Dec. 14, 2021

22. Amanda Brock


Hear from Amanda Brock, CEO of Open UK, a not-for-profit that champions open source collaboration. In this episode we learn who inspired Amanda to become an advocate for open technology and how she’s using a digital gloves to improve the education system. Be sure to listen to the very end of the episode for bonus material.

You can find out more about Amanda and Open UK here:
Website: https://openuk.uk/
Personal Twitter: https://twitter.com/AmandaBrockUK
OpenUK Twitter: https://twitter.com/openuk_uk
Instagram: www.instagram.com/openukcamp/

A transcription of each episode, as well as guest profiles and much more, is available on our website www.sondership.com

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Transcript
Amanda:

The best podcast I ever did didn't record.

Danny:

That is something, oh no, I have had one where it recorded her side of the conversation was perfect, mine was unusable. So I had to rerecord my half of the conversation

Amanda:

Um,

Danny:

and meld the two together. And actually the end result was brilliant, but it took me seven hours to do for a 25 minute podcast

Amanda:

oh, wow.

Danny:

to the Sondership podcast. I'm your host, Danny Attias. The Sondership podcast is all about hearing inspiring stories from people with purpose and today's person with purpose is Amanda Brock. Amanda is CEO of Open UK. The UK body for open technology being open software, open hardware and open data. She is also a board member for the cabinet office open standards board, advisory board member for the government energy sector digitalization task force, European representative of the open invention network and a charity trustee for Creative Crieff, a Scottish social impact organization, aiming to improve the lives of young people and the wider community in rural Strathern and Strathallan through deep impact engagement in music, film, and the creative arts. As a senior lawyer, Amanda has worked across a range of sectors, including technology and financial services in emerging markets. She is a regular international keynote speaker, podcast guest and panel member, as well as an author covering digital business and revenue models, open source policy and legal issues with a particular focus on open for good. She writes regularly for academic journals and the tech press. Amanda was also listed as one of the 20 CEOs to watch. So we're watching, Amanda Brock welcome to the Sondership podcast.

Amanda:

Thank you very much, Danny.

Danny:

And I'm also gonna stop and say, thank you massively for an invitation to your extraordinary event at COP 26 in Glasgow recently, that was huge privilege and opportunity to be there.

Amanda:

I'm glad you enjoyed It It was fun. I think everybody had a good time right? I think it was quite an impactful event.

Danny:

It was absolutely brilliant to be a part of that. And then hopefully we'll touch on that a little bit later, but hopefully as our listeners know, Sondership podcast is all about that concept of sonder, sonder being that realization that every random passer-by has got a life as vivid and complex as your own. So I'd like to start by asking you to share your earliest or most memorable sonder moment.

Amanda:

The Sonder moment I'm going to pick is a chap who is one of our open UK ambassadors, Danny Abukalam, his dad. Now his dad came to my rescue earlier this year, his name is Hesham and he's from Jordan, but he lives up in the Midlands and he came to my rescue because we'd raised the money to, to buy glove kits, as they would have been MiniMU glove kits. And I'd raised about 60,000 pounds to do this. And I found out on a Saturday morning just how much we had and on the Tuesday, the supplier pulled the product. So we then spent June, July, August in the pandemic's, post-Brexit supply chain issues, building our own glove. And it meant we couldn't do it as a summer camp, but we did actually create more gloves because we reduced the cost price, by doing it ourselves, Obviously, we brought them out and we've been distributing them through October, but Danny Abukalam's dad created these gloves for me and actually stitched them with a team of semi-retired seamstresses. And it sort of sounds like pixies in the Midlands, you know, but, uh, I've got to know him a little bit and I actually just invited him yesterday to join us at the house of commons on the 21st of January for our Burn's supper. So hopefully, the real life person will be there with a lot of our community and engaging, but I think sort of getting to know him a little bit and, him sort of coming to my rescue is probably the most recent solid moment of Sonder that I've had. Does that fit the

