On collaboration as a social justice issue


Last week I gave a talk at a meetup hosted by Ladies Wine and Design Edinburgh and Creative Pints who invited a group of people to drink some beer and talk about collaboration. I really struggled with how to approach the topic because I knew the audience would be distanced from my usual creative crowd- I definitely didn’t recognise any of the other speakers and I didn’t really recognise anyone tweeting about the event. I was right: it was a new group to me with heavy advertising and creative agency presence. But I met some really great people, learned a lot from some of the other speakers and had my suspicions confirmed that there’s a lot of broing out going on in the advertising/creative agency industries. (God bless you sisters working in agency environments. Stay strong, blink twice if you need help.)

I had some rough notes ready. I wanted to introduce the audience to the feel of working in the public sector and with charities, talk about local democracy and the importance of collaboration there. But I switched it up a bit as a reaction to some of the talks that went before mine, talks that relied on pornographic images for effect and were generally coated in a lotta T. I felt uncomfortable and confused and angry and I wanted to drop a short, sharp bomb to diffuse the atmosphere and shake it up a bit. Here’s what I said, audio typed from the livestream of the last half of the evening.


Hi everyone. I’m Leah and I’m going to take you to a wildly different place than we’ve been to so far tonight and I’m going to do it very quickly.

I work for a small non-profit called the Democratic Society and despite the name, we don’t have anything to do with party politics or voting. We’re an organisation that focuses on shortening the distance between people like you and me, citizens in communities and the organisations and institutions that affect our everyday lives like local government, central government or large charities.

I want to talk about collaboration in a much different way than has been talked about tonight and I want to issue a provocation that will hopefully get you thinking about collaboration in a different way than you do in your type of work.

In my work, I consider collaboration to be a responsibility and I consider it to be an obligation. The first reason for that is because the sectors I work in are cash strapped. They’re quite poor, resource poor and time poor. We rely on each other to get things done, especially innovative things. I work with technology and I try to encourage public services to use social media, the internet and different digital technologies in better ways to interact with people like us and to include us in their decision-making. That’s quite difficult in the sectors I’m in and we have be together and work together to be innovative.

The second reason is…in my day-to-day work I encourage people, I encourage institutions and I encourage citizens to interact with each other. I would be a monster with a terrible business model if I didn’t also do that same thing. There’s something about building trust by leading by example and collaboration is at the core of everything I do. It’s part of the reason I’m not up here sharing stories tonight because I’d be up here all night talking about what I do every day.

And the third reason is the provocation I want to issue to you. I think about collaboration as a social justice issue. I’m a 40-year-old middle class white woman with access to policy makers. I have an absolute responsibility to all of us to collaborate, to even the playing ground and to reach people who don’t have the privilege I have and who probably don’t have the privilege that all of us have in this room.

So that’s the provocation I want to issue to all of you who might work in much different sector or industry (for profit, marketing, advertising): You have privilege. How are you using that privilege in collaborations to even the playing field and reach people who don’t have the privilege you do?

And that’s all I want to say.

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