In the first Lightning Talk from the YouTube beach at Cannes Lions 2016, Steve Vranakis, Creative Director at Google UK’s Creative Lab, shared his thoughts on why we should all aspire to be creative activists.

Written by
Steve Vranakis
June 2016


Steve Vranakis characterises his team at Google’s Creative Lab as a ‘ragtag group of idealists and vagabonds’ whose day job is imagining the future. Embodying Google’s core value of always focusing on the user, Steve’s team spend their time thinking up new ways to connect people and brands with the magic of cutting edge technology.

And it’s this focus on the user that has subsequently inspired Steve’s conviction that creative people can be a profound force for good in the world. After working on projects like Google Science Fair and Chrome Web Lab, that use the scale and reach of Google’s platforms to make a positive social impact, Steve eventually came to embrace the idea of the ‘creative activist’. Further inspiration came from X, a team at Google whose goal is to use advanced technology to provide radical solutions to big problems, and who are currently working on projects like driverless cars and delivering internet connectivity using high-altitude balloons. This kind of ambition is contagious, and has prompted Steve and his team to bring their creative skills to bear in tackling some big social problems.

"I think we should all be creative activists, because I think we all are at heart"

In September 2015, the team worked on a project called Assembly of Youth, which used feature phones and SMS to bring the voices of children around the world directly to their representatives at the United Nations General Congress. In conjunction with Unicef’s uReport platform, ‘Assembly of Youth’ asked thousands of young people to share their hopes, fears and aspirations, and presented them to some of the world’s most influential people in a powerful display in the atrium of the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

More recently, in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, Steve and his team worked alongside the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps to launch the Refugee Info Hub. Built and launched in just 36 hours, the portal brings valuable information to the thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and making their way to Europe. Within four months of the Hub’s launch on the island of Lesvos in October 2015, the platform had been used in 18 locations across Europe by more than 30 NGOs, and has now helped more than 100,000 refugees.

In closing, Steve challenged the audience to join him in aspiring to be creative activists, reminding everyone that this doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Creativity looks for ways to make things better - and that’s a good thing whether you’re delivering ad campaigns or help to those in need.