Innovation Story: A creative collaborative environment

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

The story of Exposure, an award winning youth magazine with a clear direction and an open approach

For award-winning youth media charity, Exposure, innovation comes from two main sources, the young people they work with and the creative people who approach the organisation with ideas for projects. Exposure creates the environment for innovation, and then works with partners to make it happen.

The charity began in 1996 publishing Exposure – a magazine by and for young people in the London Borough of Haringey.  Since then they’ve used this approach to develop their work into new areas – including filmmaking, graphic design services and even board game production. Young people can join Exposure to work on existing projects or, if they’ve got an idea for something new, they can work with the Exposure team to get new projects up and running.


A good example of Exposure’s innovative approach is its YouTube channel, e:tv, launched in 2011 based on the initiative of one its adult volunteers. As manager, Andreas Koumi, explains: “ETV is a good example of the way we work – what we’re doing is translating the articles (from the magazine) into short film.  Johan who helped initiate that because he lives locally and he’s into live streaming.

Johan saw an article about Exposure in (local newspaper) the Muswell Hill Journal.  He was so impressed he just came down, buzzed the door and said ‘Look, you don’t know me but can I help’.  It took us six months before they managed to raise some money but then they did a project with him.

Exposure is always keen to work with creative people in the community who have skills to offer and would like to develop projects that benefit young people. It’s a process that doesn’t need to be overly prescribed: “At the moment we’ve got a young woman called Donna who is a graduate in Events Management and she’s very keen on enabling young people to perform music.  We’ve just secured some funding with her. So, with her expertise, we’ll set up ‘Exposure Performance’ or ‘Exposure Music’.

For Exposure, working with partners – whether they’re young people or adults looking to work with young people – is a collaborative process, based on both parties understanding what they can offer. It means being open to ideas but working with people to craft those ideas so that they’re both fundable and worth getting the funding for.

Koumi explains: “It takes time.  You get talking, you find out what they’ve done in the past and then they obviously learn about how Exposure works so you kind of bring the two together. Sometimes it can take a few months to actually decide how best we’re going put those two things together. Then we have to source a funder that might be interested and develop a project that fits in as much as possible within their criteria, obviously to maximise your chances of success.”

While it’s important that projects are developed in a way that makes them fundable, it’s equally important any projects that Exposure develops fit in with the core principles of the organisation: “Exposure exists to give young people a voice but it’s not just any voice.  It has to be a voice that’s of value to that young individual and is of value to society.

Exposure is a multi-award-winning organisation – twice-winning Young People Now magazine’s award for best national youth publication, amongst others. Part of the reason why people hear about Exposure in the first place and want to work with it is because of those successes, so it is important that any new projects that are undertaken are both of a high standard and reflect the charity’s ethos.

In the past, not everyone has understood this position. The local council’s Youth Service – which provided some funding for the charity before recent budget cuts – had their own ideas about how to communicate with young people. Koumi explains: “We used to have this argument with them. They said: ‘why don’t you put celebrities on the cover of your magazine so you get more readers?’ We said ‘No!’  If you can’t find a way of attracting readers in a positive way – rather than just falling in with this cult-of-the-celebrity culture that is actually doing so much damage, then maybe we shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Fortunately, most people who approach Exposure to start new projects already have some understanding of what the charity is about and the Exposure team would never discourage people with new ideas. As Koumi says: “If someone’s got the energy and enthusiasm to actually pick up the phone and then come here you never say ‘no’.  What you do is you try and direct the idea into something that could work.”

Sometimes a young person will come up with an idea for the magazine that’s not quite right, over time the editor will guide them in the right direction so what they end up producing can be published. It’s a process of negotiation, tapping into people’s energy in a way that can work for both parties.

Commentary from Katherine William-Powlett

Exposure allows a very open, creative environment. It welcomes ideas and will not turn people away. But at the same time it is focussed on its mission and values.  This means Exposure gets lots of ideas coming to them but is patient and able to craft them to meet their mission and remain of high quality. Innovation thrives in a culture of openness combined with a clear and ambitious vision and values. For more innovation information and support visit

Top tips:

  1. Go with your creativity
  2. Do things for the right reasons
  3. When you’re working with others in a partnership, consider what’s in their interest as well as what’s in yours


Founded in 1996

Business model:

Mostly grant funded with some trading income

Funding: £150,000

Staff: 2 full time, 4 freelance, 5 adult volunteers

Set-up costs: £20,000

Thank you to David Floyd of Social Spider for researching and writing this story and to Exposure

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