Never been a better time in history to be an entrepreneur

Amidst all the uncertainty in the global economic climate, I’d argue that there’s never actually been a better time to be an entrepreneur. Governments, non-bank financial players, big businesses, and even local governments are realigning themselves to be friendlier to and – most importantly – more supportive of startups and small businesses.


The US-Africa Leadership Summit

A little under ten years ago, I wrote and circulated a little paper whilst working on John Kerry’s Presidential campaign (2004), positing that the US would need to engage with Africa on a different level than it had previously. All this was set within the context of the War on Terror and the Axis of Evil (yeah, that’s how long ago it was!), but also based on the fact that China was keen to accelerate its process of investment in the continent. I wasn’t the first to argue these points, and loads of academics had advised the campaign to stake out its policy positions as early as possible, before President Bush’s re-election campaign could define us.

So, fast-forward to 2014 and as a journalist friend based in the region put it so very eloquently:

“The entire North Africa region now essentially serves as the biggest arms depot in the world, and the US government can’t even find a partner-country to host AFRICOM, the administrative headquarters responsible for coordinating U.S. military relations with 53 African countries.”

The Summit is a great initiative by the Obama administration — it makes for good electoral politics, and also good foreign policy.


MH17 shot down over Ukraine – Sad and shocking, nothing less!

I was called into a quick BBC radio segment, we spoke about the sad and shocking fate of #MH17 – and the political ramifications if Russia is implicated.


Rebecca Brown, Jag Singh, Charlotte Walker, Scott Mills at the Mind Media Awards 2013

Mark Hanson Digital Media Award 2013

Earlier this week I was proud to present the Mark Hanson Digital Media Award to Charlotte Walker.

It is an honour that the Mind Digital Media award is given in the loving memory of my dear friend Mark Hanson, who died in 2011 after privately struggling with depression and anxiety.

The award is given by Mind to an individual or organisation, originating in the UK, that has embraced digital media to raise awareness about mental health issues or support the mental health community.


Running the Royal Parks Half Marathon for Mind

I’m running the Royal Parks Half Marathon, in loving memory of my friend Mark Hanson who died last year.

I’m running with a charity vest to support Mind, a UK charity that makes sure anyone with a mental health problem has somewhere to turn for advice and support. I’m also running to support Mark’s amazing wife Clare Francis who will no doubt be miles ahead of me!

If you want to donate to Mind and support the great work they’re doing, feel free to do so using this link:


Interview with the Russian Academy of Sciences

NB: This interview was conducted for, and in front of, a Russian audience.

Какое у вас впечатление от поездки, учитывая, что это уже ваш четвертый визит в Россию? Эта поездка чем-то отличается от предыдущих?
What was your impression of the trip, given that this isn’t your first visit to Russia? Is this trip radically different from your previous visits?

У нас были десятки встреч с российскими политиками, а также удалось поговорить с людьми на улице. Создалось впечатление, что Россия очень быстро развивается, здесь есть много проблем, но и большой потенциал. В этот раз удалось побывать и в Санкт-Петербурге. Фантастический город!
JS: We’ve had dozens of meetings with Russian politicians, and I was able to talk to quite a few people on the street. My impression has been that Russia is growing rapidly, it faces a great number of issues, but yet also has lots of potential. And I finally got to visit St. Petersburg. It’s a fantastic city!

Вы, наверное, слышали, что лейборист Дэнис Макшейн остро раскритиковал прием в российском посольстве с участием «Друзей России». Что вы об этом думаете? И как получилось, что спустя несколько дней в Россию приезжает делегация британских политиков?
You’ve probably heard about Labour MP Denis MacShane sharply criticizing the ‘Conservative Friends of Russia’ reception at the Russian Embassy. What do you think about this? And how is it that a few days later, a delegation of British politicians can come to Russia?

Я тоже могу привести вам сотню доводов, за что можно раскритиковать самого Макшейна. По ряду причин люди не хотят, чтобы Великобритания и Россия ладили друг с другом. С моей точки зрения предпринимателя и политического консультанта, могу сказать, что улучшение отношений с Россией дает Великобритании огромные возможности. Равно как и российскому бизнесу — работать с британским.
JS: Well, I usually think it’s sometimes good to ignore Denis. For a variety of reasons, some factions in the UK simply don’t want relations between Britain and Russia to thaw or improve, let alone reset. From my point of view, as an entrepreneur and a political strategist, I can say that the improving of bilateral relations presents a huge opportunity. And it’s a two way opening for us (Brits) to go after Russian businesses, and as well for Russian businesses to work with us.

Мы не должны говорить: «Россия безнадежна». У обеих стран есть свои внутренние политические проблемы с правами человека. Но я оптимист и считаю, что у нас больше того, что объединяет, нежели разъединяет. Только потому, что в СМИ постоянно возникают публикации, связанные с Pussy Riot, Литвиненко, Закаевым, люди в Британии воспринимают Россию негативно. Это, конечно, проблема, которую нужно признать.