Danny:

criteria Yeah. Yeah. It definitely, there's no official criteria? We don't judge them, we don't mark them, but that's a really, and it's got me thinking about lots of different things. Something you said is actually something I've been feeling quite recently, that at the very beginning, you said about all these brilliant people. And then they, get on with their own lives and I've got this. I like to keep in contact with people and I like to engage with brilliant people, the problem I've got now is every week I meet a new incredible brilliant person. And I'm thinking I'm going to run out of capacity, eventually, if I keep this podcast going to keep up and keep in contact and maintain a relationship with all of these incredible, which I desperately desperately want to do. And so I kind of felt that as you were saying, it, it kind of related to where, we're at around 20 odd episodes now. It's not too bad, but if we get to 200 or 500, it's going to be, it's a lot of Christmas cards.

Amanda:

It's something that I have an incredible capacity for. So Gavin Starks who you might've met, at COP has a, phrase which is connect, don't collect or some words to

Danny:

Oh, yeah.

Amanda:

So he wants to connect people, not collect them. And secretly I've always referred to it as collecting people. And it's probably one of my characteristics. So when you look at what we've done in the last few months, there's a chap I was in primary school with who made the wooden bases, I've not really been in touch with him a lot since I was 10 Timo, but he made these wooden basis for us. And he did it last year as well for our awards because he happens to be really good at that. And, you know, I knew he was doing a lot of craft and wood work and stuff, and I'm very, I don't know I'm very good at that connection that you're talking about and I enjoy people. So I really like it. So I suppose I do stay connected with an awful lot of people.

Danny:

I can relate to the collect bit and I need to switch over to the connect more and brilliant. So Amanda let's, start actually not at the beginning. Let's start at the end. Let's understand the incredible purpose driven activities that you're currently involved with. I mentioned COP26 and you ran a whole day incredible all day event in Glasgow, around sustainability. And really opened up a lot of people's eyes to so many different concepts. And you also mentioned these gloves and it's let's understand what these glove kits are all about, but that again, incredible social purpose. So let's hear it to start with a little bit about the energy and the effort and the things that you are doing at the moment that have got this real purpose drive. And then, and then we'll go back a bit to understand your journey on how you got to be there.

Amanda:

I suppose when we talk about purpose, it's something that I've done a lot of thinking about. And I spent 25 years being a very senior for most of it, lawyer across a number of different sectors. I made a lot of people, a lot of money. I didn't find that a particularly fulfilling way to live. I wanted to do something where I felt that I was contributing to society. I suppose I've been a charity trustee. I am now, as you've mentioned, I have been in the past and by doing that kind of thing, one contributes a little bit, but I hit sort of 49, 50 and decided that I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life focused on commerce. I wanted to do something in the best way that I could with the most belief that I could muster. And the thing that I believe in most is probably collective equity, a phrase I probably didn't even know 18 months ago, Christian Perino our chief sustainability officer sort of explained it to me and it exactly sums up my, my personal belief. And I think the open creates that I joined canonical at the beginning of 2008 as their first and then their, the first lawyer and then the head lawyer. And, I had really joined to do commercial work and probably surprised everybody by the level of engagement I had with open source. And I found that it matched my personal sort of ethics and moral values beautifully. And this ability and desire to collaborate and share and reuse and recycle and not waste time doing sort of boring commoditized stuff, and doing the stuff that was interesting. I find that I was surrounded by super smart individuals doing really clever things who would work well with all sorts of different people. I'm sugarcoating it, I'm sure a bit because there's always been a bit of a ruckus and you know, it's not always been the most diverse group and it's not always been the easiest group of people, but they have common beliefs that have to my mind a good and ethical core, irrespective of your, you know, your creed, your color, your religion, whatever it is, it's there for everybody to participate in and use. And people are judged on their contribution. They're judged on their, their personal activity, not on how they look, not on what they do day to day, but what they contribute and how they're part of that community. I use the word community too much and I generally use it day-to-day to mean the business community around open, but in this context, I mean it much more broadly. And I think community is a really vital thing, as is collaboration. And that for me was the thing that I identified with that sharing collaboration. So when it came to thinking about what can I do that was useful to society? I knew that I wanted it to focus on open. I knew that Brexit was happening. And I hadn't been interested in being involved in a country specific organization. I find it quite xenophobic, but I saw an opportunity with Brexit to make sure that the UK was engaging. So I jumped in with both feet. Really.

