Talking about the UK education system isn’t very uplifting. Family income and where you live still seem to define how well you’re likely to do at school. In international rankings of reading, maths and science performance among 15- and 16-year-olds, little has improved despite government ambitions to make our schools among the best in the world by 2020. Meanwhile, there’s both a shortage of qualified teachers and a ever-tighter budget squeezes on the schools employing them, with almost two thirds expected to cut one or more teaching posts before September.
But another trend, said Joe Hallgarten, former director of Creative Learning and Development at the Royal Society of Arts — speaking at a recent On Purpose event — is the rise of organisations working outside or with schools. (The Charity Commission for England and Wales, for example, lists some 65,000 registered charities dedicated broadly to young people’s education.) They’re bringing writers and artists and scientists into classrooms. They’re helping kids start a business, or teaching them martial arts or philosophy. And they’re introducing them to modern-world skills like coding — “the new piano lessons”.
After an intense few days inside one of Uganda’s largest refugee settlements, I’ve stumbled upon two slightly different (and a bit more uplifting) movements.
On the way back to Kampala, I stopped for a night at the Social Innovation Academy, created about two years ago to address the desperate lack of job prospects in the country.
60+ young people aged from 18 to late 20s live in dorms and traditional African huts and new constructions made from sand-filled plastic bottles; several more buildings are in various stages of completion, including new housing for volunteers and a huge hall. Hand-painted signs are dotted around: “Do something every day that scares you”, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those already doing it”.
Scholars get free rent and board, and training for as long as they need it to develop business ideas that will benefit themselves, the community, the environment, or all three. Continue reading “Making things”→
I recently finished working on a first project with the youth media charity Exposure – helping them produce a range of materials around the topic of identity. All the articles and images in the magazine, below, were created by teenagers (with a bit of chasing and tweaking from us). The print version will be distributed to schools and youth centres in north London – and a short film on the same subject is coming soon.
Here’s what came out of my trip to Uganda, late last year:
The Guardian published my story – Uganda is a land of entrepreneurs, but how many startups thrive? – on the reality behind a recent report claiming the country is the most entrepreneurial in the world. It’s easy to start a business, and many people – even those in a full time job – do so, but few manage to grow or even continue their venture.
The bizarre and wonderful Wakaliwood is making ripples around the world.
The morning we visited the “studio” of Uganda’s homegrown action movie industry, the team was expecting a group of French and German reporters. The story has been picked up by the BBC, VICE magazine, Al Jazeera, and national Irish television. The films have a cult following, with fans in Russia, Guatemala, China. In the rehearsal space – which doubles up as a bedroom for some of the actors and storage space for props and equipment – there’s a wall with foreign names scribbled on it.
Earlier this year I gathered a few VSO colleagues to join me on the Acumen+ Storytelling for Change course, which is all about bringing (personal) stories into your professional communication, helping you to connect with (and convince) your listeners as you present.
I’ve tried before, and failed, to complete online courses; free ones like these are even harder to see through. What worked this time? Mainly it was committing to meet weekly as a group for the duration of the modules (guilt about letting other people down is stronger than the guilt of letting yourself down, it seems). But also genuine enthusiasm within the group for the topic, and a sense that the lessons were fairly universally relevant.
The series on youth opportunities I produced last year with Romanian TV journalist, Lorelei Mihala, is being published in instalments on Cafe Babel (appropriately, a magazine published in multiple languages and aimed at young Europeans).
We were funded by the Council of Europe, as part of a programme aimed at getting more diversity into the media – hence our focus on young migrants and refugees in both cities, London and Bucharest.
Romanian TV journalist Lorelei Mihala and I worked together last year for two weeks in two cities, funded by the Council of Europe’s Mediane project. Here’s what came out of it (scroll down for more photos and video).
One in five young people – around 5.5 million citizens – in the EU are unable to find work; many more do jobs for which they are overqualified. Youth unemployment regularly hits the headlines across Europe – but what are the stories behind the statistics? A report from Bucharest and London
My exchange partner Lorelei and I are finally finishing up our joint project, part of the Council of Europe’s work to encourage more diversity in the media. Our full piece is coming soon; in the meantime, here’s a little preview – thanks to Iqraa (Somali) in London and Kiki (from Nigeria) in Bucharest – of what we talked about.
I’ve gone from a tiny organisation – my last employer had just one part-time staff member – to a huge one: the British Council is the UK’s largest charity, works in over 100 countries, and employs some 7000 people. Another change: my stint at British Council is part of a one-year programme, run by On Purpose, that aims to ‘develop leaders’ in the social enterprise sector.
(What’s a social enterprise? Good question. Simplest of the dozens of hazy definitions: a business for social purpose – think the Big Issue magazine.)
The idea behind On Purpose is that there are loads of start-ups with noble intentions, and plenty of funding and schemes to support the entrepreneurs behind them, but a weak spot still in terms of the managers and professionals needed to keep those new businesses going. And, of course, to make those initiatives broader and better, since scaling up the successful models is one of the big challenges right now. Continue reading “Going big, with purpose”→