Something that I deeply admire and am inspired by with Fearless Futures is how unapologetically political you are in the context of sexism and racism and their intersecting nature. How are you able to do this so fearlessly despite working with schools and corporates who shy away from the political?
It’s funny because I think that we feel that we’re not enough but lots of people say that we are. So I think one of the things is that I’m obviously a white person and I think that gives me, in particular, huge license in meetings with corporate clients to say things where there isn’t that opportunity to say it when you’re a person of colour in the experiences that I have had. So I think that’s one thing that’s quite important to acknowledge. And I think the second thing is also the fact that I was an investment banker and I think lots of people therefore they might have assumptions about what might be said or what might occur in the conversation with us.
But I think, for us, it’s just a matter of integrity and I think it’s recognising that we have to be able to face the monster and that’s our entire value proposition in terms of content – and so for us to kinda tippy toe around the things just doesn’t make any sense. And I think there’s only so much you can wrap around this before you’re not saying anything, you’re just saying random words. I dunno, I often suspect that other organisations doing this work could too but they’ve got into their heads that it’s impossible to do it because no-one wants to hear it and so they’ve bought into that paradigm and then you’re only as powerful as the paradigm that you want to operate within. If we think of the billions that have been spent on light touch superficial programmes, nothing has happened! It’s a false economy, it’s a false economy. That’s all I can say, it’s a false economy. You can spend a little bit of a million here and a little bit of a million there and nothing happen and then add it up over ten years and you’ve spent a billion pounds and everything is static. It’s nonsense.
In the social enterprise world, corporates and schools are notoriously hard to crack as revenue streams. How did you do it and what advice can you give to fellow social entrepreneurs?
I mean that is a true statement. I think you’ve got to be persistent. You’ve got to be like a dog with a bone. People will say no, try them again, particularly in the schools, things change from term to term as things can change. Ultimately we’ve found schools much easier to engage with. I think schools while they’re existing in very complex terrains, they obviously don’t have much money at all, their budgets are shrinking relative to the size of their cost base and they’ve also got teachers under huge pressures etc. But I think most teachers have come into it with a deep sense that something isn’t right in the world and that education might be a way through that. And I think for us, that’s why when presented with the evidence they can kinda say ‘actually I’ve seen some of what you’re talking about and this therefore makes sense.
I think the corporate piece is much more complicated for the reasons that we’ve kinda touched on, one of which is that I think people are kinda left static by fear. Fear, you know I’m not going to justify it but it exists, you know, it’s what’s occurring, fear of, I don’t really know what but maybe it’s best described by an absence of courage from those that have some power, to kinda step outside of the parameters of the mainstream and I think that’s really scary for a lot of people. But with corporates what we have found is that they have to experience our workshops in some small way for them to say ok… participatory education is possibly the most inclusive way of learning because it brings everyone in and while it seeks to subvert existing power dynamics, each person’s voice can be a part of it and being a part of it also means listening to other people whose experiences you wouldn’t have heard. You know, people do a huge amount of crying in our workshops with adults and that’s really rare in corporate contexts so I get that there’s a level of vulnerability that is required to do this.
But yeah just be like a dog with a bone.
Very final question… the future! The future of Fearless Futures. Scaling up or down or sideways, what are your thoughts around growing?
So we’re not interested in growing for the sake of growing but on the other hand we also see that this work can be really powerful and therefore it would be wonderful for it to be experienced in the various contexts. For us on a very strategic level, I think there’s a question around the impact that Brexit will have on the economy of the UK and we know that in downturns spending on kinda softer issues and we kinda fit in the diversity and inclusion bucket that is more likely to be cut first. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about the role of technology in all of this, not as a mechanism to scaling because I think we’re really committed to the power of being in the same room as someone looking into their eyes and really listening to what they are saying about their experience – I just don’t think you can do that on a webinar. But I think we’re really interested in how our practice and method and critical framework can be used in a multidisciplinary setting for those who are using and deploying technology so algorithmic bias for example, thinking about systems of oppression as embedded within code etc.
So I think, what we always do is think about the whole of our educational content and think about ok where can this best serve? Where can this toolkit of exploration best serve different sectors or people and for us the design, creative, and tech intersection is a really exciting frontier simply because it allows stuff to travel very fast around the world. You could have a data set being increasingly used for sentencing in the US that has racism embedded within the code since the day the data has been collected, where the past is being used to dictate the present and we need to have engineers and developers who are cognizant and really committed to challenging this in the questions they ask and in the actions that they take. They have a huge responsibility and I think we need to align our expertise from an education perspective, you know, I dunno how to code but I know that we can support people to engage differently with the questions they ask, how they understand their positionality and the power they have in whatever the hell it is that they’re doing and so that, for us, I think is kinda scaling but via a different medium.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the full interview, check out the podcast for all the extra juicy bits! Hanna is the Founder-CEO of Fearless Futures. Check out Fearless Futures if you’re interested in having them design and deliver a workshop series at your school or organisation.