Danny:

Excellent. I like this, collective equity

Amanda:

good

Danny:

it's a really, yeah, it might be worth again, this isn't a technology podcast, but it might be worth just explaining what open technology is, in very lay person perspective.

Amanda:

Sure. Sure. So it's software, it's hardware and it's data that are open and collaborative and by that what I mean is that everybody can share the intellectual property, the copyright, the trademarks, the things that you possibly will see day-to-day as the basis on which companies normally make money. Instead of those creating revenue models for businesses, they are generally shared in a way that allows collaboration. A great example would be mojaloop. Mojaloop is an open source payment platform, which has been rolled out in Africa. Now I've worked in finance before, and I've worked in finance in emerging markets where we put proprietary platforms in. Not open platforms. And what that meant was the people in those countries that didn't have a lot of money, had to find money to pay royalties and licensing, and somebody somewhere was making money on the software. Whereas with something like mojaloop, what you do is share the software, share the platform without a royalty cost. And the impact of that is it's like the give a man a fish and, you can eat a meal, give a man the tools to fish and he can eat for life. What you're doing is giving somebody the software and allowing them to learn to use it because it's open and free. Um, they can build their own communities. They can manage something for themselves and their own future. So at its simplest. That's how it works. And in society in the west, you'll know it from things like Android, which have shaped markets differently changed traditional economic markets.

Danny:

Okay. Oh, and actually Chrome, Google Chrome, is built, Google built-in open source. Package which then Microsoft used for their browser. Interesting. In fact, the way we met Amanda is, I was involved in, an open project at Anthony Nolan, the stem cell register, where I worked for a number of years and the incredible team there built a search algorithm to try and find stem cell donors for patients who need a life-saving stem cell transplant. And what we decided as a team, as a charity, as an organization is why are people all over the world having to build this thing again? And again, and again, we're not competing with each other. We're all, we're all fishing from the same pool of stem cell donors. So we built it once we've made it public and open source, and it really changed our thinking on how we built it and that, and this is definitely not talking about technology now. When you make something for other people to use of other people to share you think about how can someone pick this up and make use of it and run with it rather than, well, I made something for me and I'll just put it on the shelf and if you want it, you can have it. But it might not fit. It might not be usable for you. we kind of put a lot of effort to provide documentation and, testing and things so we could put it on the shelf. Maybe no one will ever take it off the shelf and maybe people will adapt it for other things and maybe they'll use it and contribute to make it better, but either way it doesn't need to be exclusive, so let's share it. And so it's really lovely. And it's, um, I kind of accidentally fell into that

Amanda:

Yeah, but it's also much more sustainable, right? Because you creating a circular economy, you're recycling. It doesn't matter if nobody touches that for five years, somebody will go and use it as a base point for something else and it will avoid them reinventing the wheel. It creates that structure.

Danny:

let's talk about sustainability and what are you pushing? what are you trying to help and influence on the sustainability front, through the work that you do and the connections that you make?

