Since our inaugural event in 2012, we’ve watched an extraordinary and diverse group of people grow ever-closer. Our guests and speakers have included tech start-ups, public services, social enterprises, activists and economists, all with one thing in common — they believe that business should be a tool to make the world a better place.
Over the past six years, the most common feedback from this growing community has doubled as our greatest compliment — people wanted moretime to share, reflect and collaborate. We agree — the progressive business space is one that should go far beyond just ‘networking’ and create abundant opportunities for creative experimentation and new partnerships.
Our 2017 guest director, Mark Stevenson, would call this ‘serendipity engineering’: an attitude of openness to the ‘happy accidents’ that can occur when people are united by a single purpose. It has been a pleasure to work with him this year to expand Meaning into a three-day fringe, as well as an after-party that kept discussion going well into the small hours.
Mark’s collaboration with our long-time director Louise Ash resulted in a carnival of ideas for 2017, inviting Brighton businesses to host their own meaningful events and forming new partnerships with arts organisations such as the Attenborough Centre of the Creative Arts, and the RSA. Our conference this year put ‘fringe innovation’ well and truly in the spotlight, and we hope that the eclectic range of speakers on the day brought as much inspiration to your working lives as it has to ours.
As the dust settles on our biggest event yet — we invite you to relive the day with us…
Guest Director Mark Stevenson introduces Meaning 2017
Author, futurologist and stand-up comedian Mark Stevenson specialises in opening the eyes of big business to the future and proving that the grassroots can innovate better than anyone. It’s a mission that has taken him around the world in search of the people, projects and emerging technologies we all need to know about — many of which are featured in his worldwide ‘map’ of fringe innovations, Atlas of the Future.
Here, he introduces the day in his inimitable style; arguing against his own job description by evoking the Nobel prize winning physicist Dennis Gabor: “the future cannot be predicted, only invented.” For Mark, the point of futurology is about becoming ‘future literate’: “understanding the questions the future is asking you and answering them in a way that makes the world more sustainable, equitable and just.”
Meaning’s artist-in-residence introduces her programme for the day
Theatre-maker Zoë Svendsen introduces Meaning’s first ever day-long participatory arts experiment, part of a series of ‘research in public’ events due to premiere at the Barbican next year. The project “We Know Not What We May Be” draws on the tragic words of Ophelia in Hamlet, asking us to suspend our disbelief to imagine possible futures in the era of climate change.
Zoë’s collaborative research builds on the incredible success of her ‘World Factory’ theatre piece in 2015 — a deeply structured participatory work, with 100 million routes through the ‘game’ for its participants. Here, she explains how she developed her method, using ‘provocations’ to reappropriate capitalist slogans and drawing on Ha-Joon Chang’s concept of ‘active economic citizenship’.
Kate Raworth introduces her theory of ‘Doughnut Economics’
After decades of experience in international development, Kate Raworth sat down to find the clearest image she could to provide “a compass for the 21st century”. The result was the ‘doughnut’ — a clear visualisation of human wellbeing (based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals) and its total interdependence with the needs of the planet (drawn from Rockström’s Nine Planetary Boundaries).
In this talk, Kate introduces the thinking behind her ‘economic compass’ and shares her analysis of two strands of corporate thinking: the psychological standoff between ‘How much value can I generate?’ versus ‘How much value can I extract?’ Her visionary approach goes beyond mere ‘purpose-washing’ in connecting business to the bigger picture; suggesting that organisations must become distributive and regenerative by design if we’re going to stand a chance.
Kyra Maya Phillips shares the insights she gained co-authoring The Misfit Economy
Kyra Maya Phillips spent four years exploring the dark side of innovation, through in-depth interviews with pirates, hackers, gangsters and bootleggers. Here she shares the stories of the civil servant who transformed an unorganised fishermen’s resistance to create modern Somali piracy, and the former drug dealer who wrote code from prison; later selling his business for an amount rumoured to be in the tens of millions.
Kyra’s deeply compassionate approach allows her to cut through the moral ambiguity and see what drives these ‘deviant entrepreneurs’; for better or for worse. In recognising that they too search for that elusive thing called meaning, she illustrates the power of self-reflection through the unforgettable rags to riches story of entrepreneur Duane Jackson.
Kate Beecroft shares her insights into the world of freelancer co-operatives
The story of freelancer co-operative Enspiral is full of lessons for a now-burgeoning movement can disrupt the gig economy. After seven years of experimentation, the network has settled at its optimal size of 150 people; within which smaller communities have now formed ‘livelihood pods’ by collectivising their income. By combining resources, Enspiral businesses have been able to build exactly the products required to pave the way for other co-operatives; such as the participatory decision making software Loomio and its sister project, CoBudget.
Here, Kate Beecroft gives us an insight into her journey of collaborative entrepreneurship, and describes just how different it feels when your fellow workers and partner businesses are holding you up, rather than being in competition. This ‘abundance mindset’ not only facilitates the creation of revolutionary new products – it also provides the best possible structure for personal and creative growth.
Jurriën Mentink introduces an experimental new care home for the elderly
Jurriën Mentink is a resident of the Dutch care home Humanitas, which provides free accommodation to young people in exchange for time spent with older residents. He is now one of six students sharing a fully integrated living space with 160 older people — a home that grants dignity, autonomy and choice through a single rule: ‘be a good neighbour’.
