RSA Day of Inspiration: my notes

I attended the RSA’s ‘Day of Inspiration‘ today, marking 250 years since the RSA was founded.

I imagine a full transcript of the day’s talks will appear online in due course, and I’ll add a link to it from this posting then.

So rather than try to replicate what will be done better elsewhere, here are my unedited notes, sacrificing comprehensiveness — and possible comprehensibility and accuracy — at the altar of speed.

The only changes I have made is to add italics to show where the notes are my own twisted impressions rather than a quote or paraphrase from a speaker, to correct typos, and to reproduce the Douglas Coupland quote from his book (I couldn’t write that fast). Obviously the hyperlinks are also later additions.

Michael Buerk
In 1754 altruism without enterprise behind it was seen as mere sermonising.

Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks
Starbucks is a different kind of company. Social conscience. Balance profitability and community value. Employ 90,000 people. All have health insurance and stock options. Fracturing of umanity across the world. Starbucks has created trust and shared its success with its people. Sense of community in stores makes them an extension of your home.

Ian Livingstone, Eidos
Lots of sanctimonious bollocks moaning about British culture, lack of entrepreneurship and how wacky and creative he is in bucking this trend. Young people are our future. They have new ideas. Old people are stuffy. Let’s trust young people. DTI ignores creative industries, apparently (hmmm and hmmm again). We should be non-hierarchical like him, lead by example, project our enthusiasm. Self-mythologising his own ‘struggle’.

Sir Adrian Cadbury
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Have to have clarity about what they’re really doing this for. He says listen to Howard from Starbucks. But it is he who shows genuine humility in the face of the complexity of the issues. You may have to move jobs abroad to keep the business going. The key is how you do it: giving them notice, retraining etc.

Barbara Cassani, Entrepreneur
You have to have a good idea for your business in the first place.

Matthew Gwyther, Management Today
CSR is not new: ask Sir Adrian Cadbury. If you treat it as a PR activity, people will spot this.

Richard Donkin, FT
Lots of companies see their people as their biggest cost, not an asset.

Tim Smit, Eden Project
Much of this discussion is 5 or 10 years out of date. Businesses need to go ‘beyond compliance’ with CSR.

Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal
People focus on small risks, like wearing goggles when playing conkers, but ignore the big ones. Focus on diseases of rich people, but not those of the millions in poverty. The creators of the atomic bomb did not say they were ‘just scientists’, but remained engaged with arms limitation after WWII. Extra terrestrials observing the whole of the planet’s history would see a big spike of activity in the last century. What would they see next? Hard to enforce regulations on science: what can be done will be done. Public debate on embryology worked well; that on GM crops did not because it was drawn along lines of commercial interest too early.

Lord (Robert) Winston
We have failed to have a serious debate about nuclear energy and waste. All science students should have ethics classes. Concerned about scientists who poo-poo religious values as a ‘virus of the mind’ (attack on Dawkins?). Need to feminise science, especially the physical sciences.

Baroness (Mary) Warnock
Bio ethics decisions are public decisions. You need to know the facts. Children need to be taught morality of common good, a moral language. They need to know what it is to see a temptation and resist it. Rambling.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, neuroscientist
People like to read scare stories like MMR vaccine, though the original finding has been contradicted since.

Peter Jones, Biffa
One billion rich people on the planet are running it as though there were three billion people rather than six.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster
Scientists can be as dogmatic as the church used to be. God made humankind in his own image. We are created. Quotes Douglas Coupland from Life After God: “Now—Here is my secret. I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem to beyond being able to love.” We need to aim for the transcendent.

Alison Richard, Vice Chancellor, University of Cambridge
Universities are the gold standard of reason, so you might think they should be secular, but the discussion has shown that the reverse is true.

Robert Winston
The fact that we are created in God’s image is what makes life sacred.

