15 things that have given me joy as Editor of Atlas of the Future
Yes, it’s officially time for me to lift-off.
After six wonder-filled years journeying around the world thanks to the stellar innovations of people creating better futures, I’m jumping spaceship onto my next adventure. But before I get carried away with spacey metaphors, let me take you back to the launch of Atlas of the Future.
When we designed the Atlas, the world was a different place, but still in need of upbeat and inspiring stories. It was 2015 when I met Cathy Runciman (ex-MD of Time Out International, soon to become a mentor and good friend) and Catalan publishing legend Oriol Soler in a historical bookstore in Barcelona, to discuss creating a new social good platform.
Having spent the previous decade script writing live music shows and delighting in wholly unsustainable behaviour at MTV, I jumped at the opportunity of making the important stuff changing the world understandable and entertaining – not just in sustainability, science and tech “with heart”, but also stories in every area of human activity.
And so began a creative and joyous journey: transforming a name and idea into the vast online resource of hope you can explore today.
We describe the Atlas mission as “democratising the future” by speaking human. Well, it’s thanks to the inventiveness and resilience of so many brilliant humans that every day has been an adventure in a better tomorrow. The breadth and depth of the 1,300+ impactful projects published (now in three languages) continue to amaze me; but it is the collective stories of the people behind them that makes the Atlas such a rich repository of socially-impactful ideas for the future-curious.
Even in the darkest situations there is the possibility to imagine better. From the heart-shaped little Arctic island of Uummannaq to the Sahara to extreme environments in Yemen, the Atlas is proof that creativity can answer the world and her needs.
So now it is time to move on. I am extremely proud of what I have been allowed to curate and create, but the time is right to explore my own future. I plan to keep shining a light on the hope sprouting from the margins to the mainstream.
But first, let me “pay it forward” with 15 highlights from my time as founding editor of Atlas of the Future…
⚡ 1. Meeting you
They say never meet your heroes, but it’s been thrilling chewing the future fat with every one of our ‘FutureHeroes’ to find out why they do what they do, from exploring jungle flavours with Chef’s Table punk-superstar Alex Atala and entering the Matrix with the wonderful wizard of Minecraft Adam Clarke, to discovering community power with renegade economist Kate Raworth, renewables dynamo Agamemnon Otero and Cameroon’s protector of the oceans Ismaël Ebone.
This fantasy dinner party guest list could right the world’s wrongs ► Meet the FutureHeroes
⚡ 2. Kick ass women
If you’ve ever doubted yourself or experienced impostor syndrome (as I do), read this interview with biomedical scientist Dr Knatokie Ford, The Wonder Woman of STEM, as we chat about her Obama water cooler moment, sharing the stage with Pharrell and why shows like CSI are essential.
It really is awesome women like Knatokie and soil obsessed physicist-farmer Abby Rose, big wave surfer-scientist Easkey Britton, ocean justice fighter Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, forest fan Zakiya Mckenzie, food urbanist (and excellent pickler) Carolyn Steel and Detroit powerhouse Mama Shu who make me realise that the future is not as f* as we think.
⚡ 3. Unpredictable shoots
And who knew that social good storytelling could be so rock ’n’ roll? I never imagined I’d carve a path to climate justice with a former President (Mary Robinson, pictured above), circumnavigate a rocket that’s orbited the moon with NASA’s head of innovation or create a storytelling partnership with the Godfather of modern sustainability. But a funny thing happened on the way to the future.
Then there was the time we had to pause a shoot mid-interview for Australia’s top chef, Jock Zonfrillo, to tackle a mugger in the Boqueria market in Barcelona.
⚡ 4. A kind of magic
The Atlas really comes alive at our annual Fixing the future events, which take place in the heart of Barcelona, thanks to the brilliant curation of Cathy and support from our sponsors. Food. Cities. Waste. Biodiversity. Oceans. Climate. Culture. 50 speakers over two days? No problem! Who can forget the stirring sound of a 22-year-old afro-indigenous eco-activist from the Brazilian Amazon drumming on a Barcelona stage signifying the beating heart and soul of our planet, and an urgent need for a new era?
An exponential thank you to all of our speakers and attendees for your positive vibes.
⚡ 5. Breakthrough videos
The role of big business is critical if we’re to achieve a sustainable future. That’s why I am delighted to have worked with John Elkington – aka the ‘Godfather of modern sustainability’ aka the ‘grit in the corporate oyster’ aka total dude – for years now, producing video series like this one on ‘breakthrough’, which features some of the world’s leading innovators and CEOs. We got 99 problems, but working with his Volans team ain’t one.
Anything you can do with John is truly a joyous thing. But being invited to film the pioneer of the sustainability movement’s 70th was a sapiophile’s dream: with Eden Project founder Sir Tim Smit, WWF UK’s Tanya Steele and more heavy-hitters in conservation, business and politics.
It is no longer good enough to just talk about halting the destruction of our natural world. So we asked guests about the coming boom in regenerative capitalism and John’s new concept, Green Swans.
⚡ 6. Tripping in San Francisco
If it’s wrong to destroy the planet, it’s wrong to profit from that destruction. That’s the bottom line. In 2018 I got to attend the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco to create videos about an investor movement that’s accelerating the sustainable energy transition: DivestInvest. Leaders from the Amazon Basin to Indonesia were in town to take climate ambition to the next level.
After tripping over a can of paint on the live painting of the largest mural in the world at the People’s Climate March, it was time to speed-interview 22 luminaries, such as legendary environmentalist Bill McKibben, about investing in climate solutions. While covered in orange paint.
