back in my mind to the epic scenes of Lou Reed’s first arrival in Sydney, and the brilliant deadpan interview he gave to the bemused 1974 journalists. He clearly hadn’t been flying economy.

At the Brighton Beach hotel, I have both a glorious view of the sea, and an intriguingly named ‘RSL Club’ just around the corner. An international rest home for social landlords perhaps? The signs of animated life inside suggest otherwise.  Walking around I’m struck by how puny I seem compared to everyone else. Have I shrunk or does the world get bigger through jet lagged eyes?  No wonder England got stuffed in the rugby today.
I’d promised to finish Richard Branson’s 'Screw Business as Usual' by the time the flight reached Hong Kong. In the end I reached the last page as the flight was leaving Heathrow. It’s a fast-paced read, with the first few chapters the most illuminating.  Reassuringly, there is a close synergy between Branson’s ideas and the vision in Open Talent: ‘It can no longer be about putting sticking plasters on issues and hoping they will go away; it has to be about creating opportunities for people so that they can build the lives they deserve’.  Investment through sustainable business, rather than giving and aid, is the only serious game in town, and the book provides numerous examples through the stories of Professor Yunus and microcredit, C K Prahalad and the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, Chris West from the Shell Foundation, and of course Branson himself. 

Reading the book made me excited at the prospect of more 'action-tank thinking' through our Virgin Unite partnership. I also dreamed up the following as a proposition for the book, which I’ve just submitted to its ideas page:

'Here's my idea for screwing business as usual. Introduce a 'Thinking Class' for passengers (air and train) to opt into.   Passengers donate time and generate ideas through a virtual community platform, with options for 'Thinking Class' conversations during trips. These explore and share business approaches to solve a portfolio of live challenges posed by Virgin charities.  'Thinking Class' connects and harnesses the untapped power of advantaged minds using Virgin transport. Why should we sit back with so much potential around us in one place to do more?  Not when we can ‘upgrade’ our journey experience to #SBAU. Creating social good is the new air miles. 
Just imagine the power this can achieve. I work for a charity that opens talent in the young people society often leaves behind. We have a lot of issues we are trying to find solutions for. We also have lots of ideas. But what we lack are richer connections and conversations with different forms of thinking and talent from other spheres of life. In fact, the people you will probably find on the same London to Sydney flight I have just been on. Who sat and watched films and played games, but could just have easily spent 45 minutes thinking of a contribution they could make to a question read in a Thinking Class page online or in the flight magazine. They could have even discussed the question with the person they didn’t know sitting next to them wearing the same Thinking Class badge. (And why not a Thinking Class carriage in trains – not all of us want to be quiet). 

The future is not just in a flight or train asking for charity donations in a bag, but in the option for people to easily invest their intellectual capital.  Every passenger could be a member of the ‘24902 community’ in Thinking Class.  Why not make that come alive.’

My other thought, not submitted, was to repeat Branson’s concept of the ‘Elders Group’ for the youth charity sector. A group of wise entrepreneurial voices leading the sector into the real world of collaboration and development.  Superminds pushing out the competing silos and 'disadvantaged widget delivery' into a better thinking and doing space. Not sure who would be on it - certainly not Anne Widdecombe, who has just popped up on TV. I expect someone will say ‘but that’s called the Youth Action Group’. And at that point, I’m calling it a night…

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