JS: We shouldn’t just say: “Russia is hopeless” and forget about it. Both countries have their own internal political scandals, especially in relation to human rights abuses. But I am an optimist, and I believe that we have far more and major bonds that unite us, than things that divide us. And because the British media constantly [and rightly so] harps on issues relating to Pussy Riot, Litvinenko, Zakayev, people in Britain see Russia negatively. This, of course, is an issue that needs to be addressed by the Russian state.

Ваши политики говорят, что «Единая Россия» — «партия жуликов и воров». Это передается в СМИ, и люди думают, что здесь все утопает в коррупции, а Путин стреляет в людей. Но это не так. Эта страна открыта для бизнеса. Я был здесь до этого три раза. Меня как бизнесмена интересует, что здесь есть Сколково, технопарк. Здесь много невероятных возможностей и много трудолюбивых людей.
JS: Your own politicians say that “United Russia” is “the party of crooks and thieves.” This is conveyed in our media, and people think that everyone is drowning in corruption and Putin is personally going out and shooting at people. But it’s obvious this isn’t the case. The country is open for business. I’ve been here several times before. My commercial interests are aligned with what’s going on in the Skolkovo tech city. There are a great many incredible opportunities, and there are lots of hard-working people.

У Дэниса Макшейна свой взгляд на мир. Я молод, смотрю на вещи более оптимистично. К сожалению, он смотрит пессимистично. Но если мы хотим, чтобы Россия развивалась не только экономически и политически, но и в других аспектах — взять, например, отношение к ЛГБТ-сообществу — мы должны быть открытыми. Если мы закроемся, установим барьеры, как мы расскажем миру о том, какие мы есть, и как мы сможем почерпнуть что-то новое от России? Такие люди, как я, могут рассказать, что я был в России, и там не так уж плохо, как вы думаете, наоборот — там здорово!
JS: Well, Denis MacShane takes a rather different view of the world to mine – I’m young and naïve, and I look at things more optimistically. Unfortunately, he’s a bit more pessimistic about Russia. I argue that if we want Russia to develop and grow not just economically and politically, but also in other areas – take, for example, relating to the rights and the LGBT community – we have to be a lot more open and lead the way. If we start putting barriers into place and wall ourselves off, how can we (as Brits) lead the world with our ideas, and how will we learn from Russia? I think I can go back and tell these people that I’ve actually been to Russia, and it’s not as bad as you think, on the contrary – some parts are great!

Насколько популярны идеи Макшейна в Лейбористской партии?
How popular are McShane’s ideas within the Labour Party?

Я бы не сказал, что его идеи очень популярны. Да, он член парламента. Вы знаете, что многие члены парламента порой высказывают парадоксальные вещи. У меня была возможность встретиться с господином Жириновским, и, если честно, он довольно эксцентричный человек. Но он получил поддержку своих избирателей. Мы не можем сказать, что господин Жириновский высказывает мнение всего народа. Так и Макшейн: он отражает мнение, может быть, нескольких тысяч человек. Но проблема в том, что, поскольку он является членом парламента, его высказывания широко освещаются в прессе. Я думаю, это потому, что больше никто ничего не говорит.
JS: Look, I wouldn’t say that his ideas are extraordinarily popular, but he is a duly elected Member of Parliament. You yourselves know that many MPs often express paradoxical statements. I had the opportunity to meet with Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and, frankly, he’s rather eccentric (bat-shit mad). But he got the support of his voters. We can’t say that Mr. Zhirinovsky expresses the opinion of all the people. And it’s the same with MacShane: he reflects a view, of maybe thousands people – but not millions. It’s important to remember that because he is a Member of Parliament, his views are reported in the press. And there isn’t a counter-voice that says anything else.

На ваш взгляд, есть признаки того, что отношения России и Великобритании будут улучшаться?
In your opinion, are there any signs that point to relations between Russia and the UK continuing to improve?

Конечно! Если я не ошибаюсь, скоро будет создано «Общество друзей России» при Лейбористской партии. Есть люди в Лейбористской партии, которые выступают за такую организацию, потому что все эти организации создаются не для поддержки правительства. Это не «друзья» Путина или «Единой России». Это друзья России. С друзьями нужно быть открытыми, критиковать их, иметь возможность свободно дискутировать и не всегда соглашаться.
JS: Of course! I’ve even heard rumours about a “Labour Friends of Russia.” I think there will be people in the Labour Party who advocate such organisations, as long as they are not in support of the Russian Government. This shouldn’t be a “Friends of Putin” or “Friends of United Russia” – it should be a “Friends of the people of Russia.” Like strong friendships, we will be open, we will be able to criticize them, and we must be able to freely discuss issues that we may not always agree on.

Как вы считаете, насколько успешным может быть «Общество друзей России» при Консервативной партии в его попытках улучшить отношения?
In your opinion, how successful is the “Conservative Friends of Russia” group within the Conservative Party, in their effort to improve relations?

