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#BEYOUROWN MEETS CAROLINE MACFARLAND

Read all about CoVi with this week’s #BEYOUROWN interview with Founder and Director Caroline Macfarland. CoVi (Common Vision) is a visual think tank analysing the behaviors, expectations, and values of the millennial generation. Through documentaries, short films, interactive graphics and social media, CoVi aims to promote civic engagement beyond a politically active minority. With recently featured 35 under 35, brainchild Caroline introduces CoVi.

Hey Caroline, Can you give me an insight into COVI and what you do?

Hi! CoVi, which stands for Common Vision, is a not-for-profit think tank. We look at ways of making political debate and policy discussion more accessible to a more “normal”, younger audience who perhaps are turned off by the way that political issues are represented in the mainstream media. To be more accessible and engaging a lot of our research and analysis is done through visual or digital formats, as well as our outreach and communication of course.

Why did you start this?

I had previously worked in think tanks and found that there’s a lot of really interesting thinking and debate happening that simply doesn’t find its way out of closed rooms in Westminster or the City. Even though these are discussions and decisions which affect everyone and which people are genuinely interested in and talk about in the pub with their friends. So we aim to bridge that gap.

You say COVI is like a think tank, how do you approach exploring the underlying concepts of political issues

We think about the long-term social and economic issues that are most important to the future of the millennials, and then what we can do now to shape that future. This is in contrast to other think tanks which often seek to influence government policy in the immediate months ahead on a short-term basis. Many people are disillusioned with the political process and think that leaders don’t represent them – but this is a symptom rather than a cause of the problems we face. So we want to rebuild trust in the process by but also encourage people to be aware of the deeper issues – and to think of the ways in which their everyday decisions matter and can influence others – they don’t have to wait for national leadership by someone else.

Where can you see yourself within the next 2 years then further 5 years?

I founded CoVi two years ago but as we had limited start-up capital (we were the first crowd-funded think tank) we have spent the last two years bootstrapping and we are still very much in startup mode! So the main goal over the next couple of years is to develop and build our team so that we become much more stable as an organisation. So to answer your question, in two years time I want to be the director of a really strong, resilient organisation. And I hope that stability with allow me to have more of a work-life balance and have a few more hobbies outside work! In a further 5 years… who knows… I’d like to have expanded my own personal portfolio of work and have taken on a few new challenges.

How important do you feel it is to inspire other women out there on a mission and how do you feel you do this?

As I mentioned at CoVi we try and encourage people to understand how individual decisions and initiatives which seem fairly small-scale can make the world a better place, and that “politics” doesn’t have to be limited to middle-aged men in Westminster – its just as likely to be about a social enterprise cafe employing homeless people or using renewable energy.

In terms of inspiring other women directly, I think just being fair and respectful of other females you meet through work goes a very long way. Some of the most encouraging and supportive individuals to me in terms of my career have been men, and some of the rudest and dismissive have been women – that’s not meant to be a generalisation but its really important to remember sometimes people are put off or discouraged by small things and also inspired by small things.

Do you feel enough is being down to empower and support women starting their own businesses?

I think millennials (roughly the generation under 35) are definitely more entrepreneurial and brave about doing their own thing and trying something new. I don’t know if there’s enough formal networks or support specifically for women as I haven’t really experienced anything like this. I think the initiatives which target women at certain stages in their life when they may be looking for other career paths – such as the organisation which teaches new mums how to code – are great.

Can you share some wise words of wisdom on creating a successful brand?

That’s a difficult one as a lot depends on the type of brand you are trying to create. What I would say it’s important to stick to your vision especially if what you are doing is something new or different. When I launched CoVi as a “visual think tank” a lot of people made assumptions about what that meant and it took a while to establish proof-of-concept, but I think we’ve got there now.

Speaking of channels of communication, how do you feel the use of social media has given people the chance to voice their opinions in Politics?

Of course, social and online media means that people can engage directly in debates, often with people, they don’t know or wouldn’t see on a face-to-face basis. Twitter lets you hear directly “from the horse’s mouth” and possibly makes it easier for people to understand who says what. But on the other hand, it’s also dangerous just to listen to 140-character soundbites or an echo-chamber situation where you are just engaging with people who share the same views. Just look at the EU referendum where everyone was hearing lots of talks but often it just sounded like other people arguing and no-one knew where to find the facts. So I think social media has an important role to play as an entry-point but then signpost more detailed information.

What other social media platforms have been a useful effective marketing tool for COVI?

We are still working on it actually, but I’d like us to use more cross-platforming of our own content so that people who don’t know about us already but are looking for content like ours can find us. So, for example, cross-posting our blogs on Medium or our podcasts on Soundcloud. That’s really important to reach out to a wider audience.