Darshan Sanghrajka is the founder of Super Being Labs, a social innovation studio that solves meaningful challenges entrepreneurially. Darshan has 11 years’ experience in branding, innovation, communications and digital, and his passion is using his skills to tackle industry and social challenges caused by broken systems, especially education and employment. Darshan recently ran a successful Kickstarter project www.beingmankind.org, which raised £76,503 to produce a book to challenge outdated perceptions of masculinity.
“…We’re not trying to change anyone, we’re just saying that being an individual who has a healthy relationship with yourself and those around you is far more powerful for you and society. Pressure to conform to outdated gender stereotypes damages everyone…”
Darshan, please can you briefly tell us about your career to date and what made you want to work in the social innovation space?
My journey to where I am has been meandering, but it all makes sense in hindsight (doesn’t everything!). My twenties were filled with building up my expertise in branding, communications, digital and making products. Although I was my own boss, it was, of course, a steep learning curve. Deep down I knew what I wanted to do with what I was good at – I knew it from when I was 16, I just didn’t quite know how to get there.
My plan had always been to create a company that combined creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, and technology (where needed) to enable social good. Due to personal experiences, I wanted to make products that changed the system for the better, and through my twenties, this vision grew stronger, having worked with so many young people in disadvantaged areas (in London, Scotland and Los Angeles). In my mind, it’s always made sense to make things that help people, and the planet. (Of course, try telling that to a careers tutor at school!)
As I got closer to 30, I decided to start again with a renewed and committed focus – Super Being Labs was finally born. The key thing was getting to a point where services weren’t siloed – I wanted clients to come to us and say “We have this huge social challenge and we need all your skills to solve it,” and we’d be able to say: “Let’s make it happen!”
Well here we are, our clients include names like Oxfam, Breast Cancer Care, The Cabinet Office, The Brilliant Club, and also even ourselves – we have created a digital platform to support young people called State of Ambition and published a book called Being ManKind to help bring about true humanity in the world.
Outside of work, I am a non-executive director for the Sporting Memories Foundation (a national dementia charity), on the advisory board for the British Council’s Entrepreneurial Africa Programme, on the NSPCC’s Digital Taskforce, as well as Chair for a fabulous charity called Somers Town Community Association in London. So, I’m fully steeped in making sure the team and I live our mission.
What does your role at Super Being Labs involve on a day to day basis?
On a day to day basis at Super Being Labs I split the time into three areas – time with clients, time with the team and time plotting the future for the company. It’s not as neat and linear as it sounds of course – it’s more like spinning a thousand plates, whilst walking backward but I love it (most days!).
The common focus amongst all of that is creating work that delivers social impact and ensuring that we always keep doing so as a team. The biggest thing I miss is being able to work on all projects, all the time! I’ve learned to delegate and step back where needed.
Please can you tell us about the Being ManKind project and how it came about?
Being ManKind came about because we have numerous projects that work with young people and we’d seen the need to show how outdated masculinity harms us all and so, we are on a mission to do away with the term ‘man up!’.
We have numerous projects that work with young people and we’d seen the need for positive role models. At the same time, I was having a chat with a close friend and client, Mark Lazarus. He has two young kids and also felt this was needed. So, we decided to crack on and make it happen. I worked up a strategy and the name, and off we went.
We got a bit of crucial seed funding from the amazing Anthony Brandon Bravo to help us get the research and planning done, and then I reinvested Super Being Labs profits into it. Am a firm believer in going after something 100%, and, as Warren Buffet says, you have to “skin in the game” (take on some risk in order to achieve a worthwhile goal).
I was lucky to have a team that cares about the cause just as much as Mark and I do. Jenny and Priya co-produced the stories, Priya did the photography, Beez focused on the design, Joe worked his editorial magic, and later Ed joined us to write the film (which we will begin producing later this year).
Almost nine months of work later, we published a beautiful hardback book called Being ManKind Volume 1. The foreword is written by World heavyweight boxing champion, Anthony Joshua, and the book is full of honest stories from diverse role models, that show the beauty of humanity, individuality, and kindness.
For every book bought, we donate one to a school or a youth organisation, plus we get to work with more young people in schools and help inspire boys to grow into kind and confident humans, who understand themselves and are empathetic to others. The first run and the school workshops went so well, that we decided to scale this even more – so that we can plot a path to being in every single school in the UK within three years (and then abroad too). That’s what the Kickstarter campaign was for.
