ThinkNation – Interview with founder and director Lizzie Hodgson

ThinkNation founder Lizzie Hodgson spoke to us ahead of Project Twist-It on December 8th!

On December 8th, at The Gulbenkian, youth project ThinkNation present a special screening of ‘Project Twist-It‘ with the aim of tackling the stigma around poverty in schools, online, society and in the media. Their chosen weapon? Young people!

Oliver McManus caught up with Lizzie Hodgson, founder and director of ThinkNation, and started off by asking how ThinkNation – as a whole – came about…

“I actually used to run a very small event out of the Gulbenkian Café called Digibury and it was that experience that inspired me to explore something a little bit different, so I just did it, really. I ran the last event back in December 2015 and the Gulbenkian gave masses of support – they’ve very much been intrinsic to our success. Being honest, I didn’t really know what it was going to lead to but I just knew that I wanted to do an event to bring creatives, thought-leaders, technologists, and young people together to look at the challenges of society.”

Of course with any start-up project, challenges are going to be faced but for ThinkNation they simply took it in their stride:

“Our main challenge was being taken seriously at the beginning. Why would people want to take part? That was the bigger issue – the mentors and people from the industry were on board and got it really well. Money was really tight, sponsors were hard to come by because whilst they wanted the project to happen they were reluctant to give me the money I needed. I’ve learnt how to do collaborations far more effectively so the cost has come down but the collaborations have helped loads. Money is always the hardest thing!”

“I think tapping into the age group (14-24) is harder than getting people to listen. It’s building up those relationships because I don’t usually go through schools, I tend to work with organisations. Our strengths are getting young people together and inspiring them, getting them to understand the level of impact they can have. We work with guys like ART31, like the Gulbenkian across the UK and US to help us reach that market. I find that young people are, on the whole, really excited about what we do. We don’t see them as their age, I genuinely believe they are so much savvier than back when I was that age group.”

The event on December 8th brings together young people from across Kent to workshop around the idea of the poverty stigma so if you’re, like you should be, thinking “how do I get involved?” then you need think no more.

“It’s incredibly simple, you just go to ThinkNation.Co, click on “get involved” and fill out the forms for Project Twist-It, that’s what we’re focussing on at the moment but you can sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, you can email me – I’m very open to any form of contact because we’re all about getting them involved”.

“The day on December 8th, at the Gulbenkian, is split into two parts for the participants. It’s hugely rewarding, we don’t make apologies for it being a long day. Between 10 and 5, young people work with their mentors to create a response to smashing the poverty stigma. We’ve got mentors who are developers, screen-writers, people in business, academics and they work in small groups of about 5 to produce a response. We’ve had film, poems, presentation – you could have policy, even expressive dance. We find that young people have the opinions and we present that in the second part of the evening.”

“From about half-six we open to the general public and they’ll see these responses as part of a wider event – we’ve got film screenings, beat boxers, musicians – to produce a brilliant show over two and half hours. Half of it is created on the day and it’s never not worked, it’s quite astonishing”.

Now planning their fifteenth event, ThinkNation have answered questions across the spectrum from space exploration to the morality of hacking with the sole reasoning that young people drive the agenda.

“We have a process where we get young people to set the questions. For December 8th we went round the UK and spoke to over 50 people from diverse backgrounds as part of a documentary and we asked them what issues they wanted to tackle. The four topics that came out were poverty stigmas – online, social media, schools and society. We call it the discovery side because we ensure the young people involved set our questions, we have broad ideas but they refine it.”

Driving discussion with the aim of extending that into wider society, ThinkNation aim to give young people the ultimate platform to voice their opinions in a way not normally found:

“In schools there’s not so much of the opportunity for thought, debate and discussion, exams don’t reward creative thinking, but young people have a lot to say. Everything is very binary, you have to like something or not like something, one side or the other, and this event is just one example. We want to encourage conversation and healthy debate, what’s important about this issue in particular is the opportunity for people from so many backgrounds to get involved.”

To get involved visit ThinkNation.co or click here to book your FREE ticket to Project Twist-It LIVE on 8 December.

Oliver McManus

Guest Contributor

Student at Canterbury College.