Amanda:

Yeah, we want to see technology, collectively across Open UK, we want to see technology being more sustainable. So we want to see the carbon footprint improving with things like the data center blueprint we did. So by opening things up, it's very clear that we can create more efficient technology that will reduce carbon footprint, maybe get down to carbon negative. So we want to see that we want to look at sustainability in a much broader way. And this sort of collective equity phrase that I used, we want to see the societal values that technology can bring. And if it's open, be opened up more and broadened. And by that I'm thinking of things like skills development. So if you're using a collaborative approach, you end up learning on the job you learn from each other, you share. Not just the basic technology, but the ways you use it, the ways that it can be improved and that all allows individuals to improve their skills as they're using it, that the very nature of collaboration as part of that, being part of a collaboration is a good societal thing. So we see societal benefits that are much broader than economic benefits coming from open, and those will feed into a more sustainable society. And that's important to us.

Danny:

And you talk about community and collaboration and often we talk about diversity and inclusion. One of the things that really opened my eyes, particularly at your, your event, but at the things that you do is you've got kids involved. And I don't mean slave labor, sewing gloves. I mean,

Amanda:

Um, I was a bit worried about it, in fact I really worried about it. If I'm honest with you, the kids who we had on the stage were my nephew, and one of the people who, one of the ladies who has run our kids course, she's done the curriculum, her daughter, and we did that rather than sort of third-party children, because I was so nervous about it, I was nervous about putting children in a position where they might be stressed although as you saw they definitely weren't. but also there's a phrase that sometimes gets used now, youth washing, and there was a perception around COP that some people were trying to do that. So I was really in two minds about whether we should go ahead with the children who really wanted to do it because I didn't want to create any perception that we were doing that we thought it was an opportunity to bring children in and talk about their future and talk about what sustainability meant to them to frame our conversation. And the feedback I've had is that that worked really well. And I hope it did, but I was quite anxious about it.

Danny:

How old is your nephew?

Amanda:

10.

Danny:

10. So I got goosebumps. When your nephew at 10 years old was talking about, fishing boats He's

Amanda:

good at that. Wasn't he?

Danny:

the floor of the ocean destroyed. I just thought, these are the people that really should damn well care because everyone who is going out for their fish dinners doesn't care where it comes from, but your 10 year old nephew and, and, uh, his age are going to, it's going to have a, what, I mean, it's already having a serious impact, on climate change in the society. So hearing it straight from these kids and, you know, a kid that isn't Greta Thunberg so more think it was incredible, but also the work you're doing with these gloves. So to talk about that, because that's the really exciting project.

Amanda:

It is. It is. Slightly long story, but we've got a couple of minutes, I think. So about 10 years ago, I met the singer Imogen Heap and she'd created a software glove and was looking at open sourcing it and needed some pro bono legal advice around that. So I was still working as a lawyer and I was introduced to her and I did a bit of work for her, fast forward to 2020. And I'm looking at open UK and having my first kid's project and a competition. And I'll be absolutely honest. I was doing that to build the credibility around open UK so that we could over time develop a GCSE that was different from the one that we currently have technology. And I wanted to build an apprenticeship scheme, I thought then, so my first step in my mind was to go out there and start to engage around education, bringing some schools together, having a competition. So I thought we'll use Imogen's glove. And I raised the money to get the kid's version of the glove. Now it's not just Imogen who's been seen with her adult glove, Ariana Grande toured with it in 2015. And Imogen took me and a child who I was looking after to meet Ariana Grande. So we went to the concert, we went backstage. I think I met Pharell Williams, but didn't know who I was talking to. You know, it's just. It's one of those judge moments is that pop music, you know, um, anyway, so I thought this is the obvious way to go. I'll go and speak to Imogen who is super lovely and super helpful and said of course, she would be supportive of it. She was going to come and spend a day in Redhat's innovation labs with the finalist from the competition and then the pandemic hit and my one glove per four children, wasn't going to work. Can you imagine asking someone to share a glove the pandemic. It wasn't happening. And was

Danny:

no can jackson. Uh,

Amanda:

