Our global Fellows span six continents and more than 100 countries. Some may not physically encounter another RSA Fellow for hundreds of miles, but it’s even more reason to connect and share inspiration.
In this case, our two Fellows in Bulgaria couldn’t be much closer: they come as a pair. After a serendipitous encounter on Twitter, Pavel Kounchev and Yana Buhrer Tavanier co-founded Fine Acts, a global nonprofit creative studio that bridges the arts, technology and activism to instigate social change in areas such as climate change, human rights, and racism. They also co-founded an online volunteering service called TimeHeroes, which now counts some 80,000 registered volunteers in Bulgaria.
What kind of life surrounds you?
Yana: We’re currently based in Sofia, after leaving New York in a rush in the first weeks of the pandemic. Bulgaria is more open than most of our friends’ countries, and life here starts to slowly resemble the old normal, which could be viewed as both exciting or worrying, depending on whom you ask.
Pavel: This is one of the advantages of a country not densely populated and enjoying the benefits of spectacularly beautiful open spaces (by this I mean mountains and the sea, and not a large rooftop or a back garden)!
What’s keeping you busy?
Y: We just launched Artists For Climate – an open call for illustrations with TED and their climate initiative Countdown. We’re looking for digital illustrations, graphic design, lettering art and typography – that depict a hopeful future around climate change, or have a clear message that inspires climate action. 50 selected works in the open call will be published under an open license, will receive a 500 USD licensing fee, and will be featured across TED and Countdown events and platforms. Together, we can build a unique collection of open license art about climate change to serve as an invaluable resource and tool for activists, grassroots organisations and nonprofits to use in their campaigns about climate change awareness.
P: Working with artists keeps life interesting. Last year we started The Greats, which is a unique global platform for open license, socially engaged visuals. Some of the most prominent artists are represented with beautiful works which nonprofits, activists and citizens can freely use for campaigning on the issues they care about, such as women’s rights, free speech, climate change and democracy (the last of which is often put to the test these days…) On a less professional note, with the pandemic rearranging almost everything, the global release day for new music (every Friday) is a bright spark in my weekly calendar.
What motivates you to seek positive change?
Y: The strong belief that such change is possible, and we can be a part of it. I currently research what makes people care, and key conclusions of behavioural and neuroscience state that opinions change not through more and more information, but through compelling, empathy inducing experiences – like art, or storytelling. However, provoking an emotional response needs to be done carefully, because people will shut down or not respond if one simply evokes sadness, guilt, or fear. People can become desensitised to social issues, so campaigns that bring awe and inspire hope are more effective.
P: People are intrinsically good. Otherwise we would have long ago perished as a species. We just need a little creative push.
What brings you hope in the current climate?
Y: Hope is everywhere. To us, hope is a strategy, informed by science. Our friends at the think tank called “Hope-based comms” talk about the need to make basic shifts in the way we talk about human rights, that can be applied to anything, really – including focusing on solutions, not problems; and highlighting what you stand for, not what you oppose.
P: Hope is connected to play, which is basically what we practice every day. Our concept of “playtivism” involves bringing people from different expert backgrounds to inform artistic interventions and creations that aim to change the world. Our work life, very much blended with our personal life, is just a big sandbox, filled with grownup kids who are trying to make something hopeful out of the sometimes dire problems we face.
How would you like to connect with other Fellows?
Y & P: We’d love other Fellows to get in touch – Artists for Climate is just one initiative that we are seeking collaborators for. Typically Fine Acts juggles 5-6 projects at any given moment, and we love to meet artists, technologists and scientists who want to use their powers for good.
What inspires you about one another?
Y: Pavel never, ever gives up. He’s one of the most powerful creative minds I’ve encountered. Plus he’s super thoughtful and kind, and is able to break any hard situation with his humour and wit.
P: Yana is the leader we all need in the room, in any room, and the most ethical and loving person I have ever come across. In an alternative history there would have been Plato, Aristotle, and Yana.
Did you find this story inspiring? You can connect with Yana and Pavel on MyRSA. Would you like to take your own shot at interviewing another global Fellow and share their story and motivations for change? Get in touch with Jessica White at [email protected]