My first interview with John Shewell

John is the founding director of colab, which is an truly inspiring social marcomms and innovation agency based in Brighton. They work at intersection of research, creative art, technology and culture to deliver campaigns for sustainable change.

He and I met a few months ago at a conference in Brighton, and from our first conversation over a pint in the local pub, I was fascinated by his drive and passion for his work. We kept in touch and caught up again for a coffee to talk about his personal journey, his vision for the future and how to bring more meaning into todays business world.

John, what drives you in your business?

What drives me is a desire to make a sustainable positive change in our communities and potentially across the globe, particularly addressing inequalities. So that's a really big thing that drives me and that's the reason why I set up colab. Colab is really a vehicle for me to pursue my passion to try and address social inequality and improve social outcomes.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for your company?

The biggest challenge I would say is trying to get organisations, particularly the commercial ones to really understand that they also have role in our society. If we can create truly a more kind of integrated sustainable model of business - where you're improving social outcomes - addressing poverty, inequality, those sorts of things - that's also better for business. It's better for society. It's actually better for democracy. So if we can start getting businesses start understanding this, then actually we start making a better overall positive change.

Do you think you can help companies to on that transformational journey to become more meaningful?

Absolutely, I think that if businesses don't go down this road, they're not going to survive. I've genuinely believed that. I think we're reaching a whole new paradigm of thinking and this is born out of even some of the big researchers from Harvard, MIT, who are starting to say that we need to create a notion of shared value, where corporates, businesses, and public organisations - are working together to try and address social inequality.

Plus you've got a new generation of young people that are already starting to think about what kind of companies they want to work for. So if an organisation wants to survive, or better thrive, they're going to have to seriously think about how they want to attract these talents into their company. And therefor they need to address these questions.

What was the pivotal moment within your life, that has put you on that journey?

The birth of my son was the catalyst for change in my life. I was a traditional career person climbing the corporate ladder and being very successful at that. And then when my son came along and I looked at him in my arms and staring into his eyes and thinking, "What future will this young man inherit when he's older and what's my role in this?" And it was at that moment that I realized that I had a huge responsibility, and a duty of care to my son, but also to kind of future generations. And that's what started the journey, that's when I decided that actually, I need to start playing a fundamentally different role that's more purposeful and that makes a really big difference to people's lives.

What are you most proud of?

In terms of work, I'm proud of nearly everything we do. There's a lot of challenges and I get frustrated, but I think the thing that I'm really, really proud of most is actually having the courage to create this enterprise and pursue this purpose.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I would love to be able to try and change how men perceive the world, and how men's relationship to the world and other human beings, especially women, I think that's the most fundamental thing that needs to be changed. And I think that if we can start addressing that, we can start seeing some profound changes across society. That to me is probably the one biggest thing I'd love to change and I'm certainly doing that.

What is your advice for young creative?

My advice to a young creative would be find purpose, find your passion. Don't chase the money, start with a higher purpose, seek that. Travel the world if you have to first, experience, explore, dream, and discover. But I would say that focus on purpose and then work hard to go towards that direction.