Uh, right. Yeah. Let's not go there. Yeah. So, so the whole, um, you know, bringing kids to London that wasn't gonna happen either. And I, I was sort of flattened by it and had to bounce back. So what I did was repurpose the money we would have spent on travel. And create a different way of doing the competitions so that every child who was in it was going to be given one mini mood glove. And then I also thought, well, why don't we do something a bit more for them? Let's create a little mini course. And I went to people who I'd met in the very early stages of open UK, Matt Barker, drawn holism, who's a wonderful animator and drew our courses, Pamela boll, who'd been introduced to me who lives in my hometown of Crieff. and he did curriculum and actually David Whale who was in the sort of hall of fame as one of the top educationalists in the UK. And they all did me massive favors on virtually no budget and created the first kid's course. And we raised the money to buy three and a half thousand gloves last year. And we distributed those to kids free over the summer because we created the course. We gave it to the small group who were in the competition and realized that actually it was better than just for a hundred kids, and we should share this. So we did that. And then as happens with many things, having done it, although I thought it was brilliant, I thought I'd like to do it slightly differently. And, with the benefit of hindsight. So I went out and persuaded RedHat to fund me again. And this time we aim to spend the money primarily on the course and pay people properly who had done us massive favors before although it's a mixture of paid and volunteer resource who've created the second course. And what we've done is we've based it on the open source definition. you want to know what open source really is, then you follow that. And we've also brought sustainability and the SDGs into it. So each lesson uses this glove to teach coding and digital skills whilst explaining the, uh, open source definition and the sustainable development goals. so the, the gloves sort of, the gloves have grown legs, but they have they've grown legs and we were able to give away, gosh, 5,000. And I am hoping that by next spring, I will raise another bigger chunk of money and have a serious number of thousands. Poor Danny Abukalam's dad's going to be busy stitching. I would like to have tens of thousands to put into schools. And the idea is that the curriculum is focused at key stage three. It is totally practical, we talk about data centers. We talk about cloud computing. We talk about stuff that isn't in the out of date GCSE curriculum. So we get kids thinking about the stuff that they would really be doing if they were working in tech. we probably won't get to the GCSE stage next year, or it'd be very end of next year, but we will build an apprenticeship knowledge module. So children who are practically minded will be able to do this course go through their, their fourth year at school. And, whatever it's called in England and then, uh, go out and do this apprenticeship module if they want to. And hopefully by 2023, there'll be a GCSE as well.

Danny:

So you start with a Ariana Grande's Grande's Yeah.

Amanda:

usually have to hand but I can't

Danny:

find

Amanda:

one.

Danny:

and then you move through to educating kids about coding and sustainability and technology and open source. I mean, that's, that's amazing. And I assume the design and configuration of the glove is open source. So anyone could in theory, just go and buy the components and make their own.

Amanda:

the, the wonderful people at Mi.MU who made the glove opensource, and you can get one from us, or you can go off and take the template for the glove cut and stitch your own. And then you need a microbit 2. So all you need is that open source template, a microbit, I don't know how much they are, 15 quid or something. You can actually borrow them from libraries. And there's a huge number of them in the school supply chain that was another reason for us going with that. So you don't even have to be able to afford that. What we did with the money we had is we made 1200 of them complete with the microbits. I think the retail value used to be about 50 pounds each, when they were being sold. So we were able to give away 1200 like that and 3,800 without the microbits where we assume that people will already have them

Danny:

Yeah. Amazing. So let's go back a bit then. So you talked about that transition point where you were a lawyer and making lots of money for other people, hopefully for yourself as well, but for other people. And, I'm assuming you weren't a cold callous lawyer right up until that point. But actually, you've had a big heart all the way through and that these things have been important to you growing up. I'm making wild assumptions here. I hope that's the case. You're going to say no, I was unscrupulous and I had no morals

Amanda:

Oh, no, I was never unscrupulous. And one of the things I liked best about Canonical was the chief exec there allowed me to run the legal team on the basis that we never asked anyone to sign anything we wouldn't sign. And I think the world would be a lot easier if

