for what it’s worth

stories and stimulus from a consumer insight consultant

Cameron Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity – offers real food for thought

I go to loads of events, conferences and talks, and although I always have the best intentions I very rarely get round to writing up my notes for you to enjoy. This time however the talk I went to this evening was so amazing it would be wrong not to share! The event was at the RSA to honour Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of the truly incredible Architecture for Humanity, with the RSA 2009 Bicentenary Medal.

I’ve been a fan of the non-profit design organization for a while now, ever since I learned about their tsunami relief project (thanks to Design Museum’s Designer of the Year competition) and love getting their newsletters and wishing I was clever enough to enter their design competitions, but this was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see Sinclair in action – and I think I love him!

The video gives you a pretty good overview of the way the organization works, and is definitely worth watching – but it was the content of his talk that was even more powerful. Here are my jumbled notes, I hope they make some sense and give a bit of an insight what was a truly eye-opening and inspirational hour it was, and I highly recommend you watch the video when it’s up on the RSA site (probably in a week or so)

– Architecture for Humanity has helped somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million people so far

– It is a decentralised network of people using their architectural skills to make a difference – 72 local chapters 5383 volunteers – they were surprised to find that the majority are licensed architects (67%) [ie not students], 62% are female, average age is 32 years, 15% are British, and there’s a 50/50 split between those from developed and developing countries

– Aftermath of Katrina was ‘criminal neglect from US government’

– ‘don’t just be the change – be the bank’ – allow people access to funds directly
Lots of the African Americans in New Orleans owned their houses outright (had been passed down through generations) so didn’t have mortgage = didn’t have credit rating, so got nothing to rebuild

– A4H created a library of skills for/ with residents – swapping practical skills – invisible economy coming up to help each other. They found that lots of architects were turning up just to get involved and help rebuild the community

if you don’t build it it doesn’t exist – you can’t just design it you have to build it

– One graphic design student converted 70 pages of government policy into a one page visualisation – this was so powerful for the government A4H managed to force change in policy

– Needed to create homes to be sustainable – to help the families afford the insurance and the energy bills- being sustainable as a way to create equity

– There are 4bn people in emerging middle class – spending money on healthcare, improving homes and education

– In this century we’re going to double the number of structures on this earth – it’s  pretty exciting time to be an architect

– Creative commons architectural ideas – 21000 people involved so far

– A4H ran a competition to design a classroom for the future – connecting with local schools – teachers and students being part of the design team – creating site specific ideas. 1000 teams entered from 65 nations, 250 schools got new designs

– some recent projects: Skatistan, Plastiki, The Homeless World Cup in Brazil

– some brilliant points:

  • It’s better to be the tugboat than the oiltanker – we can move much faster with the ebb and flow
  • It’s better to have 5billion clients than 50
  • Culture is an aspect of sustainability – everything is local – people interpret religion, community in diff ways
  • A strong society creates strong economy
  • There is no such thing as the 3rd world
  • Your client is your design expert
  • Ethics is aesthetics
  • We build communities not destinations
  • Instigate the no asshole policy – don’t work with them, don’t take money from them, don’t hire them

Filed under: collaborative working, creative ideas, good, Uncategorized, , , , ,


picture from flickr, mdanys photostream

Looking for a way to create social value from the fascination with reality talent shows, BBC’s youth-focused digital channel BBC Three are launching a programme called Britain’s Young Butcher Of The Year, that aims to celebrate the “the unsung young heroes of professions that don’t tend to attract public recognition”.

According to the press release:

The search is on for the UK’s top young butcher in this ambitious new format which celebrates the millions of young British workers whose skills aren’t the kind to win them a million-pound recording contract.

Borrowing from the conventions of glossy TV talent shows, the series aims to find the best the UK has to offer by staging big entertaining events that home in on one industry or profession in each episode.

Along with Young Butcher, other episodes will include the hunt for Britain’s Young Hairdresser and Young Chef of the year.

