Discovering new spaces in innovation

Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), a division of FirstRand Limited, is delivering an entirely new way of networking and building relationships within the volunteer and corporate social investment arena at business conferences.

This new innovation aims to do away with cubicles, leaflets and people trying to sell ideas to delegates.

“There is always this mass of people trying to be heard, handing out leaflets and waiting for someone to notice them in a sea of noise and sound,” says Yvette Nowell, head of the RMB Fund. “It can be so forced and the results are so mixed.

"This inspired us to develop a new way of thinking for hosting conferences called the Network and Innovation Space. We asked our NGO partners if they liked the idea and would be willing to change old patterns into an exciting environment where they can interact with the right people and give out the right message. Their reaction was overwhelmingly positive.”

The concept of the Network and Innovation Space is to develop areas that are exciting, recreational and inspirational. Organisations that participate must adhere to two rules: no selling and no flyers or printed paperwork to hand out.


“We want people who attend the conference to network productively,” says Nowell.

“The goal is to ensure that each space clearly shows what the organisation is about. If these networking and innovation areas are done properly, then they offer the NGOs the opportunity to connect with businesses that can help them make a difference.

“These spaces focus on shared knowledge and understanding, completely nullifying the idea that ‘corporate gives while the NGO receives’. Instead they are now able to learn from one another and inspire best practice on both sides of the fence.

“This doesn’t mean we have all the answers or that we know the way forward,” says Nowell. “This is about everyone re-evaluating the strategies around employee volunteering to get more out of these partnerships. It’s about the people who are attending, the networking and the ability to drive change with like-minded individuals.”

Since participating in these spaces can be costly for NGOs, RMB sponsored seven organisations that passed a rigorous screening process.

“Lesedi Lobatso is one of the organisations that we have sponsored. They devised an impressive routine around anti-gender violence. Another is Junior Achievement South Africa; their amazing space of raw materials encourages visitors to create their own products,” says Nowell.

Other NGOs that are sponsored within the Networking and Innovation Spaces include Space to Say, Food and Trees for Africa, the Society for Animals in Distress and Symphonia.

“The concept is new, raw, invigorating and is going to be exciting to see how well it redefines the future of CSI corporate conferencing.”

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