Monthly Article(May 2017):Reflections from the start of my social innovation journey

In our May newsletter, we focus on the reflections from the start of a social innovation journey.  As I was introducing myself for a talk last week, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d graduated from my International Development degree ten years ago, and hence, I have also been working for ten years!

(My grad ceremony with my brother and cousin in London)

Let’s take a walk down memory lane…

Armed with a lot of theoretical knowledge on how to make the world a better place and believing we had to escape the clutches of neoliberal greed, I would spend the next year of my life looking for a job and failing.  I undertook a variety of internships, volunteer positions and wrote a couple dozen job applications, all in the quest to get a break into the international development sector.  

Paid or unpaid, it was through this journey that I worked for a number of inspiring leaders and organisations, including long time friends Michael Norton and Lily Lapenna, who defined for me what is a serial social entrepreneur, and also the values that a good leader of this generation should possess.  Of course, most of my ‘work’ was unpaid, I made ends meet with as a part time spinning instructor and Geography tutor. Luckily I remembered what terminal moraines were!  I also have to add that my parents supported me a little through this process.  Thanks mom and dad!


As I know a lot of young people are going to finish their exams and will be looking for jobs, get involved in internships, or perhaps some will be at a loss of what they’re supposed to do after their education. Please let me attempt to give a few words of advice that were given to me/or that I learned only in retrospect.

Attention spans are short.  I know.  So let me sum it up in three points.

  1. Work for a boss that you respect and you see as a role model.  In your first job, you’re really a work virgin.  You don’t know what is ‘acceptable’ and not ‘acceptable.  But I bet that you have a good sense of what you like and don’t like.  The way I see it, the business should fit you as much as you should fit the business.  Chances are, that your future behaviour will mimic in some ways your leaders in your first job.  So what should you look for?  A boss that yells at everyone, gives commands from the top without an understanding of the situation, that they are always right?  Or a boss that listens to each member of the team equally, makes coffee for fellow subordinates, isn’t afraid of showing their weaknesses, and is the one that isn’t afraid of unclogging the toilet?  What I learned about leadership, luckily, I learned from my first proper boss, Lily Lapenna of MyBnk, who balanced driven visionary leadership with empowerment of her staff, even when I started as an intern!  Thanks Lily.  Lesson here?  Boss is treating you poorly?  Have a chat with some friends, and really have a think about what kind of job you want.  Life is too short for crap bosses.
  1. Join a small team.  Not a big brand.  Following on point 1, after we graduated, the initial instinct by almost everyone looking for jobs was to work for the ‘Big 4’… so in London, that would be like the United Nations, Save the Children, World Vision, and Oxfam.  Something like that.  They were mostly found on this site, which HAS actually been through an overhaul since I last used it!  There wasn’t much luck there.  But I’m glad that I didn’t work there to start off with.  As my interest was and still with environmental initiatives, the charities tended to be smaller outfits.  I ended up interning at several smaller charities, ending up at MyBnk, a financial literacy social enterprise (before I got there, I didn’t know the term social enterprise).  As we were such a small team, there were always challenges each day, and I was part of the team that tackled it simply as there was not anyone else.  We were scrappy and resourceful, and lived off ham sandwiches and french fries each day, which was what our £3 meal allowance would buy us.   I learned so much in that first year working for these organisations, and it was through these jobs that I got to meet a lot of potential funders and contacts as well.  That’s something I think that wouldn’t have happened if I went down the traditional job market route.  Something to think about for that first job!
  1. Keep reading.  I had finished my studies, but quickly found out with my first internship that people don’t talk like academic journals in the real world.  Also, unless you went to something like a fancy expensive business school, the academic life leaves you not ready at all for the real world.  Simple things like SWOT, GANTS, and FLY charts (I made that last one up) I had to learn… which was easy… you just pretend you know and then google it after.  There was so much to learn about running an organisation.  I just kept asking my peers, my family, my boss on the books that they were reading.  I borrowed them, bought them, got loans from friends.  I still remember some awesome books that continue to form the foundations of my knowledge base.  Good to Great, The Purple Cow, White Man’s Burden, Philanthrocapitalism, and all the Malcolm Gladwell books.  When you’re finished school, it doesn’t mean you stop reading.  Right now, I’m reading Leadership Axioms, where the writer condenses his 30 years of leadership into digestible proverbs.  Amazing read.  Just think about it, over one week, you’ll be able to know the top points from a world class leader! Keep reading, for fun and for work.  It also makes you seem super duper smart.  For example, by reading, in a conversation you can now say ‘well, that is really interesting, it reminds me of the example in this book, very similar situation.’ Then you pull the book from your bag. Thumbs up.  60% percent of the time, it works every time.

It’s coming up to May and June, so we’re going to be seeing a lot of interns and volunteers in the Good Lab.  Do say hi and have a chat with our team, we’d love to get to know you guys more!  Enjoy the coffee and please don’t treat Hub B like your university hall canteen… 😉

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