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The RSA is a global Fellowship of over 28,000 people in more than 90 countries. Head of RSA Scotland Jamie Cooke reflects on the links between Scotland and the US, and the opportunities for global collaboration that being fellow Fellows offers.

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The RSA is an international organisation, and always has been since our inception.  Present in over 90 countries today, we treasure that aspect of our Fellowship and the contribution it makes to our work and mission.

For us in Scotland, sitting as we do in some ways between the UK and international work of the RSA (in case you’ve missed the last few years of political news, we’ve reverted to our traditional status as “troublesome Scots”), this connection is an important one as we look to learn from the rest of the world.  And within that history, our links to the US are central.  Alongside the RSA’s own history (Benjamin Franklin was our first international Fellow) Scotland’s links to the US are many and varied, covering the good, the bad and the ugly.  Scotland’s contribution is commemorated through the annual Tartan Day celebration, and recognised through our legacy of Presidents (and their dogs), business leaders, creative geniuses and even the iconic Uncle Sam himself (based on businessman Samuel Wilson, whose parents hailed from Greenock in the West of Scotland).

It’s therefore perfect that the Chair of RSA US, Lolita Jackson, is a confirmed Scotophile, and an honorary member of Clan Currie.  With her vision for a dynamic, impact driven RSA US, building on the core ethos of the RSA’s work but reflected within a US context, she is a natural collaborator for the similar approach that we are taking in Scotland.  We were therefore very lucky that she was in Edinburgh this summer to perform jazz at the Fringe.  Capitalising on her visit, we were honoured to be hosted by Susan Wilson, Principal Officer at the US Consulate in Edinburgh, for a small gathering of Fellows and Friends of the RSA.  This included a diverse mixture of backgrounds, including partner organisations with shared interests, such as the British American Project, US UK Fulbright Commission and the Young Leaders UK Programme run by the US Embassy and Consulates in the UK.   As well as learning about Lolita’s work on resilience and vision for RSA US, we were able to start exploring more broadly the opportunities for collaboration between the US and Scotland.  And the ideas were flowing – Tartan Week offering an obvious opportunity for working together, but also wider ideas around how we build on the RSA’s thought leadership but tailor it to the contexts that we work within.  We followed up the event with a gathering in Harry’s Bar in Edinburgh, a social enterprise pub led by one of our Scottish Fellows, where discussions and idea sharing continued over refreshments.

Lolita returned to Scotland in a professional capacity to speak at the launch of Glasgow City Council’s Resilient City strategy.  In what was a fascinating event (I’ll blog about it in more detail later), we again found that the international opportunities for Scotland are huge, whether it be on a city-to-city level as Glasgow is experiencing through the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Network, or more directly between individuals and organisations.

Our message is a global one and reflects the need for shared solutions to shared challenges, however it is at its strongest when it also reflects the local and national contexts we operate in.  Scotland and the US are very different countries so the application of our ideas will not always be the same.  However, we have opportunities to build upon the ideas we do share and in particular to support each other as dynamic parts of the RSA’s structure.

So what does this mean for RSA Scotland, and for our International Fellows?  Essentially that we are open to the world and looking for ideas for collaboration.  The 1,300+ Fellows of RSA Scotland are an incredible resource, providing varied skills and connections.  As the RSA, we provide the local, national and international inspiration and ideas, and are at our strongest when we most fully utilise them.  Obviously at RSA Scotland we have a focus on our national picture, and the ways that we can be making a difference here; however we recognise that we can do this better when we disseminate our ideas to other parts of the world and in turn learn from what is happening elsewhere.  We are keen to develop those links – our fellow Fellows in the US represent an ideal starting point, but we are keen to connect with the rest of the globe too.  So drop me a line if you have ideas for collaboration, if there are link ups which you believe could be valuable, or even just if you are going to be visiting Scotland (I know I’m biased, but I’d highly recommend that you do!).  RSA Scotland is keen to explore those ideas with you, and to ensure that we truly are a global Fellowship.

Jamie Cooke is Head of RSA Scotland.  You can contact him at to discuss any of these ideas further, connect with him on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter @JamieACooke


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