What is a Digital Leader?

In December I was selected to be one of the Digital Leaders representing the University of York for 2017.

The Digital Leaders program is an initiative funded by Santander, for university students with a combination of creative and entrepreneurial talents in the digital field.

Still not sure what I’m talking about?

In this blog, I hope to give you a better idea of why digital innovation is so important, what being a Digital Leader means to me, and what the Digital Leaders’ programme at York is all about.


What makes digital so important?

It is clear to see that the world we live in is rapidly changing. Advances in digital technologies have fundamentally changed the way that people live – allowing them to transition seamlessly between their live and digital experiences.

A digitally native generation is now reaching adulthood. This generation lives online, with an almost innate understanding of any UX design. They have a more intimate connection with the digital world than any previous demographic.

This allows advertisers and activists alike to communicate instantaneously with a vast, constantly-active audience more effectively than ever before. In turn this creates an almost equal playing field for all digital creatives to build compelling narratives, which have the potential to create real social change and a positive effect on the world.

During my time at FCB Inferno, I was lucky enough to get a first hand taste of this. I saw how campaigns such as: ‘This Girl Can’ (Sport England) and ‘Believe in Me’ (Barnardo’s), were able to touch people so profoundly and motivate them to create change in their lives and the lives of those close to them. I find this ability to motivate change through storytelling extremely exciting.

It is now easier than ever for creatives to express themselves. As digital tools become increasingly effective and affordable, the playing field is open for creative minds to produce exceptional work. Furthermore, with the development of communications technology, it has become more practicable for creatives to collaborate with each other and fuse global perspectives.

New digital platforms have created new canvases for digital creatives to communicate their messages, through a multitude of mediums. This is one of the greatest tools to affect social change that we have ever seen.

Digital is important to me, as it provides the most effective tools for telling compelling stories that motivate others to better their lives and the lives of others.


What being a Digital Leader means to me

Designing and realising the future of digital will only be achieved through diversity and collaboration. The biggest challenges that we face cannot be overcome without sharing different perspectives and ideas. Often the solutions to our biggest problems are found in unexpected places.

I think the key to being a Digital Leader is being curious about everything. The best problem-solvers are those who can think outside of the box, apply what they learn outside their field to their own work and are constantly searching to understand how their world works.

I have always been curious about how things work. Digital tools have allowed me to experiment, take risks and push my creative boundaries. I was therefore able to build my first website at the age of 10 and my first app at 13.

At 15, I founded my own start-up (thedigitalnatives.uk). Through teaching people about computers, I was able to gain an insight into how people of all ages and abilities think about and understand user interfaces. Everyone has a unique understanding and relationship with the digital world.

These insights allowed me to build an understanding of how people experience brands through digital channels, how this impacts their relationship with these brands and how they interact with them in the future.

While working at Precedent, one of the UK’s leading digital agencies, through their programme, ‘Dare to be digital’, I experienced first hand how brands such as Tesco, VISA and WWF, were adapting to compete on a digital playing field through building stronger digital relationships with their customers.

These experiences have informed my understanding of our relationship with the digital world. In turn this has helped me to build strategies to solve digital problems, both for my clients and some of the biggest brands in the world, through the agencies for which I have been lucky enough to work.

I recently had the opportunity to work for FCB Inferno, Campaign’s 2016 ‘Integrated Advertising Agency of the Year’. As a Digital Strategy Intern, I worked on over a dozen brands, including UEFA, British Red Cross, Shell and lastminute.com. During my time there I used these lessons to help to improve the British Government’s new apprenticeship programme, by helping to shape the most conducive digital experience for providing prospective applicants with the encouragement and confidence needed to be ambitious and to better their lives.

At the global advertising network, Innocean Worldwide, I ran the reactive content test-program for KIA Motors. I responded to trends in social media and popular culture, as well as tracking trends in the auto industry in order to make social media strategy recommendations.

Every day I learn new lessons about what makes people tick. Through my degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics I am able to gain an interdisciplinary perspective on how people work. In my studies I have covered topics including behavioural economics, decision theory, social choice, game theory and the influence of power. I have been able to apply some of these theories to my work, helping me to build better solutions to the digital problems that brands face. Finding solutions in unexpected places is what I think being a Digital Leader is all about.


What is the Digital Leaders programme?

The Digital Leaders programme runs within the Digital Creativity Labs at York. The DC Lab is a centre for impact-driven research, focusing on digital games, interactive media and the rich space where they converge. The centre is funded by an £18 million investment by three UK research councils, four universities and over 80 collaborative partner organisations. Their research works across disciplines to create new forms of interaction and expression in the future digital society.

The Digital Leaders programme selects six students from the University who are taking an interdisciplinary approach to solve problems using digital tools. In this year’s cohort there are two electronic music producers, a computer programmer, an interactive performance producer, a digital entrepreneur and me.

The programme aims to support our projects by providing us with the connections and resources needed to achieve our goals. Furthermore, the programme introduces us to students and researchers from other disciplines, promoting collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking.

Over the next few months, we have meetings with Apple, BBC R&D and The Distance, to learn more about how they are pushing the boundaries of the digital field.

I am looking forward to the rest of my year as a Digital Leader and the opportunities that it will bring.


(Photo: Columbia Pictures “The Social Network.”)

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Hi guys! I’m in my second year studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics. I’m originally from Boston, USA. I have always been passionate about cycling and currently I am the Mountain Bike Captain for the University of York Cycling Club. I am also one of the social secretaries for the Club of PEP and I hope to go into the Advertising industry when I leave York. In my spare time I run my business, thedigitalnatives.uk.

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