Finding Meaning

Meaning Conference is an annual gathering of people that believe business has a critical role to play in creating a more sustainable, equitable and humane world.

By Mandy Barker

I attending Meaning this year as I know the positive impact conferences can have on mindset and business decisions. They inspire, connect and enable you to reflect. I attended with social photographer Jo Coates, and wanted to share some key highlights (although there were many)!

Meaning is a community of brave individuals, curious people, and those who want to share conversations and ideas. We started the day with host and first speaker Nilofer Merchant discussing the problem with power and status. Often (particularly in traditional structures) power defines if ideas are heard. We are now at a point when this is changing, but we still must make a conscious effort across all levels to ensure everyone is heard. This has many benefits.

 

So, how do you do this? Through participation not facilitation, disturbance not direction, fellowship not followship, co-creation, and distribution of power. Do it by encouraging belonging. Listen. ‘I see you’ is powerful. Valuing others in this way, creates value. Be open. Process not outcomes. Put others and audiences first and at the heart, always.

We also heard from the awesome Clare Farrell of Extinction rebellion, who spoke from the heart, with logic, truth and action. Clare spoke about the importance of anger and pissing people off, to create noise, and change. We love what ER stand for. They have put purpose first and grown organically by doing this. They are about collaboration and community, they have clarity but heart, and, they sign off their emails with ‘in love and rage’ (LOVE). If you want to impact change, find what you want to change, find your tribe, make noise, and do it together.

 

Miatta Fahnbulleh continued the discussion on the climate crisis, presenting climate change is a symptom of an economic system that we have created. A system that does not work for most people, and is negatively affecting communities across the world. We are living in a time when the wage has stagnated for the past 10 years but prices have risen. Our living standards are lower than they were in 2008. 1 in 3 children live in poverty. Inequality is rising. 10% of UK households own 48% of the countries wealth. The cost of all this, is human suffering. We cannot afford NOT to do anything. We need fundamental and radical change. We can do this by starting small. Miatta Fahnbulleh said we can do this by bringing it back to local place – local people, local business, local organisations. Put local at the heart of place to encourage radical devolution and systematic change. This will start to radically transform the economy. What can you do to be more local?

Jennifer Brandel was my favourite speaker. As a journalist who is flipping journalism on its head, Jennifer believes that every individual is worthy of being heard. Traditionally, journalism is focussed on ‘telling’ the public, organisation Hearken work differently to shift strategy and culture, putting audiences at the heart of all decisions (shifting the power). As Jennifer said, ‘the public have more ideas and collective intelligence than the people in our newsrooms.’ Putting audiences first brings feedback loops, relevance, meaning and advocacy (and local impact). It provides a platform for audiences to share stories that matter to them. This I strongly related to, as it is how we work at Sail.

Public powered, civic engagement and co-creation is proven not only to work, but to work better. This inspires people to connect, and sparks change. It also brings a balanced eco system that makes everything better through value, trust and support.

 

Organisations also benefit from putting teams and people at their heart. Today, many entrepreneurs understand their businesses to be more than objects. They view ownership as a job and a great responsibility. And they understand organisations as networks of collaborative people. Armin Steuernagel discussed ownership, and how this is changing. Currently, we are living through and working for those with private ownership, built for the wealth of a few. Why is this still the case? In an economy where we have more purpose first and socially driven organisations than ever before, the private model doesn’t make a lot of sense. Rethinking Ownership was an opportunity to reflect on new organisational models and structures. This new model operates in a similar way to cooperative structures but also includes an asset lock, so the business cannot be sold for the wealth of a few. This is steward (employee) ownership. This model brings advantage to the whole team and the organisation through longer survival, intrinsic motivations, bigger profits, employee retention, strengthened focus and purpose, and, emotional commitment. Armin showed evidence that this model of ownership leads to healthier, more resilient businesses whose long-term success stories speak for themselves.

It may take a long time to trial this and reach an effective model, but I truly believe steward owned organisations are the future. Denmark has over 1000 and it’s growing. If you have the right people that align with your purpose you cannot fail. This is something Sail is looking into (as this was my heart when I first started the business). Any ambassadors out there, or any recommended books/articles on this please shout! We are looking to explore this and find out as much as we can, starting with ‘Reinventing Organisations.

 

To conclude, I was blown away by the quality fo the speakers. I came away positively overwhelmed, reflective and connected; with lots to digest. There were many highlights throughout Meaning, I recommend it. It gave me optimism, actionable changes, and is truly heartwarming.

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