Hidden Convenors

Hidden Convenors

Talking Sticks 

I’m fascinated by the idea of ‘Hidden Convenors’.  People or organisations with an opportunity to bring people together, yet who for some reason do not.

Take for example a couple of increasingly well-known business people I’ve seen many times this year.  One sold their business a year or two ago and spends a great deal of time as a ‘guest’, and very little time as a ‘host’.  Granted, their speeches are great, and they have a terrific ability to light up a room.  When I think of the people they know, I keep imagining how brilliant their events (or salons, or breakfasts) would be.  I can’t help thinking that they’re missing an opportunity to create massive value for everyone they choose to invite.  For old time’s sake, they could event give a speech at their own event!

Another Hidden Convenor is the BIG Lottery Fund.  Granted, they are (first and foremost), a funder, however just think about their potential to bring people together.

They did this yesterday, and I was inspired by the results. 

The cause in the spotlight was the newly-formed New Day Foundation.  This group of ex-gang-members from Birmingham have come together to inspire young people in the area not to go down the same path which led a number of them into prison. 

In the words of one of the co-founders, Sharif;

“During a quite heavy prison sentence, I came to my senses one day and realised I would rather be a part of the solution, than a part of the problem, and decided I want to see CHANGE and a better way forward in my community.  I  have lived what some would call a dark life and I do not want my youths, your youths, our youths living life in that same darkness. I want their futures to be BRIGHT and that is now my life’s dedication”

They have already been helped by a former MP and minister, the super-smart James Purnell, who introduced the team.

To help them, BIG created an event for the founders of New Day to tell their story and we broke out into a number of smaller groups on themes from social media to networking, training, social enterprise and publicity.   There was an amazing buzz in the room, and you really got the impression (I hope correctly!) that we were helping the team.  In addition to meeting the group (who were impressive, dynamic and committed to their cause), we got to meet our fellow guests, were given tremendous food for thought and strengthened our relationship with the team at BIG. 

What might future events look like, from BIG or other funders (NESTA, Untld, Esmee Fairbairn?). 

Here are a few ideas, some of which I’m sure are already being considered or may have been tried before;

1)  Consider having multiple (perhaps three) causes in the hot-seat on any one event.

2)  Allow people to participate virtually as well as physically.  This would involve a pre-recording from the relevant founders – a short video explaining who they are and what they are looking for help with.  ‘Virtual’ guests could chip in advice and helpful connections online before, during and after the gathering.

3)  Explore a rewards scheme for participants.  For my time yesterday, I would gain a Green Badge (for example) signifying that I had contributed my time to one event.  These could be built up and would recognise the contribution of community members.

4) See the guests (virtual and physical) as a potential network.  One thing which would increase my desire to give another couple of hours to a future event would be the chance to cross paths with other ‘network members’ again.  This (in my view) is more appealing than a series of one-off encounters, although of course you need fresh guests too!

5)  Turn this from a one-off experiment into a series of formatted events.  Think of a great name for the series or ‘technique’ which will inspire others to get involved and even emulate.

What have I missed?

Is your organisation a Hidden Convenor?  Are you personally? 

Do you know someone who spends 100% of their time at events with a ‘Guest’ badge on, yet never takes their turn as the ‘Host’.

Maybe they think that ‘hosting’ is what ‘other people’ do.  It’s not for them.  It’s too fiddly, time-consuming, stressful perhaps.  Not ‘their thing’ at all.  They simply don’t think of themselves as ‘an organiser’.  They are a ‘business owner’, a ‘journalist’.  They have ‘a day job’.

What is really stopping them? 

What is stopping you? 

Finally, what other tips do you have for Hidden Convenors, and who else have you spotted doing a good job of this?

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