Helping Others to Help Me

Helping Others to Help Me

The benefits of the business community getting involved with charities and social enterprises have been well documented. Research shows that companies are viewed more positively when they transparently report on their charitable activity and make it well known (Charities Aid Foundation, 2018).

As for me, I started getting involved because I wanted to give something back, it takes me outside my comfort zone and is often great fun.

Some years ago I got involved with the Fairbridge programme – now part of the Prince’s Trust – volunteering to work with young people who were on the point of exclusion from school but for whom there was a glimmer of hope.

These 14-18 year-olds are often from chaotic, single-parent, backgrounds and have never received encouragement or praise for anything. More often than not they’ve been told they’re losers from the start and have no role model to lift themselves up.

The idea behind the programme is to build the self-esteem of these young people by teaching them and taking them on structured 1 -day courses and activities. There’s also practical courses including parenting, cooking & nutrition etc. Goals are set at the start and there’s a de-brief on lessons learned together with a certificate presentation at the end of the day. Those who persevere may progress onto Fairbidge’s tall ship sailing for a week.

As a helper and positive male role model (!) I went along with the groups to do many activities such as abseiling, gorge walking and – when the weather was no good – circus skills. The programmes help the young people develop the confidence, motivation, skills and self-esteem they need to turn their lives around. It meant a lot to the youngsters and remember it may be the only one they’ve ever received.

Although I hope I help I consider I take away more than I give and would add that it is also extremely humbling. It provided me with many surprises & challenges – these young people can be scarily direct – and some incredibly powerful lessons in leadership and management as this vignette below demonstrates:

At the briefing session on one day we were seated in a circle, indoors with the leader going through the aims for the day, the equipment for gorge walking, the timing etc. One highly-intimidating looking 16-year-old lad – let’s call him Kevin – was walking around our circle of chairs, mumbling, spitting, swearing and generally disrupting. The leader just kept on with the briefing not giving him any attention. I kept thinking “when is the leader going to do something, the lad needs disciplining, told to go away etc. “. How wrong was I….

After this had gone on for quite some time the leader, in a very low-key way, said:

Kevin, I know you a highly intelligent, sensitive, caring and polite man. However, if someone who didn’t know you walked in now they would have a completely different impression. So, when you’re ready please will you come and join us”.

The leader then similarly low-key just continued with the group. Kevin continued for a minute or two but when I looked up next he was sitting there quietly paying attention.

I praised the leader after and he just said he thought something was up with Kevin and we’d probably find out later. When the day was over I asked. It turned out Kevin had been in care for many years and he’d finally found a foster family he loved and who loved him. There was court case that afternoon – held without his presence – which would determine if he’d be able to stay with them.

I can’t even begin to describe how may lessons there is in that story. All I’ll say is that I’ve learned from the experiences I have had helping others – especially that I don’t do it enough! It has helped me develop skills I use in daily business. Persuading and influencing a teenager from a troubled background is a different challenge to that of communicating with a corporate leader, but both require empathy, understanding and some quick-thinking.

Awareness of social issues, cultural differences and the needs and characteristics of different socioeconomic groups is also sharpened through this type of experience. This is vital when helping an organisation and its managers reconcile the various, and sometimes conflicting, demands of a multitude of stakeholders and special interests.

It has helped me to refresh, recharge and think differently. Although it is work – it’s a very different type of work. It is time away from that spreadsheet, the mammoth project, the sales calls, the business life. It’s a different set of challenges to overcome and a new environment can stimulate new ideas and the ability to tackle problems in new ways.

I believe strongly that business should have a positive impact, and that procurement has a vital role to play in delivering that impact. Getting involved is part of ‘Walking that Talk’ and striving to be a force for good.

I continue to remain involved with The Prince’s Trust and getting behind schemes like #MillionCoppers is just one of the ways that I can support its purpose.

There is no doubt that I’ve grown through the experience, and that helping others has definitely helped me.