Watch the video series ► DivestInvest is a call to action
⚡ 7. Mission Improbable in LA
When you find yourselves somewhere between Gotham City Police HQ and Blade Runner’s Leon’s Hotel chatting to a Westworld sexbot (Elon Musk’s ex-wife), you know you’re lording it up in LA. In 2018, Cathy and I went to Warner Brothers Studios to film an ‘Artificial Realities’ event run by an executive agency of the UK Foreign Office and multiplayer gaming company Improbable.io, with BAFTA. Scientists, academics and astrophysicists came together with sci-fi scriptwriters, Hollywood bigwigs and policymakers – and we got to ask them “what if?”
Cathy, we’ll always have LA…
⚡ 8. Cleaning up
Now, we all know sunny California loves good, clean tech. While there, I visited one of the most innovative places in the world, the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, to find out about its latest tricks. LACI is a test bed for solar energy, electric car sharing and batteries and better lighting.
⚡ 9. People power in Barcelona
Barcelona is an open city full of pioneers and makers. Back in the home of the Atlas, we were commissioned to create a series called Barcelona Digital City about STEAM, makers, digital social innovation and people power. Watch the trailer for the four conversations below:
Staying local, just 20-minutes from Barcelona’s centre is a great example of people power. In a 12th century house in the hills, a group of experts, professors, makers and philosophers are asking themselves how science and tech can serve society. Their mission is to be able to make or grow (almost) anything – and they also throw great parties.
Enter Valldaura ► A postcard from: The place beyond the pines
⚡ 10. The Fab book
The first person to show me the magic in the hills was Tomás Díez, a specialist in how new technologies can change the way people consume, produce and relate in cities. The Venezuelan digital fabrication urbanist co-organised the Fab City Summit in Paris, a global alliance with the circular economy at its heart, and invited me along to report on it. (As an event finale, France only went and bloody won the World Cup on Bastille Day. Never seen Parisians happier or drunker.) Anyways, it is thanks to Tomás pulling off another coup d’état that I was able to tick something off the bucket list… editing/co-writing a book.
Order it here ►DESIGN REMIX SHARE REPEAT
⚡ 11. Finding Meaning in Brighton
We can’t save the future without business on board. Described as “The Glastonbury of business”, Meaning is an edgy conference in Brighton, UK, that connects and inspires. Because the most daring innovators aren’t found in boardrooms or tech startups, but in protests, street markets, prisons and refugee camps… and at Meaning. We created this video for the awesome Louise Ash, who also helped out at our last Fixing event. Good reciprocal vibes.
We also asked the self-professed “accidental ethical business geek” about the boldest ideas from unlikely places.
Read Louise’s AtlasChart ► 15 rebels with a cause
⚡ 12. Getting Futurenaughty
A huge thank you also to Mark Stevenson and Ed Gillespie, who have been part of the Atlas journey from day dot, hosting our Fixing events, consulting on all things future and becoming firm friends. If you aren’t one of the thousands downloading their Futurenauts podcast with Britain’s “third most popular comedian”, Jon Richardson, you’re missing out on the quick-witted new series about the things that keep us all awake at night.
Listen ► How to survive the future
A special mention too to our Advisory board: the pioneering Cassie Robinson, who is Deputy Director of The National Lottery Community Fund; award-winning director/artist Annette Mees, who runs Audience Labs at the Royal Opera House; former chief architect of Barcelona City Council, Vicente Guallart, and innovation director Eleanor Ford.
Also, please check out Mark Stevenson’s alter ego in Quantum Pig. I challenge you to name another prog rock duo with lyrics about ice caps.
⚡ 12. Exciting new content channels
As well as the many cool collaborators already mentioned, it’s been a pleasure to partner with: Goldsmiths, British Council Creative Economy, Independent Age, Makerversity, The J J Charitable Trust, Aigües de Barcelona, Government of Catalonia, Clean & Cool, Holaluz, Oxfam Intermon, Textile Exchange and the excellent Ethos magazine to showcase the latest innovations around the world. (Check out their April issue as I’ve an Atlas section in there about good tech.)
⚡ 14. The journey through joy
As this A-Z around the world through joy and impact shows, we are an Atlas, and with that comes global diversity. I have had a lot of fun showcasing your projects in the weekly themed newsletters. As much about the journey as the destination, here are just a few of the mapped projects that I hope Atlas readers will continue to love and support:
► Skateistan A “crazy” skateboarding idea that started in Kabul to empower Afghan girls.
► Sirkhane Beauty is created with B&W photos metres away from the Syrian border.
► Aurat Raaj AI that breaks all the rules about taboos in Pakistan.
► Madiba & Nature Eco-boats made from recycled plastic bottles in Cameroon.
► Hippo Roller Water tech in Africa proves useful doesn’t have to be complicated.
► CommonWealth Fearless production company taking theatre out of the theatre.
► Goonj India’s ‘Clothing Man’ created a mass movement for surplus reuse.
► Human Library Denmark’s cool storytelling project publishes people as books.
► Fairphone Mobiles with fairer materials and open source software design.
► Precious Plastic DIY recycling workshops you can create at home.
► Turning Tables Hip hop workshops in refugee camps and urban slums.
► Materiom Circular design experts with recipes for alternative materials.
► Public Stack A sort of open, fair and safe alternative internet. The future.
⚡ 15. Love
Lastly, and at the risk of sounding like an Oscar’s speech, I also want to thank the Atlas for my fella. We met over Googledoc comments (so future!) on an article that he’d written for us. Antony has always been part of our startup story; from designing graphics to making sure our event slides are slick to putting up with, you know, this, he’s the kind support that everyone needs.
So join me in wishing Ant good luck as he gets Goldappled full time, and in wishing Cathy, Silvia, Oscar and the next Atlas of the Future editorial team well on its onward journey, thanks to the support of Som – the leading Catalan cooperative behind the brilliant Cuina, Arrels and Apart magazines.
Until we meet again, stay useful,