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In Your Network: David Burns

David Burns FRSA is based in France and he is the 'RSA Connector' for the region. He is a Trustee for a youth empowerment charity and wants to connect to Fellows in the network:

1) Please give a brief explanation of what it is you do and why?
Four years ago at the age of 55 I was working at a senior level for one of the largest and most technologically sophisticated companies in the world when it suddenly went bankrupt. I spent a while on the 'bench' and lost ten kilos. Then I decided to try something different, and now have what’s known as a portfolio of business interests where I am shareholder, non-exec or executive, including three green technology companies. Risky but fun. I'm also involved with four charities. If people would like to know more about one of these, Peace Child International, read my recent article about youth empowerment on RSA Comment. Seriously, if you read this, please read that too.  

2) What did you join the Fellowship for?
I first got involved with the RSA in the early eighties when I was a full-time environmentalist. I organised some good seminars, but the RSA wasn’t so much into action in those days. After living on the Continent for most of my working life I spend a lot more time in London and the RSA is one of the places, broad-minded enough to take me in. I must say I would like to put some more of Manufactures and Commerce back into the RSA.

3) In what capacity do you think you could contribute to society/the Fellowship? 
Contributing to the RSA is easy. To society, it’s harder. Most people feel deeply miserable about it, and for young people it’s just terrible, to be in this nightmare world where everything is lousy.  But think globally, act locally is one of the wisest things ever said. I would like anyone who’s unemployed and reads this to say, hey, I don’t need to be depressed in the morning, there are going to be some things I can do which are worthwhile. Who would ever have guessed five years ago that I would be the Treasurer of a women’s rights association and a public library!  And they need me! 

4) What would you change in society given the chance?
Might be worth taking another look at the arms trade. You can’t stop people having an evil streak but you can take away their toys. Good subject for the RSA.

5) What recent bit of news have you heard which inspires you?
Wildpoldsried in the German Allgäu. The villagers say they produce 321 % more energy than they need – take a look. Good PR department too. It’s not new news but it’s important news.  

6) What did you learn last week? 
I am reading a biography of Diderot. The archetype of an RSA Fellow, except he happened to be French. Five years before the RSA was created, in 1749 at the age of 36, he was sent to prison for writing “Essay on the Blind for those that see”, an elegant expression of his atheistic convictions. When he came out, he just started writing again. One of the greatest of all books in fact. I wouldn’t say that I’m an atheist, and cult of the personality is not really my thing, but I’m allowing myself to indulge in a little bit of hero worship. After all, he’s dead now and if he had sins they can be forgiven. As bookworms go that man had guts. 

7) Tell us about another interesting Fellow you have spoken to.
Well I’m not going to indulge in more hero worship but I might as well give a plug to Tom Burke, my Chairman at Peace Child International (PCI). Tom’s a youth empowerment guy, huge experience, he’s under thirty, just half my age which is a bit distressing, but as a chairman he’s got a nice touch, I can think of a few boards I know that would benefit... The rest of the people at PCI are great people too, you don’t have to be FRSA for that! PCI are currently looking for someone to replace the soon-to-retire CEO, so please pass this along to anyone who might be interested.

8) What would you like to connect with Fellows about? Please tell us if there is anything you would like from other Fellows
Working with Geof Cox, Jacob Mayne and a few other Fellows in France I am an officially anointed RSA French Connector, so anyone who wants to connect about anything, I’m there for that. I prefer to end up with a quote from my current favourite, writing to Voltaire in 1758: “One day all our ashes will get confused. What will it matter to me then whether I was Diderot or Voltaire, and whether your three syllables or mine have been handed down to posterity? What matters is to work, and to be useful.” 

Find out more about the RSA Connectors programme on the website.

David Burns

David Burns


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