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Sweetshop director Youness Benali takes us behind the scenes of the diversity-celebrating event, where attendees imagined being disabled, gained insight into the LGBT community and explored what makes them rare.

 

Earlier this week, the London ad industry descended on The Old Truman Brewery to attend D&AD’s annual festival. This year, the festival was preceded by the travelling non-for-profit masterclass R-LDN, created in partnership between the D&AD and Berlin School of Creative Leadership.

 

The point of the two-day event was to allow new and more diverse creative talents to enter the industry by equipping them with the right tools, inspiration and contacts to thrive in adland today.

 

Led by some of the industry’s most iconic leaders, such as The Dots founder Pip Jamieson, Saatchi & Saatchi global CCO Kate Stanners and The Great British Diversity Project and She Says founder Laura Jordan-Bambach among others, the programme was filled with sessions focused on upskilling, leadership and personal development.

 

Previously only held in Sydney, Sweetshop director Youness Benali guides us through his experience of the inaugural London event.

 

Try to imagine that you’re stuck in a wheelchair, or that your parents fled war so that you could grow up and prosper in a society where you are no longer the norm, but now an ethnic minority. Imagine that you like a person of the same sex as you, or that you’re trapped in the wrong body. Or that the colour of your skin is not of the same palette as the clear majority of your society, nor your industry. Imagine that your name is not James but Jenny, and that you and your senior have worked for weeks to bring in a new business opportunity to your company. But instead of you coming out of the meeting with relief and happiness as you’ve just agreed a deal to partner up, you instead come out feeling bewildered and shocked as you were just sexually harassed, and your senior did absolutely nothing to stop it – what do you do…

 

It is these type of mind-wrestling sessions Dr David Slocum from the Berlin School of Creative Leadership has us struggle with as R:LDN (RARE) kicks off. A masterclass, full of Rare-minded people from all different backgrounds, with Rare-abilities that set us out from the rest of our industries. And R:LDN’s goal is to instill in each and everyone one of us “If you feel you don’t fit in this world it is because you’re here to help create a new one.”

 

R:LDN has setup its miracle centre in the beautifully constructed D&AD building in the heart of diversity-buzzing Shoreditch, and as I rock up 10 minutes later than everyone else (which is definitely not a Rare-ity), I get the chance to witness this special group of people from above.

 

As soon as I sit down with my peers I realise one thing, this masterclass hasn’t been constructed to ease us in – on the contrary they are here to shake things up.

 

And R:LDN throws us into deep water from the get go, as speakers like Sulaiman Khan aka ‘ThisAbility’ tell his story of how his physical limitations have been turned into a core strength that makes him stand out. And people, please don’t label Sulaiman’s story as inspiration-porn. He quickly shut down ‘you’re my inspiration’ type comments from the group by showing us this video.

 

Sulaiman’s story is not the only one to ignite a burning desire to create a more diversified industry. Marie Reig Florensa keeps the fire burning with her energy-bolt presentation about the universal human being.

 

The theme continues in a red fashion, as Laura Jordan Bambach gives us an insight into how the LGBT community tackles the lack of diversity in the industry. It becomes pretty scary when we are presented with the facts: 12% of creative directors are female, 5% of creative directors are BAME, 29% of boards are female, 58% of FTSE boards are 100% white. 60% of disabled people have experienced prejudice at work, 50% of LGBT have experienced bullying at work or that 90% of business is not equipped to support neuro-diversity…

 

f difference is the heart of creativity and diversity is the heart of creative leadership, then it is pretty clear what we have to do. We need to change the world that we live in, and while we do that, perhaps you could try to imagine yourself as disabled person, a person from an ethnic minority, a LGBT person, a person of colour, and being female – then perhaps you will understand what a day in the life of a Rare person feels like.

 

This masterclass has really transformed the way I see myself and the industry that I operate in, and because London feels like a tropical island today, I will take a long walk home and mentally start constructing my next steps into a more diversified world – a world where inclusion rules.

 

This piece was published in Shots.net on 27 April 2018.