Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Uncivilisation: An interview with Dougald Hine by Calum Ross

Did you ever plan on becoming an entrepreneur?

No, it happened by accident! And although I do get called an entrepreneur, it doesn't feel like a term that sums up what I do. But I did get interested, in my mid-twenties, in all the different roles which are about bringing new stuff into reality, whether that's as an artist, an activist, a designer, a policy-maker or someone who starts new businesses or organisations. I started hanging out with these different groups of people, trying to work out what they had in common, and how I could use these skills for starting new things as a way to explore ideas in practice.

Tell us about School of Everything:

The idea came from a book that was written in the early 1970s, 'Deschooling Society', by a thinker called Ivan Illich. He talks about learning webs and using a database to connect people up to others in their local area who are interested in learning the same things. Back then, that must have sounded like science fiction. By 2006, when I met Paul Miller, Andy Gibson, Pete Brownell, Mary Harrington who I started School of Everything with, it seemed like common sense.

What initial steps did you have to take to get it off the ground?

We spent about six months kicking the idea around, talking to people about it, when we got picked up by the Young Foundation, which carries on the work of the guy who started the Open University. They saw School of Everything as belonging in the same line as the OU, so they gave us a little money and a lot of support to develop it.

When did you realise that School of Everything was becoming successful?

There are so many stages as something moves from an idea to reality. The first time you get someone else to take it seriously feels like a success, then the first working version and the first stranger to discover it and start using it. School of Everything has been through a lot of these stages - it's got 30,000 members now, we raised investment, won awards and found people willing to pay for its services - and it still feels like an experiment in progress, a journey towards the thing we started off imagining. You never know how much work there is to bring an idea into reality until it's too late, or nothing would ever get started!

You work on several other projects, The Dark Mountain Project, Space Makers, how do you organise your time effectively?

I'm not sure I do! I'm very bad at answering email. My friends and family are very tolerant.

What underlying interests connect the projects you involve yourself in?

A deep belief in people's ability to muddle through and to meet their own needs, together with those around them.

Where do you find the funding to support these projects?

It varies, but it generally involves a lot of working unpaid. With School of Everything, we raised investment from the Young Foundation, Channel 4 and a group of private investors - but we'd been working on the project for eighteen months by the time that came together. For Dark Mountain, we crowdsourced the funding to publish the manifesto and the book, using IndieGoGo. It's not like I come from a family that has any money, I've just managed to muddle through by freelancing and, at times, the generosity of people who support what I'm doing.

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