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Rare Access: Dare To Be Rare

Rare Access: Dare To Be Rare


Sulaiman Khan Founder & Chief Purpose Officer, ThisAbility was another delegate among those selected to gain unprecedented access to D&AD through Rare Access powered by Sweetshop. Here, Sulaiman gives us a day-by-day account of his week at the festival…

As a disabled, active feminist-in-progress, creative, socially conscious entrepreneur, South Asian man, my time on Rare Access was an extraordinary experience sponsored by D&AD and Google. I’m honoured to have been one of the five delegates out of eighty plus applicants chosen as a Rare Mind. Here’s a rundown of my time last week and some highlights:

Day 1 – Sunday 19 May

The highlight was shadowing the D&AD jurors. I was assigned to shadow the Music Video Jury. It was fascinating to get an insight into how the jury process works and see a lot of the great work that was submitted. It was great to see how collaborative the process and jurors were and how thorough the debate about the work was.

Day 2 – Monday 20 May

The day was an entire highlight in itself. It was a day-long Rare Leadership Fundamentals masterclass at D&AD HQ. Through a fantastic lineup of speakers and a panel discussion, we were given the tools on how to be a more inclusive leader and succeed in our respective fields.

Day 3 – Tuesday 21 May

There were three highlights on day three, which was day one of three at the D&AD Festival. The first was hearing Rob Janoff, the designer of the Apple logo, speak. Next was Rosie Arnold’s masterclass on how to make significant (not mediocre!) work that stands out from the crowd. The final highlight was not part of Rare Access per se: I attended the celebration event for Management Today’s Male Agents of Change powerlist – I was lucky enough to be named as part of the list.

Day 4 – Wednesday 22 May

We started with a mentor’s breakfast hosted by RARE, where I was assigned a mentor for twelve months. I feel lucky to have been matched with Claudia Cristovao, Head of Brand Studio APAC at Google in Japan. I’m super excited to learn as much as I can from this incredible woman. Other highlights of the day were going back to the Festival and hearing Ajaz Ahmed’s (of AKQA) talk on serendipity and learning that showed the power of being open to letting life lead you to new adventures. I also enjoyed hearing Luc Benyon’s (of Video Intelligence AG) talk about putting storytelling in context that showcased the importance of stories and how to use all of the factors to ensure your work has the best impact.

Lastly, was the talk about disabled people in advertising by Diversity Rally at the Good Agency, which was enlightening as it’s in my business focus. It was a noteworthy panel discussion with Steven Lacey (founder of The Outsiders, “a leading insight agency challenging brands to think about people on society’s margins”) and the RNIB (the UK’s biggest sight loss charity).

It was a useful panel with intriguing facts and discussion. For example, 20% of the UK population has a disability, but only 0.06% of this segment is featured in advertising.

(Side note: I also got stuck in the hotel stairlift three times this day at The Ace Hotel, where I was staying for the week. All the staff at The Ace were terrific, sadly the policies let them down and the equipment failed them, but I look forward to working The Ace team to improve their accessibility.)

Day 5 – Thursday 23 May

This was the last day of the D&AD Festival and included the awards ceremony in the evening. Two highlights were attending Kate Van Der Borgh’s and Matt Baxter’s superb masterclass “Beat the Bullshit: Finding Creative Clarity” and seeing all the excellent work at the ceremony and meeting lots of marvellous people. The masterclass highlighted how to overcome bombastic language and work to have a more significant impact. The highlights at the awards were seeing diverse work win, especially disability-focused work such as Microsoft’s XBOX adaptive controller, and meeting uplifting people such as Harriet Devoy and Es Devlin.

It was nice to see more women on stage accepting awards than in previous years too, but I still would like to see more people from marginalised communities recognised on stage. I understand this can only happen if organisations and work are diverse from the ground up.

(Sidenote: The Festival accessibility at the Old Truman Brewery is challenging, where I have to take a goods lift to get to each level, and there’s only one disabled bathroom on site. Although, attending D&AD events for ten years, being visible and present in the creative industries is hugely important, and it’s starting to have a positive effect on the industry.)

Day 6 – Friday 24 May

Just like that, it was time to check out, and my Rare Access experience was over.

It was a mind and heart opening, transformative, overall positive experience where I made new friends, learnt new things, and learnt to embrace my Rare superpowers. Through Rare Access, I’ve been given the courage and tools to continue to always be Rare, daringly.

As Theodore Roosevelt best said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”