Sir Shridath (Sunny) Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary General
We should see the world as an holistic entity. Repeat this statement several times with padding. There is a lot of poverty. There is global crime. And terrorism. We need to overcome disparities to make development more sustainable. Quote from Barbara Ward (?) “Every man has two countries: his own and the planet”. Unilateralism won’t work. Global civilisation is indispensible to … something or other. The nation state is not going to go away.

Alison Richard, Vice Chancellor, University of Cambridge
We educate tomorrow’s leaders. Students need to be equipped to follow careers around the world. But at the moment English universities have to attract overseas students not out of internationalism, but to balance the books. UK enterprise tends to focus on working in some parts of the world (Asia, US, Western Europe) but not others (Eastern Europe, Middle East).

Maria Polachowska, Newsnight, BBC, but speaking personally
Worked in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Hackney. Agrees that our perspective should be more global, and the media should help.

Lowri Jenkins, Student, Atlantic College, Cardiff
As a student, feels lucky and priveleged to be part of a college that explicitly promotes interationalism. We need to sacrifice some luxuries to make global trade more equal and just.

Penny Egan, RSA
We need to educate people for work — RSA was first to create an examination board — and now that means lifelong learning.

Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty
Global citizenship may be an over-ambitious term, since we have trouble defining national citizenship. Prefers common humanity. The idea of rights based on human dignity, equality and fairness is a good place to start.

Lord (Alec) Broers, President, Royal Academy of Engineering
Advances in transport, medecine and weaponry have had greater impact than other sexier technologies. These should be spread to the third world. UK has fallen behind in application of technology. Universities and companies should make social judgements about which technologies should be developed, and they should be seen to do so. Then they would be trusted. It’s a mark of failure when government has to step in.

Daniel Brown, “Internet designer”
The Internet can be divisive if there is a lack of access. But its potential for enabling people globally is phenomenal.

Robert Winston
Don’t see Socrates as a touchstone for citizenship. He was part of an aggressive Hellenistic empire.

Lord (Claus) Moser
We have a lot of international organisations, which have proliferated since WWII. Have these been a waste of time?

Sunny Ramphal
No. It’s just that in the past 5 or so years, there has been a lack of respect for global law. This will change. To help it change, we need a clear vision. And don’t blame Socrates for the society in which he lived — after all its leaders had him killed.

Richard Donkin, FT
The trouble is that there is no means of enforcing global law.

Lord Puttnam
Resilient communities. Splits his time between London and Skibbereen (County Cork). Young people in Skibbereen tempted to move to Cork, Dublin or further afield to advance their careers. Work-life balance will become central to political discourse. We are only consumers some of the time. Society needs to stop and reflect on where it’s going. In 20 years people will be staggered at how male and metropolitan our society was in 2004.

Penny Mansfield, One Plus One
More children born into circumstances where there was never any stable relationship. In resilient families, parents spend more time with their children, but there are lots of pressures that prevent this.

Points from the floor:—

  • Much educational policy (e.g. on audit) often stifles creativity.
  • Resilient communities form around employment. Need to reform land registry.
  • Global warming. Global governance is seen as impractical, though we have it by default. We need to improve global governance to address and politicise global issues. This is not a call for global government, but for more accountable international institutions.
    There is a crisis building out of the way individual states govern global issues, through temporary alliances of national self-interest.
  • Promote the Millenium Development Goals.
  • We need to be less obsessed with economic growth because it’s making us ill (e.g. obesity).
  • To argue, as Howard Schultz did, that “It’s not what you do, but how much you care” is sanctimonious claptrap.
    Universities are being swamped by managerialism.

Tim Smit, Creator of Eden Project
Too much reverence given to the past: things get renovated to death. Fear of the future. In 500 generations we have seen 50 civilisations rise and fall
idea for museum where visitor experience leads to realisation that our civilisation is buggered. Because then they might do something about it. Lloyd George “you don’t cross a giant chasm in small steps”. We need to make a giant leap to have the bravery and courage to prove that we’re homo sapiens and can work with the grain of nature.

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