It’s the AGM of the RSA today. In some ways I like to think the content is a demonstration of some of the progress we have made. My first AGM was a sparsely attended formal meeting in the Great Room followed by a lecture and dinner. Apart from the required business of approving the accounts and annual report, there was almost no discussion about the content of the Society’s work.
As I write the House is buzzing with activity. There is a series of seminars at which RSA staff are showcasing our work to groups of Fellows, with a particular focus on how Fellows might get more involved. As Fellows arrive they are being directed to the exhibition the team here have developed. At the centre of this is a specially commissioned mural illustrating the ideas behind the new Fellowship Charter. We hope the Charter itself will be endorsed by the inaugural meeting of the Fellowship Council which takes place this afternoon.
The AGM will still have to do the formal stuff and there is still the dinner but in-between we Luke Johnson’s first lecture as Chairman of the RSA Trustees. The Great Room will be full to bursting.
So the feel is very different and running though it all is our new ambition for Fellowship. I am speaking to the Council in a couple of hours and the question I will pose to them is ‘how can we embed a culture of collaboration, creativity and social ambition in the Fellowship? In terms of Fellows getting together to make a difference in the world we are seeing more good initiatives. The social activities and networking in the Fellowship are an important part of what it is to be a Fellow and they provide the foundation from which ideas can emerge. But substantive Fellowship initiatives still feel like isolated examples rather than the new goals and ways of working I hope the Council will champion.
When I talk about a culture change I mean that the expectations, norms and practices of the Fellowship mean that it is a creative and powerful space, one in which ideas naturally emerge and develop rather than one where – too often – innovators feel they are having to fight against, rather than with, the prevailing way of doing things.
If we don’t achieve this cultural shift the RSA will be a perfectly pleasant but largely irrelevant organisation that occasionally succeeds with specific projects (and for some people, I know, this is enough). If we do succeed I believe the RSA can come to be seen internationally as a leading example of the kind of organisation with the kind of ethic the world needs in the 21st century; to be a Fellow will not only be an important individual badge of status but will connote that an FRSA is part of a amazing organisation making a positive difference in a hundred different ways.
This is the challenge I am throwing down to the Council and while I want them to buy into the vision and to accept how far we have to travel, I also know that the Council will have its own strong views about how we undertake that journey and the way the organisation as a whole can best help reach the destination.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.