In 1754, eleven inquisitive individuals went out on a limb and decided to lend their support to a then unknown organisation that wanted to change the world.
160 years later, on 24th June 1914, those who called themselves members of the RSA, became a Fellowship, in recognition of their shared commitment and personal contribution to the RSA's vision.
Last week, 100 years to the day, we marked the beginning of RSA Fellowship by gathering 150 of our most engaged Fellows in the Great Room to create positive social impact in real time, and award one of our most successful Catalyst ventures the RSA Fellowship Centenary Venture Award.
Prior to the event, the Catalyst panel selected three projects that had previously won Catalyst grants and had since made significant progress using the funds and support provided by Fellows. Each of the three finalists then gave a persuasive four minute pitch to the audience who was asked to vote for the project they would most like to win the award.
Whilst the votes were being counted, Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation strategy, spoke about 'creative communities with a cause', triggering no end of conversation around the RSA's new, emerging world view 'The Power to Create.'
When the results came in we were delighted to award the Centenary prize to StudentFunder, a project lead by Juan Guerra FRSA, who won over the room with his cool and convincing solution to the lack of postgraduate funding opportunities in the UK.
At present, there are no student loans available for post-graduate study or further professional education, meaning that thousands of creative individuals are unable to realise their potential and thousands of UK companies are losing this untapped talent.
The prize will give StudentFunder the benefit of a further £3,000 which will enable it to tour the UK to start new collaborations, plus it will gain extra support from RSA staff to raise its profile.
Juan was presented with the award from RSA Chair Vikki Heywood and thanked the audience for their support.
The support from the RSA fellows at the Centenary Award Ceremony is something I will never forget. I have kept the cards with their votes. And there was even more good news this week. In February, I met a 19 year old who was unemployed. He had been offered a place on a three month course after which he would be earning good money as a web developer but he couldn't pay for the course in the first place. StudentFunder helped him pay for his course in February. Yesterday we went for breakfast and he showed me his office. He is very happy in his new job as a web developer. That's the kind of thing that really gets me up in the morning.
StudentFunder has helped 18 people so far, but they are aiming for 100 in the next year.
The runners up for the award were Incredible Edible lead by Pam Warhurst FRSA - an idea that has grown into a nationwide movement for growing local food; and 3,2,1 Ignition* the world's first science pop up shop that uses abandoned retail units to run workshops and change the public's perception of science.
Although the room was filled with some truly inspirational people who have worked with and contributed to the RSA in so many different ways, the Catalyst projects stole the show.
As Oli Reichardt, Director of Fellowship asked in his recent blog, what will the next 100 years hold for the Fellowship? The answer may lie with Fellows out there on the ground, creating real world change, unafraid of the obstacles and clear in their vision. They are the future of the Fellowship and we will continue to support them in every way possible. What an exciting prospect.
Alex Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA. If you would like to know more about any of the projects mentioned above, or about joining the Fellowship then get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org