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In Your Network: Ed Whitelaw

Ed Whitelaw FRSA works for the south-west UK rooted social enterprise Real Ideas Organisation (RIO). He has turned a public building into a thriving community space in one of the most deprived areas in the country. Ed would like to get Fellows involved in a social enterprise festival in Plymouth this November.

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

I’m the Lead Developer and Consultant for RIO where I look after work around enterprise development and regeneration ventures. In practice this means I do a lot of work around social enterprise lead regeneration, often around developing capital projects in disadvantaged areas and supporting other social enterprise to grow.

I think the world would be a better place if there was more social enterprise in it. The simplistic old public/private paradigm belong in the last century; we need to find new ways of doing business. Often pure economic driven regeneration just drives social problems elsewhere, purely social based schemes are often costly, don’t change the context or address the roots of problems. Social enterprise provides a different approach.   

2) Why did you join the Fellowship?

Initially, because I was nominated! Then I was attracted by the history, I’ve always been interested in the enlightenment era, then I saw the benefits. Unlike most of the other royal societies, which are often very focused on single sector, the RSA is a bit like the “royal society for everything else”. That’s what make it interesting, the diversity of interests, people and sectors all colliding creatively together.

3) In what capacity do you think you could contribute to society/the Fellowship?
Well to an extent ideas, activity and energy, but there are only so many hours in the day! With growing activity via theFellowship Council (which I sit on as a 'Councillor at large') I’m hopefully able to bring something to the direction of the Fellowship and by that, in a small way, the direction of the organisation.

4) What would you change in society given the chance?
Well apparently the RSA should not be used for ‘business networking purposes’. I guess this harks back to days when business meant something purely profit making. But my business is philanthropic in nature – social enterprise – and in line with the RSA ethos. I think we need to revisit this and clarify. This could create great value for Fellows.  

Also there is something about debates...while action without debate is indeed mindless, debate without action is meaningless and useless. I like a good debate, but I’d prefer a bit of action.

5) What recent bit of news have you heard which inspires you? 
Next year is the 100th anniversary of the amalgamation of the three towns in Plymouth, where Devonport, Stonehouse and Plymouth were all merged into one city – Plymouth. One of our buildings is the old Devonport Guildhall, in the regeneration docks area of the city. I found out last week that, as part of the centenary celebrations, the council plans to hold a number of full council meetings here – good stuff!  

6) Tell us about another interesting Fellow you have spoken to. 
Ben Kerr – he has some great ideas about digital maker spaces and how to work with young people.

7) What would you like to connect with Fellows about? Please tell us if there is anything you would like from other Fellows

I'd like to speak to other Fellows working with enterprise and business models for educational visitor centres. I'd also like to invite any Fellows in the area to come along to the various events happening this week as part of Plymouth’s Social Enterprise City week. Find out more about the RSA-led events being run and take a look here at the full programme (which features Steve Coles FRSA and Sara Burgess FRSA).

Ed Whitelaw

Ed Whitelaw



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