As one of the first student residents of this innovative new project, Jurriën describes his own journey of growth over four years at Humanitas. His reflections on human-centred urban design have made him a strong believer in the need to subvert the questions usually asked of the elderly: asking not what they need, but what they still want to contribute.
Margaret Wheatley shares her ground-breaking work on leadership
Margaret Wheatley is an acclaimed author and teacher, whose latest book Who Do We Choose To Be? reclaims leadership as a noble profession able to guide us through a time of profound disruption. Now more than ever, we all have a duty to connect with our generosity, insight and compassion to create “islands of sanity” that help guide the way for others.
In this 45-minute talk, Margaret reflects on the tenets of true leadership; delving deeply into psychological and mystic insights to suggest a way back from “passionate intensity” to nobility and grace. She suggests that the key is to be found in faith — in discovering the one thread that our work is truly based on, and without which, all else would collapse.
Vickie Hawkins shares her lifesaving work with Médecins Sans Frontières
As executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières, Vickie Hawkins has had to make life or death decisions in the most precarious of conditions. Before her recent directorship at MSF she worked in areas of extreme deprivation and violence in China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe; gaining an insider’s perspective into the true brutality of borders.
Here, she shares some disturbing insights into the refugee crisis and the ways in which the UK’s own migration policies are damaging some of the world’s most vulnerable people. When governments wage war, they have a duty to minimise human suffering — and this can only happen through a compassionate approach to migration policy. Only the increase of safe and legal channels will achieve this — and business also has a role to play.
Vinay Gupta shares his unique perspective on the potential of blockchain
Since his appearance at Meaning 2012, ‘global resilience guru’ Vinay Gupta has undergone something of a conversion. After 12 years of humanitarian work on open-source disaster relief structures, Vinay decided to follow the ‘Elon Musk strategy’ of “paying for the change that needs to be made in the world”. As one of the world’s leading cryptographers, it has not taken him long to position himself as a pioneer of blockchain’s second generation — the cryptocurrency Ethereum.
In this talk, Vinay explains why we are at the “Wright brothers’ phase” of the blockchain eco-system; the ‘bridge generation’ where things go from impossible to possible, and where teenage ‘crypto-natives’ have already made more money than their parents did in decades. His clear depiction of this unique cultural moment looks beyond the Bitcoin craze and asks how blockchain might help us build liberating global networks.
Ynzo van Zanten shares one of the best product stories of all time
Chocolate ambassador Ynzo van Zanten tells the founding story of Tony’s Chocolonely; the Dutch company that became the biggest chocolate brand in Holland while fighting child slavery in West Africa. In Ghana and the Ivory Coast, over 2 million children work in illegal and dangerous conditions while denied an education — all for a product that “nobody actually needs”. Ynzo explains that his company’s mission is more than just making its own chocolate slavery free; it is to ensure 100% slavery free chocolate worldwide.
The social enterprise was founded by the investigative journalist Teun van de Keuken, who filmed himself eating chocolate from a company that had used slaves — and then asked to be arrested for it. In the publicity of the court action that followed, Tony’s Chocolonely was born. It continues to wreak havoc for the less-than-ethical chocolate brands, while cultivating respectful relationships with its suppliers, retailers, consumers and employees.
The UK’s most innovative headteacher shares the story of his success
Carl Jarvis is the headteacher behind the record turnaround of Hartsholme Academy in Lincoln — taking it from the brink of closure in 2007 to an “outstanding” Ofsted level within just two years. His innovative approach of ‘respect, empowerment and belief’ has challenged the education system at its foundations, making him “enemy number one” of the Department for Education in the process.
Here, Carl looks back at his own childhood as a miner’s son, where his ambition was thwarted at every turn by an education system still built on the logic of “preparing young people for factories and making them compliant.” He also argues that the skills and values taught in schools are the source of the staggering level of disengagement and lack of creative thinking in the workplace today.
Guest Director Mark Stevenson closes Meaning 2017
Author, futurologist and stand-up comedian Mark Stevenson closes the conference with an insight into his philosophy of ‘pragmatic optimism’. Also a consultant, he is no stranger to the cynicism endemic in big business, which limits innovation by ‘obedience to the status quo’. Here, Mark discusses the eight principles he identified while investigating some of the world’s most innovative fringe projects in his recent book ‘We Do Things Differently’.
Interweaving lessons from his own life, and the many businesses he has worked with, Mark explains how the secret of success is to be found in treating optimism as “a moral position”. This means dreaming big, celebrating mistakes, engineering serendipity and — most of all — playing the long game. The key to success in work is no different to the definition of happiness: “finding something more important than you are and dedicating your life to it.”
When the outside world is volatile, it is more important than ever that we remain centred. These projects and enterprises come from a broad range of industries but all have one thing in common — they prove that another way is possible. Every one of our 2017 speakers was able to triumph against the cynicism of the status quo, and their ‘proof value’ should energise every one of us who believes in a future based on equality, community and justice. It only remains to stand firm with our fellow travellers in the knowledge that our values are on the ascent. It’s time to get to work!