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In Your Network: Billy Matheson FRSA

1) Please give a brief explanation of what it is you do and why?

I currently work in local government in Auckland, New Zealand. The new Auckland Council is the result of an amalgamation of eight legacy councils in 2010 and it is now the largest council in Australasia, with a $3 billion annual budget, $29 billion of ratepayer equity, and approximately 8,000 staff. It is an exciting place to work as Auckland becomes a truly international city both in size and diversity. There are more than 200 ethnic groups represented in Auckland, and as a city we are considered more diverse than London. 

2) Why did you join the RSA? How do you get involved as a Fellow where you are located?

I am a brand new Fellow but I have been following the work of the RSA for almost ten years. In particular the online talks have been an invaluable resource in my journey as a social entrepreneur. While New Zealand is only a plane ride (or two) away from London, distance continues to define much of our national identity. Being able to jump online and get access to the latest thinking on a wide range of topics is incredibly useful. I am looking forward to connecting with other RSA Fellows in New Zealand – so if you’re reading this from the land of the long white cloud please get in touch!  

3) What are you passionate about?

I studied Industrial Design and Adult Education before getting involved in youth development and leadership. The common thread though life is creativity and innovation. I am fascinated by the changes that people go through during their adult lives and the myriad of ways that people express their identity. As a species we are on the cusp of so many exciting evolutionary breakthroughs – if we can just get through the self-made crisis we face over the next few centuries. 

4) What makes you angry?

Lack of imagination and vision. There are so many opportunities to make a positive difference for the people and the planet, yet we allocate so much time and resources to the production of products and experiences that are at best banal, and at worst destructive to ourselves and other living systems. 

5) What would you change in society given the chance?

As an educator I am really interested in the process of initiation. I believe that everyone has the capacity for brilliance, however, only some of us are lucky enough to have that potential recognised, fostered and activated. What we currently call education is hopelessly outmoded and I look forward to the emergence of self-organising, transformational learning institutions and networks. These will enable people to unlock their potential and equip them to pay the gift forward, rather than burdening them with debt and a sense of entitlement.

6) What is the most important lesson you’ve ever learnt?

I think there is a developmental shift that allows people to hold complex ideas and concepts that previously would have occurred as contradictory and incompatible. This shift from ‘either/or’ thinking to ‘both/and’ thinking is something that keeps coming up as a game changing capability. 

7) What recent bit of news have you heard which inspires you?

I am really excited by the rise and rise of human centred design and co-design in the social innovation space. Here in Auckland we recently launched a two year proof of concept project called the Auckland Co-Design Lab which will be investigating five social challenges and reporting on insights and making a case change based in these findings. It is great to hear about similar projects all around the world and to know that while pioneering new approaches can be challenging, we are part of a global movement.

8) Tell us about another interesting Fellow you have spoken to

As a newbie I am yet to connect with many Fellows – but I am already thinking about recruiting some of the exceptionally talented changemakers that we have here in New Zealand.            

9) What would you like to connect with Fellows about?

I am really keen to hear from some of the global Connectors and hear about what they are learning about that role. In terms of content I am probably most interested in leadership and transformational learning. Social Innovation, design, entrepreneurship, classic cars… pretty much anything really.



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