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”.
Since the spring, a team of us at On Purpose have been working on a collaborative storytelling project. A few weeks ago, we finally unveiled Humans on Purpose.
It’s not the first rip-off of the simple yet captivating Humans of New York idea – but it may well be the first to share stories of social purpose. We’ve got a pretty wide range: from CEOs and young entrepreneurs to former priests and ex-offenders. They’ve talked to us about their mums and their children; about pivotal moments and long-enduring passions; about anger and playfulness. People really are prepared to talk honestly about why they do what they do.
It’s the first time I’ve been involved in such a wide collaboration (we’ve had 50+ interviewers, 5 editors, and several people involved in the design and development of the site, plus numerous others organising the final event of the project). Here are some things I learned: Continue reading “Stories of purpose”→
It was Volunteers’ Week here in the UK (as well as Women’s Sport Week, in fact – nice profile of boxer Nicola Adams here on role models). It doesn’t seem to make many headlines outside the charity sector – yet the scale of volunteer work in this country is much larger, surely, than most people realise. 15.2m people in the UK (nearly a quarter of the entire population) volunteer each month; 0f the 164,000 registered charities, an amazing 90% have no paid staff, not to mention an estimated 150,000 further, non-registered organisations, also run by volunteers.
It’s not only the actual work these people do that matters, though. It’s also how they do it, according to research recently published by VSO (my current placement): by giving time for free to help a good cause, volunteers are expressing values of solidarity and citizenship that can prompt knock-on effects on others. As a headteacher in Nepal said, according to the research, “when the volunteer came to help, the [local community] think if someone can come to help us, we can help each other”. Continue reading “Giving time”→
There’s a satisfaction in ordering the disordered, making sense of the scattered.
We’re halfway through the first of our six-month OnPurpose placements, and before breaking up for Christmas we reviewed what each of us found challenging / interesting in our work.
Our cohort of 18 are a fairly diverse bunch (backgrounds in law, finance, consulting, life sciences, business development, fundraising, etc.). And our current workplaces range from tiny to global, from start-ups to household names, from pushing profit to donor-driven – organisations across the whole spectrum or even on the edges of social enterprise. Drawing general conclusions from our experiences, then, might be a stretch…. I can’t resist trying, though. Here’s the summary. Continue reading “Working with uncertainty”→
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”→