TWB conference opens the door to an extraordinary future

TWB conference opens the door to an extraordinary future

Written by Nick Torday on Fri 04 Nov 2016

We have been curating and shaping the Together We’re Better community for nearly five years, and now have over 1500 members. In late September 2016 we embarked on the latest stage in that journey with our inaugural conference.

We hosted this at Bounce in Shoreditch - we were the third business to run a major event there after Google and Microsoft so we felt like we were in reasonably good company...

In all honesty we couldn't have hoped for a better and more inspirational roster of speakers. Over 100 delegates, were delighted by talks ranging from digital inclusion, through to distributed socio-economic models, the blockchain and everything in between. 

Purpose + data = great content

The day got off to the perfect start with the excellent Bea Karol Burks from the Tinder Foundation, previously CDO at Citizens Advice, extolling the virtue of truly purpose-driven and user-centred content. Her work is primarily focused on meeting the needs of those on the social margins, whether through age, income or ability - people inherently with a “limited digital vocabulary” - and designing content and digital services to meet their needs and help them achieve their goals.

Staying in the world of progressive content design and publishing, we then heard from Buzzfeed’s Luke Lewis, who launched the disruptive global news network in the UK and Europe in 2013. He began with his statement of intent that Buzzfeed are “obsessed with data” and have channeled that obsession to create a truly distributed media network that has in many ways rewritten the rulebook for the creation and consumption of content. Luke cited the Stanford rape survivor letter which was given to Buzzfeed as an exclusive and translated into five languages, facilitating a global conversation on sexual violence with over 20 million views. 

Pushing the boundaries

After a break for coffee and chat, we were then delighted to welcome Jo Wolfe from Breast Cancer Care, a long-time friend of the TWB gang and a highly regarded digital innovator in the not-for-profit world. Jo spoke about changing cultural perceptions to innovation within charities, focusing on the BECCA application that her team have developed to support women living with breast cancer in the post-diagnostic phase. She gave salient advice not only on user-centred product development but also on navigating the funding landscape to ensure that what you build is sustainable.

Next up was Mark Masterson, who heads up the Google Launchpad startup program in Europe. Mark began with the assertion that he was “intending to blow people’s minds” which, in fairness, he duly did! The main thrust of his talk was around the transition from the broadcast to conversational paradigm - a transition powered by technology and digital media - which has now extended itself into a wider social, economic and political context. He also touched on specific technological innovations that had the potential to fundamentally reconstruct the basic architecture of how people, businesses and ultimately nation states interact with one another - not least of which is the blockchain, which led neatly into our next speaker.

Rhodri Davies is one of the UK’s leading thinkers on blockchain technology and its potential impact on philanthropy and social impact organisations. If Mark had already tested the intellectual resilience of the crowd, Rhodri now took us even deeper into uncharted territory!

The synopsis of Rhodri’s talk was as follows: “Blockchain can fundamentally transform the nature of charity and the way people can support charities. Its key features are transparency and openness. This means ledgers are public, individual donations can be traced all the way through the system from deposit to beneficiary. It’s called radical transparency.”

At a time when trust in the charitable sector is at record lows and the clamour for more transparent and accountable organisations is widespread, the blockchain principle represents an extraordinary future vision. However, with the opportunity comes a huge existential consideration - will the blockchain disintermediate the charities themselves - placing the donor in direct contact with the beneficiary?

Challenging the status quo

An excellent lunch was followed by the wonderful Angharad Mackenzie from charity: water, the much heralded ‘disruptor’ of the NGO world. At only ten years’ old, charity: water has raised $210 million, has 1 million supporters around the world and is now a registered charity in the UK. 

Angharad focused on two of the organisations most defining principles - incredible storytelling and total transparency, largely enabled by their extraordinary 100% model which means all operational costs are covered by core major donors rather than general giving. They have achieved all of their success through a rigorous focus on audience, content, data and relationship building, with very few ‘traditional’ NGO management practices in play to dilute their purpose.

The final speaker of the day was David Magliano from the Guardian, the man who has been responsible for piloting the pioneering membership scheme that the newspaper has implemented to arrest declining print circulation and advertising revenues. 

The Guardian is approaching its 200th anniversary and needed to think of a genuinely sustainable future that didn’t involve putting its award-winning journalism behind a paywall. David’s team have been testing a tiered membership model for a couple of years and are finally starting to see traction, including “piloting an embedded ask in high profile articles, such as our recent Brexit coverage, which prompted donations of £250,000. It’s a model that we’re constantly adapting to make it sustainable, and secure our future.”

After David’s talk we reunited all the speakers for a closing panel session, during which we tied together all the threads that had emerged throughout the day. For me the key themes from the TWB Conference 2016 were as follows:

  • Your content should be an honest and evidenced reflection of your audience - you should never compromise on trying to meet the needs of real people.
  • Building a culture of innovation within a traditionally conservative organisation is hard work, but ultimately rewarding and essential to drive progressive change.
  • Radical transparency should be the aspiration of any organisation raising public money to achieve social impact - it is what consumers / supporters expect and ultimately - if they don’t get it from you - they will look elsewhere.
  • Publishing revenue models are being cannibalised by digital - thinking laterally around the relationship between data and content and exploring membership models gives you options to move forwards with.

The feedback we’ve had from the day has been consistently great - fortunately it seems everyone enjoyed it as much as we did. 

“Just a quick note to both thank you and congratulate you on a wonderful conference yesterday. It was a fantastic venue with a brilliant and inspirational range of speakers that put you in just the right frame of mind to think differently about current topics.” - Attendee

Tweet feedback from TWB Conference

The Together We’re Better Conference will be returning in September 2017, and we’ll also continue with our seminar programme next year. Stay up to date with the latest from the community by signing up to our newsletter, and following @twbtweets. Videos, blog summaries and slides from this year’s conference are available from the resources page.