London is Calling

London Riots, 2011

London Riots, 2011

Last week, London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester burned. This week, as the UK cleans up and takes stock, a list of companies, organizations and individuals who should or could be tapped as partners to address the underlying issues and discontent that sparked the flames.

This is a mix-and-match set of resources. In the spirit of BMW Guggenheim Lab and Intel and Vice Magazine's Creators Project, companies at the top of the list can team with individuals and organizations further down to create innovative, community-building, problem-solving events and venues in affected areas. Other models to leverage: pop-up stores and Panera Cares. Importantly: for big thinkers, there's the potential to create programs that travel, using London as a launch pad, moving on from there to work with youth in cities around the globe.

The point is, in this era of stretched public funds and divisive political discourse there are actors with the wherewithal, will and creativity to step outside the bounds of right-left, right-wrong, move quickly, be collaborative, helpful and--selfishly--to benefit directly from their own generosity by the reputation-enhancment and community-healing that their help imparts.

Herewith, the list:

1. Research in Motion

RIM's Blackberry Messenger service was singled out by Prime Minister Cameron and other observers as the fuel behind rioters' firepower. Cameron has gone as far as to suggest blocking the service. Historically, enterprise-focused RIM has not demonstrated a particularly innovative or personalized approach to marketing. The company is struggling to maintain market share in the face of iPhone and Google's rapidly ascendant Android operating system.

Now would be the ideal time for cash-rich RIM to come out from behind the screen, hit the street and relationship-build. Obvious opportunity: running technology training programs for youth in affected communities, potentially even leveraging the company's new PlayBook tablet. Builds good will, product loyalty and positive image far beyond London. If RIM isn't quick enough on the draw, another beleaguered mobile company should seize the chance offered by the moment: Nokia.

2. Levi's

In an uncanny coincidence of timing, on the same day that the UK riots were peaking Levi's launched a global ad campaign featuring footage of May Day riots in Berlin. The campaign's message--Go Forth--is one of self-empowerment and hopefulness, and the company quickly edited its ad for the UK, demonstrating responsiveness and sensitivity to the events unfolding real time.

Levi's has a great track record of collaborative programming and creative engagement--it's recently run terrific pop-up photo, film and print workshops in New York, LA, San Francisco and Berlin. Taking the opportunity to translate its online campaign into smart, relevant offline programming in riot-affected neighborhoods would be a natural step and also make sense in the context of the company's commitment to social responsibility.

3. Google

In June in Dublin, in conjunction with the Council on Foreign Relations, Google's so-called Think/Do Tank--Google Ideas--ran its first program--a Summit Against Violent Extremism. While few are suggesting that the UK riots were anything other than looting run amok, surely there are relevant lessons that came from the June summit. Leaders who participated can be helpful in designing creative programming to address the underlying issues, particularly in the context of Google Ideas' focus on problem solving, solution-building, public-private collaboration and technology as a force for good.

4. Arup

Arup is a top-notch UK-based global design and engineering firm. I wrote about the company’s Drivers of Change planning tool back in January. It's involved in two other projects I’ve written about: +Pool and BMW Guggenheim Lab.

Arup’s Chairman Philip Dilley is Chair of the London office of the Confederation of British Industry, a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group and Chair of the Governors of the Infrastructure and Urban Development Community of the World Economic Forum. He’s plugged in. And Arup is admired not only for the quality of its work, but also for the caliber of its holistic thinking about the projects it works on, its projects’ impact on the people who use them and the environment they inhabit and—like google--the application of evolving and emerging technologies to enhance urban living.

Obvious opportunity: place Arup in a central role creating thoughtful responses to design and planning issues raised by the riots. Leverage that thinking to address similar needs in other cities around the world.

5. Vice Magazine

The audacious thinkers at Vice approached Intel over two years ago with an idea: let's put together a global, multi-city party, featuring visual and performing artists who leverage technology in their work. We'll bring the revelers, you can pay. Intel bit, Creators Project was born and what was initially planned as a one-off set of events has turned into a longer-than-expected, ongoing party.

Vice has invaluable street cred, global reach, a strong UK presence and even runs a pub and live music venue in Shoreditch--The Old Blue Last. Assuming the leadership mantel of community builder would be a new, different--and potentially powerful--role for the magazine. Obvious opportunity: a new Vice corporate partnership--with RIM.

6. Russell Brand + David Lynch Foundation

Late last week irreverent British bad-boy, husband of Katy Perry, comedian Russell Brand penned an eloquent consideration of the causes underlying the riots--from the perspective of an ex-rioter--Big Brother Isn't Watching You.

Brand credits Transcendental Meditation for his recovery from addiction and is an active supporter of the David Lynch Foundation, which is devoted to teaching the skills of Transcendental Meditation to at-risk groups as a tool for stress reduction.

In his essay Brand set himself up as an obvious candidate for community engagement, leadership and problem solving. Brand is a bit like a one man Vice Magazine on a meditation cushion. He should be involved.

7. Jamie Oliver + Wholefoods

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is famously devoted to the cause of healthy eating. Since 2002 he has run a set of three restaurants in London, Cornwall and Amsterdam--Fifteen--that also serve as apprentice programs for unemployed youth, ages 18 to 24.

Obvious opportunity: for Wholefoods, which has five stores in London, to partner with Oliver and amplify the impact of Fifteen by sponsoring additional outposts in London or other riot-affected UK cities. It could even introduce community programming at each location, via its newly opened  Wellness Clubs.

If Oliver doesn't want to pursue a partnership, perhaps Peruvian superstar Gastón Acurio would. Currently expanding his empire, he too runs a much vaunted culinary training institute--on the outskirts of Lima. Next stop, London?

8. Equinox Gyms + Organic Avenue

Sticking with the theme of wellness: New York-based Equinox gyms is reportedly exploring opportunities for expansion in London. The gym also owns Pure Yoga and SoulCycle spinning studios. What better way to arrive in London than opening a three month community focused pop-up, with a pay-what-you can model? The hybrid studio can offer teacher training programs and healthy eating with a raw-vegan Organic Avenue café.

In today's Financial Times, in a headline OpEd entitled The Inchoate Rage Beneath Our Global Cities, urbanist Richard Florida points to the acute issues bubbling in cities not only in the UK, but also around the world. This comes at a time when municipalities are cash-strapped. By necessity, if the issues Florida raises are to be addressed, solutions will have to come in new, innovative packages, from a different--expanded--set of players and resources than they have in the past.

As fortune would have it, this also comes at a time when private sector actors want--or are being pushed by social media--to engage with their stakeholders--consumers, employees, suppliers, communities--in creative, meaningful, personal ways. If communities can get past their corporate cynicism--and rage--to see companies as the potential constructive partners they are, then there are real opportunities to draw fresh, long-term solutions into urban areas. The more quickly that mind-shift happens on all sides, the more quickly healing and renewal in the UK and innovation elsewhere can take hold.