Насколько я знаю, организация планирует проводить большое количество мероприятий. Большинство из них будут в рамках культурной тематики. По-моему, запланирована выставка российской литературы. Будут проходить дебаты по делу Pussy Riot, «делу Литвиненко». Запланировано много дискуссий, и, я думаю, деятельность Общества будет очень успешной.
JS: As far as I’m aware, and bear in mind that I’m not a member of the group, the organization plans to hold a large number of events. Most of them are supposed to follow a cultural theme. I’ve even suggested to them that they should hold an an exhibition on Russian literature. They’ve also planned debates about Pussy Riot, and the Litvinenko case. I think they’ve planned quite a few discussion panels, and I wish them the best of luck.

Continue reading…


A tribute to my friend, Mark Hanson

Like most modern day romances, our Mark and I met on the Internet. Really, in fact, it was on an American political blog (the DailyKos, sometime in 2005)

“Death is a release from the impressions of sense, and from impulses that make us their puppets, from the vagaries of the mind, and the hard service of the flesh.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Mark Hanson We all miss him dearly – and there are so many emails I’ve started that I’ll never be able to hit the send button on. I did a search for all emails I’d received from Mark over the years – And as I went back in time, sifting through page after page of emails, I realised he was always there for me. There for me when I had girl troubles. There for me as my partner in crime when I had an idea for a new project for a client. I know I’m not the only one here with an inbox full of emails asking me how my night out was, and also in the same email reminding me about the proposal for a client that I’d promised him last week. See the thing about Mark is that he was just, always there.

Each and every single person I’ve spoken to has said the same

“he was always there for you, even before you realised you needed him.”

The last time we met after work, it was just after Valentine’s day. We talked about how we’d met our amazing significant others (his wife Clare, and my girlfriend Janet). We ended up talking for a few hours about love, it’s true value, and how rare it was in today’s world. His idea of love – which can only have come out of his relationship with Clare – was essentially a deep connection based on friendship, trust, and understanding.

It’s a shame that only after his passing did so many of us realise just how much friendship, joy and meaning Mark had brought to our lives.

I thought I’d share with you some insight into the work and achievements Mark had accomplished over the last few years of his life – these were the only years that I’d known Mark, but like so many other people I’ve spoken with since his death, his significance in my life will far outweigh the time I knew our boy Mark.

The Mark I knew was all about scribbling notes into his writing pads – I once asked him if I could get him a moleskin notebook for his birthday, and he shot me a glance that conveyed a sense of “I’m a grown-ass man and an Everton supporter. I wear a thumb ring. I’d never let myself be caught with a moleskin notebook.” Just like when I told him I’d been a Manchester United fan for over 15 years. That conversation never went very far either, but I can picture him scribbling:

“Jag: red devil. Must kill soon!”

into his writing pad.

But in all seriousness, Mark was all about action plans and lists. There was a ruthless precision to the way he worked, with everything so carefully mapped out. He understood competition – either you do it right, or someone else would do it in your place, plain and simple – and for our Mark, you did it right. He’d give you a dressing-down if necessary, but he had this way of making sure it didn’t seem like a character critique. His way of making you take your feet off the table would be to quite literally tickle you until you put them back on the floor.

He may have called himself an old-school PR hack, but our Mark was truly a new-media fanboy. He knew the value of a good story and he knew the best way to tell it. He understood the concept of a “narrative” – a story that is created in a constructive format. Even through his death, he got the message across. He was trending on Twitter!

Through his work for the Resolution Foundation, or the IPPR, or the Fatherhood Institute, or the Centre for Cities, or World Vision, or the Labour Party, he’d touched thousands of lives. They all involved helping worthwhile causes communicate in a way that’s more human, authentic, and real. I loved that he was a PR man who wasn’t afraid of advertising. Or campaigning. He was a big picture kinda guy, but with Mark there wasn’t a hint of self-aggrandizing behaviour, and that’s another thing that made him so special.

Over at Labour HQ, there were loads of talented people with great ideas wanting to make big contributions, with maybe even bigger egos – but Mark actually got things done. Every time Labour had an internal crisis, it was Mark who brought in the right people from the various corners and factions to talk things through. And sure, maybe it was a Northern thing, he told it like it was, but this genuine willingness to engage meant he didn’t complain – he just got on with the task at hand.

At the last general election, Mark was instrumental in helping our party not just overcome the Conservatives’ incredible spending advantage in the run-up to the election, but also in helping the party recover afterwards and in the run-up to the leadership election. Mark’s legacy will be that he helped us discover our online soul, and then helped strengthen it. Mark changed the trajectory of my life, and I know I’m not the only one.

There’s a quote on a tombstone that follows something along the lines of:

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Mark, we’re grateful for the memories. We love you Mark, and we will remember you. Farewell my friend.

I read this tribute out at Mark’s funeral and remembrance ceremonies.

More reactions here: Stuart Bruce, LabourList, Wolfstar, Iain Dale, Jed Hallam, Staniforth PR, Laura Hastings.

If you’d like to contribute to Mark’s legacy, please donate via Stuart Bruce’s JustGiving page or visit the Mark Hanson page we’d set up.