A couple of months ago, I saw a woman on the tube with a t-shirt emblazoned with the words do what you love.
Three things about this feel-good mantra irked me:
As I make way for new leadership at Year Here after 9 years at the helm, I’m distilling the lessons I’ve learnt — the hard way.
This is a letter to my successor, to the entrepreneurs behind Year Here’s burgeoning venture portfolio and to anyone who finds themselves in position to start or scale a social business.
May your path be easier than, but just as awe-inspiring and fulfilling as, my own.
No meaningful change in this world has ever been uncontroversial. A sprinkle of criticism is part for the course. …
In February, when Coronavirus was a mere footnote in the news, I spoke at the launch of our 12th cohort of Year Here Fellows at Toynbee Hall in East London.
In a nutshell I said, as I had many times before: society is facing almighty problems; inequality won’t fix itself; entrepreneurial responses could be the answer; go get ’em.
But that night I asked myself, and the audience: could that all still be true 7 years after the first cohort’s launch? Had nothing changed? …
Like the 700,000+ people who signed up to become NHS volunteers or the tens of thousands more who are volunteering for mutual aid groups, food banks and other frontline services, I desperately want to help.
I just don’t know how.
With no clinical skills to offer, my mind changes every day as to where I should be spending my time.
It was the third day of the first Year Here Fellowship when I finally submitted to the exhaustion of all the late-night, last-minute prepping I’d been doing in the run up to our launch. The first 12 Fellows were sat in a circle listening carefully. Somebody else was leading the session. I could relax for a moment.
My eyes glazed over and I found myself staring at the floor. Then I glanced up a bit at all the Fellows’ feet, at their 12 pairs of shoes. Shoes worn by human beings, I thought to myself, who’d entrusted their careers to…
This year, whether we like it or not, the mince pies, mulled wine and yuletide ditties (not yet, btw) will be accompanied by something altogether less festive: a maelstrom of fractious TV debates, awkward photo opportunities with bacon sandwiches, and manifestos that seem to consist of the same words in different orders.
The election is on.
The social enterprise world hasn’t always been vocal about its political views. That’s despite the fact that our raison d’être is to make society fairer. So why have we, by and large, kept quiet?
In the midst of anti-apartheid protests in the late 80s, my primary school ruler was emblazoned with the words “BOYCOTT SOUTH AFRICA”. This bold political statement (to, er, my 6-year-old classmates?!) must have been my older brothers’ influence. I would have had no idea what it meant. I remember the fall of apartheid in 1990: my family crowded round the telly to watch Nelson Mandela get released from prison, borrowing Winnie’s glasses to read his speech. My just-about-millennial generation was brought up on Comic Relief films that told of a desperate continent crying out for help. When I left school…
I first realised I was different to other boys when I was 4. In that year, 1987, only 11% of the British public agreed that same-sex relationships were “not wrong at all”. By 2013, when the Same Sex Couples Act was passed, that view was held by the majority (and today, by two thirds). As one of Thatcher’s children, witnessing the Tories, the actual Tories, legalise same-sex marriage blew my mind.
Hear the words ‘changing the system’ and you might picture grassroots activists like Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks or Gandhi. Maybe mass movements like Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion come to mind. Or perhaps you think of leaders in government like Abraham Lincoln or William Beveridge.
You are perhaps less likely to think of business as a vehicle for changing systems and for winning social justice.
Aren’t the reckless bankers who caused the 2008 financial crash ‘business’? Aren’t the tech titans who dodge tax also ‘business’? Well, yes, they are. But, done right, business can change the world.
7 years ago, I was awarded a Clore Fellowship. I had, somewhat recklessly, quit my job a few months before so the £20,000 bursary was a total godsend.
During the first residential week, I swiftly became seen as the naughty kid in the class. I was gearing up to Year Here’s Downing Street launch so I was emailing and making phone calls during breaks. The facilitator called me out for being distracted and the petulant child inside my head protested: ‘This is a leadership programme, let me lead!’
Every evening we heard the career stories of various charity Chief Execs…
Founder of Year Here.