The hopefuls are put through a series of tough elimination rounds designed to test their skills to the limit – until the final two go head-to-head in one last, brutally hard challenge to claim the title of Young … of the Year 2009.

(picture from flickr)

Filed under: entertainment, ,



Think you’d do a good job of running London? Brand Republic reports on a new social networking venture that encourages Londoners to run against Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson in the chance to become the next Mayor of London. has been set up to allow any individual to nominate themselves as an independent candidate for the Mayoral election on May 1st and promote themselves within the social media space.londonmayor

Interested parties can set up a profile on the website stating their election manifesto with views on everything from crime to culture, and anyone can join up as a member which enables them to then vote for their chosen candidate. The nominee with the most votes on the site will be announced on March 28 and will then receive a generous £50,000 in funding for their deposit and election campaign, apparently provided ‘by anonymous members of the public, who believe that the time is right to bring politics back to the people’.

LondonelectsYOU is the first phase of the ELEXU concept. It is a social networking tool and a platform for ordinary people to use to bring politics back to the people. It’s about providing people with a VOICE and CHOICE in what is otherwise a limited and controlled political process. Left or Right, Red or Blue that’s the way it’s always been…, until now that is. As consumers we demand choice, we demand 1000 different TV programmes, we demand hundreds of different types of mobile phones, different foods and delicacies yet extraordinarily we are content to leave the most important choice of all (that which governs our lives) to a selection of Left or Right, Red or Blue. It is now time for people to take back this control and shape their own destiny.

The metric for the success of this site is not about whether our candidate becomes Mayor or not, it’s not about whether we have 1 candidate or 1000 candidates or 20 advertisers or zero. It’s about shaping the debate, empowering and inspiring people to come forward and challenge the system. It’s about creating VOICE and CHOICE. With your help and your friends help we can do just that.

Filed under: collaborative working, , ,



According to MSNBC, Google have announced that they are offering every homeless person in San Francisco a phone number and voicemail to help them get back on their feet. The number given will be theirs for life and messages will be able to be picked up from any phone, with no indication to the caller that the service is different from any other voicemail system. Working with the City of San Francisco, Google launched the scheme at a Project Homeless Connect event on Wednesday.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Google said they want to empower people. “How do you communicate as a homeless individual? ” Newsom asked. “How do you expect your life to turn around if you can’t even get information or if someone can’t even get in touch with you?”

“It just seems exactly like any other voice mail,” said Craig Walker, senior project manager of Google. “There’s no stigma attached to it that ‘hey this is a temporary thing’ or ‘this is an 800 number.’ It’s really just a local number owned by the user.”

“We’re firm believers in the power of technology to improve the daily lives of individuals and communities as a whole, and we recognize that access to phone and voicemail services is one way that Google can help San Francisco’s homeless stay connected with family, friends, social workers, health care providers, and potential employers.”

If the program is successful in San Francisco the plan is to offer it to homeless people in cities across the state and country.

However, it looks like Google might be making good promotional use of the already succesful Project CARE (Communications and Respect for Everybody) Program created by clever number aggregation service GrandCentral that Google acquired last year. Project CARE first hit the news in April 2006 offering the same free voicemail number for life service, and by October had registered more than 1,000 of the estimated 7,000 homeless in San Francisco. So the question is- is this just a Google PR stunt, or a case of poor journalism at MSNBC?

MSNBC: Google gives all SF Homeless Free Voicemail

Filed under: good, ,



Yesterday’s Guardian Media Briefing pointed me to The Newspaper House, a public art installation as social and environmental statement currently under construction in East London. Over a one-week period artist Sumer Erek in partnership with Creative City and a team of helpful volunteers, is erecting a five-metre tall house made entirely out of freesheet newspapers contributed by members of the public. The frame for the building is currently being put in place in Dalston’s Gillett Square, built of course from sustainably sourced wood, ready for the week-long paper extravaganza which starts next Monday. The project’s MySpace page explains further:

‘ London has a growing problem with the large quantities of free newspapers that clutter our streets and public transport. Tube passengers alone discard approximately nine-and-a-half tonnes of freesheet newspapers a day.