Danny:

I know

Amanda:

that. Uh,

Danny:

first conversation with every lawyer is make it mutual,

Amanda:

Yeah, absolutely. Did you notice, so we we've just shared the videos and I will say, I think it's openuk.uk/sustainability. Certainly the link will be around. There is a video of Francis Maude, Lord Maude, who has been super, I mean, he's just been such a brilliant guy. And I know that it almost brought the room to tears when he was speaking, but he talks about how lawyers are one of the problems with sustainability. And I completely agree with him because what they drive organizations to do is look at shareholder value and nothing else. And that's not what we're looking at in sustainability or in collective equity in thinking about the broader picture of what a company ought to be doing. And I believe probably in the, not too distant future, we'll see legislation to back this up and force them to think more broadly. But we're having a conversation earlier about circular economy and, what happens when data centers get rid of their servers and hard as it is to believe they shred them, don't recycle them, they don't wipe them they shred them. Now they do that because a bunch of lawyers are worried about GDPR breaches. I totally get that. Cause you don't want GDPR breaches. We all want to be comfortable that our data is safe and secure. However, there's a sort of gap there, right. And what they're doing is shredding them because that's the absolute safest, probably over the top, probably unnecessary, but legalistically easiest route to go down as opposed to taking a very small risk in the middle and just wiping those disks and putting them back into the economy and not wasting. So it's sort of my hobby horse for the day is a fact that I find out this morning that I'm quite annoyed about.

Danny:

Amanda, where can our listeners find out more about you and open UK and these wonderful projects that you're doing?

Amanda:

We'd send them to our website, openuk.uk, our Twitter account, open UK underscore UK. We do a sort of frequent, but not structured newsletter. So every sort of two to four weeks, we'll send out a newsletter, updating people, be great to have people sign up to that and engage, from a personal perspective I use Twitter. AmandaBrockUK and we've actually just created an Instagram account. I don't even know how I tell you what that is, but I'm told that that's what we need to be doing these days. So.

Danny:

We'll find it and put it in the show notes

Amanda:

Yeah, we actually have a big piece of work. That's going to be happening over the next few months, bringing younger folk into the organization. We talked a bit about kids before. We have Katie Gamanji taking a role on the, engineering slash founder side and a chap called Robert Granells on the legal and policy side who are going to help us evolve a younger, I wouldn't say version, but a younger component, to Open UK for the sort of 20 somethings. So I'm really keen that, anybody who's listening, who might fit that bracket, reach out to us. We're really enthusiastic about bringing more young folk in.

Danny:

Excellent, thank you Amanda. And thank you for being a guest on the Sondership podcast.

Amanda:

Thank you very much for having me. You probably can't see cause I don't think this is on video, that I'm being mauled by my cat Dundee as I'm talking, which is what I might be slightly distracted. It must be dinner time. so anyway,

Danny:

that's. jumped up when we were talking about fish.

Amanda:

Ah, quite possibly he's a fan of fish.

Amanda Brock Profile Photo

Amanda Brock

CEO

Amanda is CEO of OpenUK, the UK body for Open Technology, being open software, open hardware and open data. She is also a Board Member for the Cabinet Office Open Standards Board, Advisory Board Member for the Government Energy Sector Digitalisation Task Force, European Representative of the Open Invention Network and a Charity Trustee for Creative Crieff a Scottish social impact organisation aiming to improve the lives of young people and the wider community in rural Strathearn and Strathallan through deep impact engagement in music, film and the creative arts. As a senior lawyer she has worked across a range of sectors including technology and financial services in emerging markets. Amanda is a regular international keynote speaker, podcast guest and panel member as well as author, covering digital, business and revenue models, Open Source, policy and legal issues, with a particular focus on open for good. She writes regularly for academic journals and the tech press. Listed as one of 20 CEO’s to Watch, and part of Computer Weekly’s Most influential Women in Tech Long list.