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11 January 2016

Illuminating the Invisible

Bhavani Esapathi won the WIRED Japan Creative Hack Award 2015 for Chronically Driven - a project exploring the positive stories of those with invisible, chronic illness.

©Conde Nast Japan, Kimiko Nakahara

To look ahead effectively one needs to reflect on times that have got you to where you are and that’s where this blog post comes from. The start of 2015 for Chronically Driven was being chosen for The Global Futr Lab; a partnership between The British Council & FutureEverything and we bid goodbye to the year by winning the WIRED Creative Hack Awards in Tokyo; another British Council supported initiative. Needless to say, 2015 has been a year of developments, personal growth and carving out our unique place in the world with the birth of The Invisible Labs.

Let me elaborate; I started Chronically Driven in mid-2014 with a desire to unite those who feel invisible in our hyper connected world today. A space where real people share their real stories on how chronic, invisible, incurable diseases have transformed their lives for the better. Yes, that was the catch.  Chronically Driven brought together inspiring stories to create systemic social change in how all invisible autoimmune conditions are perceived and responded within mainstream media. 

Conde Nast Japan, Kimiko Nakahara

Winning the WIRED Japan Award for Best Idea in providing creative solutions to social health using tech has been critical for 3 very specific reasons:

1. Invisible disabilities or autoimmune conditions are severely underrepresented within Asia. This isn’t because they are non-existent but mostly due to a lack of understanding and social support networks that are missing. Medicine has always been a binary between healing and wellness in growing economies such as Asia so getting the opportunity to speak about a progressive, incurable disease that affects millions was simply beyond anything I could have envisioned right now. 

As prevalent as autoimmune conditions are within UK and America, it has slowly yet consistently expanded into Asia so we find ourselves in an interesting position to proactively prepare for a change in social dynamics rather than wait until it’s too late. 

2. The award highlighted our upcoming campaign #VisibleMe, where anyone with a chronic, incurable & invisible condition could share their experience using the hashtag. Winning the award has helped us prove the concept before we even launched, not to mention the overwhelming positive reception from a country that hasn’t experienced the ‘autoimmune epidemic’ yet. 

3. One of the biggest joys you could find is talking about your project to an audience that hasn’t heard of it before. Going up on the Tokyo American Club stage and addressing the topic while hearing the questions and comments by the judges and audience alike has been critical in shaping the future of how we work. The kind of research one couldn’t orchestrate even with the best marketing minds in the world. 

Conde Nast Japan, Kimiko Nakahara

It wasn’t just winning that made the experience an overall success; learning about the brilliant minds in Tokyo completely blew me away. Pitch after pitch combined with countless conversations over lunch & coffees revealed how innovation comes together in realms of art, technology & design-thinking in ways you couldn’t come up with sat alone at the desk, regardless of how brilliant you might be. 

If there was just one lesson I take from the Tokyo trip it’s that creativity fuels technological change. We’re living in a world which startups, coders and developers seem to rule but the heart of every successful idea lies on the edges of creativity that only a few dare to explore. This was cemented as Conde Nast Japan took us around their studios and organised a trip to Rhizomatiks. Understanding how writers, editors, designers, managers, developers and artists alike dream in similar fashion when coming up with new ideas is probably the biggest secret in our collective consciousness today. 

So what are we looking forward to now? 

The WIRED Award proved that there are people from all corners of the world who resonate with invisible diseases, the launch of #VisibleMe Campaign is one we’re incredibly excited about. If you know someone or are living with an invisible diagnosis yourself, tweet/Instagram using #VisibleMe and share your daily experiences — you’d be surprised at how many lives you could inspire today. 

Conde Nast Japan, Kimiko Nakahara

Of course we’re not just going to leave it at stories, we love stories but what could we do to bring about real social change with the stories? That’s the path that led us to the creation of The Invisible Labs.  We’re working with scientists, researchers, artists and data minds to make autoimmune conditions more visible with collaborations across the UK & US.  Expect to see a lot more events, initiatives and ventures from The Invisible Labs. 

Bhavani Esapathi  an FRSA, Huffington Post Blogger and the Founder of The Invisible Labs. She regularly speaks at conferences & events on digital innovation, social tech & data culture. Find her on Twitter @bhaesa or check out her writings on Medium

Want to help? Chronically Driven has been nominated for the most socially innovative blog at The UK Blog Awards this year - blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2016/my-entry/chronically-drive - vote as well as help spread the message! Remember, you can vote up to two times everyday.