Meaning: The Brighton conference building a new army of business activists

Louise Ash, director of Meaning
Louise Ash, director of Meaning

Taking place on November 16 at the Brighton Dome, Meaning is the annual one-day gathering for people who believe in better business and want to be part of the solution to the challenges of our time.

Meaning director Louise Ash tells us what it’s all about:

The audience at last year's Meaning

The audience at last year's Meaning

With so many business conferences in the world, why Meaning? What’s its purpose? What’s unique?

Meaning looks and feels like a business conference. And that’s intentional because we want to bring radical ideas into the mainstream. But the purpose of Meaning is really to breed an army of business activists. Activists who will challenge the post-industrial norms of business culture and practice. Who will reject hierarchy. Who will innovate and pilot new methods, approaches and ways of working to create a more sustainable, equitable and humane world.

Why did you set up Meaning back in 2012?

Meaning was created by Brighton-based business transformation consultancy NixonMcInnes in 2012, as a way of sharing stories about what happens when business is brave enough to think differently. We wanted to convene and galvanise the community of people who were willing to reject the status quo and create positive change.

Why is Meaning relevant now?

There's no getting away from the fact that trade and money make the world go round. Business is a powerful force. Meaning focuses on creating a new, more positive, fairer and humane business as usual - one that enriches lives and communities rather than extracting from them. If we want to change the world then I think that business holds the key and is the most important place to try and have an impact. We want to make doing the right thing the normal thing.

How has working with some of the world’s most amazing minds over the past five years changed your outlook on the world? And what do you do differently?

It’s woken me up. It’s made me see that ‘the way things are’ doesn’t have to be the way things are. Organisations like Buurzorg are inventing new organisational models for healthcare delivery. Social enterprises like Fairphone are challenging the electronics industry to be sustainable and accountable by proving it can be done. Ambitious and visionary people like Juliet Davenport at Good Energy are showing it’s possible to provide 100% renewable energy to the domestic marketplace and from sources within the UK too.

I’ve definitely changed a lot of my buying habits and it’s made me hold myself to a higher standard. As we heard from Hilary Jones at Lush Cosmetics at last year’s conference “we give around 30% of our money to the government in taxes to run the country, let’s make sure we put the other 70% to good use too with our consumer choices”. And I suppose it’s made me a bit more rebellious - I don’t think I could ever work in an hierarchical organisation again.

We’ve seen the rise of mindfulness in business, what can we expect to see next? What are the biggest threats to better business?

I can see that there’s a growing trend towards a more meaningful economy. People are increasingly seeking to make meaningful choices in their lives. In their careers, their work/life balance, their connection to personal purpose and in their economic choices. Indeed the mindfulness trend is a part of all that. People are less and less willing to detach their personal values from their work lives preferring to bring their whole selves to work.

Increasingly business without meaning holds inherent risks and interestingly it's the shareholders and investors who are putting pressure on brands to step up. Smart companies and entrepreneurs know that meaning is the new currency. But what I’m most afraid of is that purpose becomes just another buzzword littering the business highway. Just another lever to sell more stuff. My hope is that this trend for authenticity and humanness in business becomes the dominant paradigm and ethical becomes the new and genuine normal.

Who’s talk are you most looking forward to this year? Why?

Meaning feels like a Christmas stocking full of goodies to me. It’s the most thrilling and rewarding day of my year and because I”ve played a part in choosing the speakers naturally I think they’ll all amazing. But I’m expecting to be blown away by Vinay Gupta. He’s a former buddhist monk and an expert on cryptocurrencies and disaster recovery. He’s light years ahead of the rest of us in terms of this systemic thinking. And the scale of his ambition for solving global crises is humbling. If stamps and coins still exist in 200 years I fully expect to see his face on them.

Who is the conference for? Who is it not for?

It’s for people who want to change the world. It’s for business activists and optimists. It’s for authentically purpose driven people from all sectors and all job roles. And it’s for the curious who know that the status quo isn’t working. It’s definitely not for cynics or conservatives (note the small c!).

What can Meaning attendees expect to take away from the day?

We seek to inspire our participants with stories and arm them the confidence to do things differently themselves. And we offer them the opportunity to connect with a rich network of fellow travellers on the road to better business. Some of the ideas they’ll hear and discuss will hurt their brains and possibly make them feel uncomfortable. That’s okay, discomfort is the beginning of change.

Meaning conference runs from 9am to 6pm at the Brighton Dome on Thursday, November 16. To find out more, visit: /


To win a free Meaning ticket with lunch worth £290, answer this question:
Who should visit Meaning?
A. Cynics
B. People that want to change the world
C. Business activists
Email the correct answer to with the subject line ‘Meaning competition’ by Friday, November 10 for your chance to win. T&Cs apply