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Now that the RSA has it own Fellows’ network of Regional Digital Champions - see their profiles and blog post about the Champions' role - to support and inspire Fellows’ online activity, we thought it would be rewarding to hear from individual Fellows (including RSA Catalyst project leaders) about their challenges, hopes and experiences in the online space, and beyond.

Our first interviewee is Maria Ana Neves, the co-founder and Design Strategist behind Plan Zheroes, an RSA Catalyst-funded project to connect food businesses with charities that can donate their surplus food to people who need it - and reduce the 1.6 million tonnes of surplus food the UK food retail industry sends to landfill every year. (You can read more about her project in this Fellowship blog post: ‘The Big Idea: surplus food to those who need it').

As well as sharing her passions and inspirations, Maria Ana also shares some of Plan Zheroes' unrealised opportunities - and invites help from digital-savvy Fellows.

Matthew Mezey

(RSA Online Community Manager)


Q 1: What are your key challenges/passions/inspirations?

My current key challenge is how to balance ideas and capability. It really is great to have great ideas and visions, but is as important to build capability and that sometimes means stop the ideas-machine and focus on implementation… sometimes the two clash!

Leadership - I love teamwork and flat/shared leadership - but I still need to learn how to get it right!  With everything I've been involved in, the ideas were more important than the people. I am now starting to understand that people are much more important than ideas - this is a fantastic shift and a challenge for me.

Being an unreasonable person with a fertile imagination and not that much focus on financial returns is a challenge!

Keep up to date with technology! It really is challenging for me, as I am not that literate in this field.

Being an unreasonable person with a fertile imagination and not that much focus on financial returns is a challenge!

My passions are learning, travel, and ideas - discover new things everyday! Also Design. And Zero Waste: as a designer, I am obsessed with finding solutions to human needs, and a big passion is to design out waste from our world. Design out is not about creating solutions for waste, it's about creating systems, products and services which are 100% waste-free. It’s starting the journey with the simple design principle: we cannot have waste.

Social challenges (homelessness at the top): I really dream of a 100% inclusive society.

Inspirations: first (and probably the most important one) is nature. I believe nature has all the answers.

I am now starting to understand that people are much more important than ideas - this is a fantastic shift and a challenge for me

My mind works in a funny way - it is constantly making connections between things that have not been connected before. In innovation management we call it "intersectional innovation". For this reason everything is an inspiration: a bird or a cloud, a word spoken, the music in the underground, a biography, a product that doesn't work, a conversation in the Gerard bar, a discussion on Linkedin...


Q. 2: What has worked out well for you on the online/social media front?

For Plan Zheroes, we are still in the early stages with social media and we know it will play a great role in developing our mission. At this stage I am conscious we are still learning and building capability. But without an expert (or maybe a team) we can't take the best from such great resource. You know the African Expression "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others" ? I think social media seems to give us a new paradigm:  "we can go fast and far with others".


Q. 3: And what has not worked so well?

Up to this point we have only used Twitter and Facebook at a very basic level, knowing we are missing out on their great potential. We haven't had the time and expertise to look at social media at a strategic level.

We haven’t (yet) asked the right questions such as…  "what would happen if we used Twitter to get more food businesses on to the Plan Zheroes map?” or "to find the top influencers" or to recruit volunteers… or "how can our community build stronger relationships through social media?"

What would happen if we used Twitter to get more food businesses on to the Plan Zheroes map?

Plan Zheroes we still have a challenge to consider: most businesses do not want to shout about what they are giving, and people at the front line are not willing to be exposed -  and many charities are not online and even less on social media.

There are many things we can solve with social media - but we need to better understand it first!


Q. 4: What are the areas where you would like online-related (or other) help from RSA Fellows, or feel that you could be missing out on potential opportunities?

Plan Zheroes only has a simple mission: connect businesses and charities and do whatever it takes to get them to give/receive the surplus food to people in need and prevent food from becoming waste.

Using online tools and social media to connect these two groups and raise awareness of the issues of poverty and food waste comes naturally for us.

It's still a learning curve for us! Looking to the future however, learning from RSA Fellows who have previously used online platforms and social media as fundraising tool and a way to better connect with potential donors and receivers of food would be invaluable to Plan Zheroes (especially when many of the people we communicate with are not in offices or using computers!).

Additionally, not having an office (we will have a virtual one soon, using Basecamp!) and managing a diverse range of volunteers, from a range of different backgrounds, with a variety of different commitments is a constant challenge for Plan Zheroes, it would be brilliant to hear how other RSA fellows have overcome this in the past…online and offline!


If you think you might be able to help Maria Ana in any of the areas she mentions, please contact her (via Maria Ana's e-mail or Linkedin profile).

Good online tools or resources that might be useful for lots of Fellows can be added to the ‘Fellows' tools & techniques’ page. Get in touch if you have something.

If you are a Fellow with successes and current challenges to share around social media - and would like to be a future '4 Questions' interviewee - please contact me.



Matthew Kalman Mezey

(RSA Online Community Manager)

A live dashboard webpage showing RSA online activity is here: (online community)

Want to become an RSA Digital Champion – or need help from one?:

Is there an ‘RSA Connector’ for your country yet?:

‘7 Ways to become an online Fellow’:

Need support for your Fellows' meetings, network or projects? Go to the Fellows' tools & techniques page - - for guidance, how-tos and other support.


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