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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Saturday 23 November 2013

From Right Here to Right There

On friday night I was attending a celebration event for the ending of Right Here, a joint project by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Mental Health Foundation. If you haven't been paying attention over the last 5 years, Right Here is a £6m programme to radically change how we look after the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 16 to 25 across the UK. Or, more simply, 'creating responsive services that provide young people with the mental health support and advice they want, when and where they want it.'  As one of the brilliant Right Here ambassadors put it, 'If young people are not part of the answer to their mental health, then what questions are health commissioners asking?'

Right Here is likely to be most remembered for its youth-led work to influence commissioning approaches and develop practical tools for young people to advance their mental health. These are important outcomes, and the Foyer Federation is working with Right Here's group of expert youth ambassadors to apply that positive focus in its own Healthy Conversations initiative to 'bring health to life'.

But there is something else in Right Here which is equally as interesting - and worth much more than the cupcake provided at the end of the night. Over the last 5 years, Right Here has created a network of ambassadors who have grown together from teenagers to young adults whilst participating in the  project's activities. It is a 'transition community' in all senses of the word: a group that has supported individuals to navigate a complicated life period, with a set of professional adults both learning from and supporting the learning of the young people involved. Like all effective communities, its success has been based on a common relation between individuals associated with something of personal interest, and the ability to maintain those connections through ongoing activity that has meaningful impact.  The power of the group is that its value will keep giving back in years to come way beyond the funding ever imagined.

At the end of the event, Rob Bell, Head of Social Justice at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, set a challenge for young people to find a way to 'self-mobilise' around powerful issues to create social change where it is needed most; and to learn from where ever this has been achieved in other cultures and periods. Which set my mind thinking about how pioneering innovative action stimulates the growth of different communities of influence. While the mass mobilisiation of individuals around political campaigns (such as Obama's first election) and popular artists (such as Lady Gaga's 'little monsters') are common phenomena, less attention is paid to how single actions of real inspiration create their own future communities through applied thinking.

A popular example of this is the 'myth' of how the Velvet Underground's 'Banana album' sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years, but each person who bought the ablum would set up their own band inspired by it's ground breaking approach. If you look at some of those bands, they were teenagers and young adults creating their own micro 'transition networks' based around music, which in many cases grew into popular communities such as Punk. The 'Banana album' and its band was the 'source' of action which stimulated the growth of various communities of cultural influence over decades to come.

Why do I cite this? Because, while Rob Bell was rightly pointing people's attention to more socio-political examples of self-mobilisation, what the Charity sector desperately needs is to refind a 'community of innovation' within its soul to be a better source of inspiration at the local and national level. Something not owned by one brand, one body, one set of adults, one hub group, one funded opportunity, one great project; but more flexibly and fluidly lived and shared between different organisations , individuals and age groups, young and old, stimulated into creativity through the right mix of 'source' influences.

For those source influences to exist, we must find and nurture pioneers to 'Take Advantaged Thinking Action' (TaTa) that will bring people together over products and happenings rich and free enough in ideas for others to flourish from. It doesn't need glossy research reports or stategic plans; it doesn't need platforms to applaud the status quo. It is about giving away ideas through innovation 'performances' that stimulate people to think.

Which, in a sector built on competition for funding, is hard to pull off. And given most source innovators never reap the benefits their followers gain, it is also hard to advocate for within most organisational structures where impact is too closely linked with self-survival.

That is why I am launching a 'performance' in 2014 (The Adventures of TaTa-man and the Night of Bananas) to invite a mixed community of people with the ability to grow thinking from various sectors to share in my 'source' of Taking Advantaged Thinking Action. It's a performance on a stage in the theatre (dates and venue to be announced), because the theatre is one powerful example of community experience where we engage in reflective connection through a dramatic source. I am trying to create a 'theatre of charity' that looks for radical breakthroughs in the same way as the 'theatre of cruelty'. A TaTA that applies a new type of DaDa to drive positive social change. It's about putting into one performance the same 'Banana album' thesis: if you are in the audience, then the mobilisation offered in the moment of sharing an experience might enable you to grow your own community of action through whatever inspiration you express through yourself afterwards. I want everyone to take a Banana away.

The project developed by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Mental Health Foundation might be drawing to a close, but so much is still beginning from all the lives touched through it.  Right Here is when we keep building right there into our future. It's the capital of life.

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