We wanted to raise £75,000 to give us the funds to print a larger quantity of books, produce the second volume and open-source our schools programme, so that teachers can plug and play (always for free). We managed to raise £76,503 over the longest 35 days of our lives, and all thanks to a community of 959 amazing people who got behind us.
You can find out more about us and pre-buy your book at: http://www.beingmankind.org/
Kickstarter is an all or nothing platform and you didn’t hit your target until hours before it closed. How stressful was this and what did it feel like when you eventually succeeded?
I’ve been running marketing campaigns for over a decade now, so I had a plan in place. I also had faith in the team, the product, and the mission. So, whilst it was an anxious ride, I had to stick to the plan, even if I often wanted to just go sit in a corner and contemplate the question: “WHY would you try to raise £75,000 in 35 days, Darshan?!” We had planned hard for this but also knew that most crowdfunding campaigns have a bathtub effect – where funding comes in at the start and the end, with a middle ground that is mainly inactive.
On a scale of zero to stressful, it was off the charts, but we also had some amazing people helping us – I’m going to be writing a blog about this soon but it will show how the power of good people can make the seemingly impossible happen. There were a lot of heroes during the campaign, and I want to mention them properly, hence the blog post I’ll be writing. For now, thank you to all of you, you know who you are.
The campaign was also set up in a way to help us test our messaging and find ways to scale – one thing that became apparent very quickly was that employers who truly care about making diversity and inclusion work wanted our stories to be told within their workplaces.
During the 35 days, companies like Havas, Ericsson, Google and 15 others all pledged for multiple copies of the book and have invited us in to see how else we can work together. Our stories are the perfect non-preachy way to open minds in the workplace, and set a solid foundation for diversity and inclusion to work properly.
That moment when we succeeded was just unreal – people we’d never met were tweeting us telling us they were crying with joy and just seeing the team’s reaction was worth all the sleepless nights. It was like we’d been in one of those classic bouts where the underdog comes out of nowhere and wins. It’s definitely going to be one of the memories that I’ll cherish forever and the best bit is the community that has formed around the mission and the product! We’re still getting tons of people pre-buy our books from our website.
— Being ManKind (@beingmankind) May 14, 2017
Why is the myth that men need to ‘man up’ so pervasive?
Terms like ‘man up’ are so pervasive in our everyday lives – subtle messages in the media, the things we learn at school, and even our everyday language. Sometimes it’s meant and sometimes it’s just said in passing. We have to be more conscious of our language. We’re not trying to change anyone, we’re just saying that being an individual who has a healthy relationship with yourself and those around you is far more powerful for you and society. Pressure to conform to outdated gender stereotypes damages everyone.
Unfortunately, the world still defines people by their gender, rather than their humanity. These gender stereotypes create expectations that not only damage those who are burdened by them, but they also cause harm to the people around them too. After all, you can be powerful but compassionate, strong but weak, competitive but giving, courageous but scared … the list goes on.
Gender has nothing to do with it. We need to break old school stereotypes and the pressures they create – otherwise, we’re not going to tackle the root causes of silent depression, suicide, gender violence, discrimination, sexism – the list goes on.
How can Womanthology readers support the you and your Being ManKind moving forward?
If readers like what we’re doing, we’d love your support – the simplest way is to buy a book (for each book bought, we donate one to a school we’re working with) but also if you have other ideas to support our mission, then please get in touch. We love meeting interesting and awesome people.
What is coming up next for you and Super Being Labs?
Super Being Labs is growing from strength to strength, and we have three more people joining us soon – which will take us to a team of 30 people. We also have some amazing news in a couple of months’ time, but counting chickens and all that … so stay tuned.
We’ve been trading for three years and three months so far. The next three years are going to be totally focussed on winning work where we tackle the most important challenges that society faces, whether that’s through client projects or scaling our own projects (like Being ManKind). If you’re a company or a charity that wants to commission us, we’d love to hear from you.
Ultimately, I want to build up a fund where we can invest in people who will change the system for the better and I want to do it at scale – i.e. not a committee led, red-tape hindered, box-ticking strategy, but one where we focus on the people we’re investing in and give them all the support they need to make the impossible, possible.
The world is going through serious flux at the moment, but there are so many great things happening – we must not be polarised or worried, we must keep believing in humanity’s power to make positive breakthroughs.
For me, the main thing is meeting lots of people who just care – you never know what that might lead to. So, I’ve set the company a goal – over the next three years, we should have met at least a 1000 interesting people working on meaningful missions. Perhaps you’re one of them? Feel free to get in touch and let’s start a conversation.