Christiane Amanpour, the revered journalist and CNN news anchor, is a little late. The room is full. ‘We’re a community here so please introduce yourself to your next door neighbour,’ urges the Membership and Programme Director, Jo Sparber, from the stage. We oblige. The ethos is almost akin to a happy-clappy church but this is actually London’s hottest new membership club. The Conduit club resides in seven storeys of a substantial Georgian building on Conduit Street in Mayfair and its name perfectly describes its mission – to use its community of members as a conduit for social change.
The club was founded by a triumvirate: Paul van Zyl served as executive secretary on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Rowan Finnegan is the founder of a sustainability-focused impact fund; and Nick Hamilton is a managing partner at an investment firm.
Most of London’s new clubs are scrabbling around for members, but The Conduit can’t keep people away. There are currently 1,600 members and that number is rising.
Van Zyl was living in New York when he had the idea for the club and discussed it with Finnegan and Hamilton. They started refining, evolving and expanding the concept and spent two years looking for a space in London and New York. So when the building on Conduit Street became available it was ideal. Finnegan and van Zyl relocated to London, van Zyl with his wife and three children, and he says it’s been ‘unbelievably rewarding’. Hamilton lives in Singapore, from where he’s planning the opening of a New York Conduit. ‘We’re an unabashedly mission-based club,’ Hamilton tells me. ‘There’s currently such a paucity of global leadership yet there’s this big like-minded community of people looking for a way to solve global problems – so why not give that community a home?’ ‘It takes a superhuman effort to start anything with a social mission,’ says van Zyl. ‘You need a network to carry you along. You need people, capital, a business plan, a supply chain, marketing and a myriad of things to achieve anything. Scaling anything is tough but we’re gathering people who can come together and have the momentum to get things done.’
When it’s all up and running, people will be able to take their ideas to a committee of members who can kickstart a project with expertise, funds, or both. ‘The best part of all this is seeing so much passion from super-engaged individuals and seeing our community evolve and come together to tackle things,’ says Hamilton.
Despite its worthy ethos, The Conduit’s atmosphere is festive, the food exquisite, the wine excellent, the cocktails fun, the music funky and the service warm and friendly. The sustainable décor is pared-back Scandinavian functionalism with an emphasis on comfort.
Nevertheless, it takes more than great food and a stylish roof terrace or two to compete as a club in London. What’s The Conduit’s secret? Well, they’ve tapped into an appetite for change in the capital. ‘The old certainties have dissolved and people now feel they must rise up and do something if we’re to protect democracy and freedom,’ says van Zyl. Certainly members are positive about what they can achieve. ‘The club is a home for people who want to focus on solutions to pressing problems, and who believe that change is possible,’ says founding member Gillian Caldwell, CEO of Global Witness.
The Conduit is mirroring changing attitudes. Events of the past few months have galvanised plenty of people into thinking it’s time to stand up and be counted if the world is to be prevented from hurtling towards catastrophe.
There’s a budding sense of purpose in the capital and the founders of The Conduit have been clever enough to channel that and provide a crucible for it.