This is a lot of paper. What do about it?

On March 3rd, sculptor and installation artist Sumer Erek will construct a (5 m3) ‘House’ in Gillett Square, out of newspapers brought by members of the public. Visitors will insert their own observations, secrets, etc into the newspapers and add them to the structure. In this way, the public connects with the Newspaper House; their action is a contribution to the building of a public project.

The Newspaper House as an interactive public artwork is an opportunity to invite the public to participate and actually be involved in creating an artwork.

The theme of the project is “the city is our home” and as well as being an art work in its own right – exploring a variety of themes around the concept of “house” and the materiality of paper, the notion of waste and value – the project also encourages people to think about protecting and improving the environment, so that we can enjoy a cleaner, healthier world, together with a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood, and a wish of all to make it a pleasant place to live in.’


Getting in on the action, online campaign Project Freesheet took to the streets last night to collect up as many discarded papers as possible within two hours. the 70 volunteers collected close to 8000 free papers- weighing in at 800kg of paper – all of which will be used in the Newspaper House, and then we assume recycled? Despite the project’s huge environmental statement that is being proudly supported by the local Hackney Council, there is so far no mention of what will happen after the big unveiling, nor of the glue being used to hold every rolled-up paper in place or the plastic strips being used to bind each bundle- we can only assume that these are biodegradable and it has all been planned with the highest eco-morals. Otherwise isn’t it just a case of greenwashing for artistic purposes?

Visit The Newspaper House from Monday

Filed under: arts & culture, clever promotion, ,

CREDO offers Mobile Social Activism

CREDO Mobile (the new incarnation of Working Assets Wireless), claims to be the first US mobile service that turns the everyday act of using your phone into a tool for social change, not only through the company’s donation of 1 percent of all call charges to your choice of what they call ‘socially progressive organizations’ (Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, Greenpeace…) but also via mobile text activism campaigns through their Flash Activist Network (FAN). For an extra $3 per month members of CREDO’s FAN can get immediate updates on public issues and call in to have their say and influence decisions.

‘Throughout the year, the Flash Activist Network (FAN) monitors critical issues as they unfold. Whenever it’s decision time, FAN will contact you by phone, fax or e-mail. Your choice.

As soon as you get the message, call our toll-free FAN number for details. Then simply press a button to be transferred to the decision-maker or to have a personalized fax sent in your name — at no extra cost. It’s that simple.’

To highlight their socially progressive stance and political activist aims, CREDO teamed up with SS+K who, alongside installation artist Paul Notzold at TXTualhealing and production team Neverstop, created a piece of ‘political theatre’ through text projection guerrilla stunts around San Francisco where passers-by were encouraged to speak their mind by filling in the empty speech bubbles next to caricatures of Bush and Cheney that were projected onto blank walls in the Castro, SOMA and Union Square districts.

The resulting video of the first event shows the reaction by locals to the campaign:

Whilst most comments were unsurprisingly meant for crude and controversial entertainment, some people were clearly making use of the blank canvas to make more resonant points. It could be interesting to compare the range of reactions from further events planned for 2008 as the campaign continues.

CREDO Mobile

Filed under: good, products with a purpose, ,

Fashion as Rehabilitation

The Times reports on an Italian cooperative known as Project Alice that is teaching rehabilitation to inmates in Milanese prisons through the art of fashion design.

‘Rehabilitation in Italy comes in a fashionable form, you see. You may be
serving 15 years for murder but that’s no reason to let standards slip. Female inmates at this Milanese secure unit have the option to take a course in fashion design. Last week they held a fashion show in the prison grounds to show off creations by Alberta Ferretti and Pollini, and are set to collaborate with major Italian designers such as Anna Molinari of Blumarine’.

Having already created costumes for both TV and La Scala theatre productions, the project teaches both design and production, aiming to instill useable skills to help the women make something of their lives. Up next is the inmates creation of their own fashion brand, led by the guidance of Anna Molinari, which will be available in stores within the next couple of months under the label Gatti
Galeotti –

With celebrities finding it increasingly hard to stay out of prison, maybe this is the start of a whole new trend- incarceration chic??!

Update – ABC shows the first Gatti Galeotti fashion show in 2008

Filed under: creative ideas, products with a purpose,

M + F Girbaud Advertise for Peace


French label Marithè + François Girbaud are no strangers to creating controversial advertising campaigns, and having previously focussed on religion and war, the design duo have decided to use their new season’s adverts to promote a future of hope and peace for children in war-torn areas. Teenagers from Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan and Rwanda are shown in the photographs wearing adult-sized pieces from the s/s 2007 collection whilst happily sewing seeds into fields.

The images portray the designers’ partnership with Seeds of Peace, a non-profit organization that aims to educate and empower young people from regions of conflict to develop empathy, respect and peace among the next generation of leaders. As their newly-appointed official sponsor, Marithé+François Girbaud will also design a special line of SoP clothing which will only be available on the website, with 100% of proceeds
benefiting Seeds of Peace.

A worthy cause to promote, lets hope the campaign – which is due to get lots of exposure thanks to it featuring in glossy magazines and on billboards throughout the world – makes more people take stock of the importance of peace for the next generation.

Filed under: ads that caught my eye, good, products with a purpose,

Cruel 2 B Kind- Watch Out for Compliments

Picture_16Beware- random compliments handed out in the street are really people trying to kill you! A new street game called Cruel 2 B Kind uses acts of kindness as secret weapons to assasinate their targets- the difference though is that players don’t know who they’re looking for. Each team receives a personally assigned secret weapon and secret weakness meaning their is only one target hidden in the crowds of the very public areas where the games are held.

“Your secret weapon is the act of kindness you perform on suspected targets. Example: Praise your targets’ shoes. If you perform this weapon on the correct target, they will surrender. If you perform this weapon on other players who are not your target, they will say “You are too kind.” If you perform this weapon on non-targets – well, we have no idea what might happen!”

The idea behind the events that were launched in New York in September is to encourage people to interact in a positive way within public spaces- players must approach strangers within the gaming area and use their secret weapon to score points and stay in the game.

Creator Jane McGonigal is a game designer and researcher (and recently named on MIT Technology Review’s 2006 list of Top Innovators under the age of 35 who are changing the world through technology) who is looking for ways to draw people out of their shells and interact with the community around them- “I feel that games are a powerful way to build connections, to add to the quality of life…Compliments are very powerful. I think giving them out contributes to public wellbeing”.

Look out for the next game which will be held in London’s Soho this Saturday Dec 9th. With so many christmas shoppers around it should make for a very interesting experiment in social behaviour- I’m tempted just to go and watch!

Some players will be slain by a serenade. Others will be killed by a compliment. You and your partner might be taken down by an innocent group cheer. Will innocents be caught in the cross-fire? Oh, yes. But when your secret weapon is a random act of kindness, it’s only cruel to be kind
to other players…

Filed under: creative ideas, good, stuff on the streets, ,


I knew we were heading the same way as NYC and making London non-smoking but I didn’t realise it was being done by area! SmokefreeIslington is a website celebrating Islington businesses who have decided to enforce the smoking ban already, alongside news and information on quitting.

“Islington Primary Care Trust strongly supports the view that a smokefree borough would benefit the health of all Islington residents. The Smokefree Team aims to make Islington the first smokefree borough in London.”

It seems like lots of local business are on board with this scheme so they may well achieve their goal, and good luck to them- I hope all other London boroughs start their own schemes soon.

  • SmokefreeIslington
  • Filed under: ads that caught my eye, , ,