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Step down

laroqueI’m currently in a tiny village in the south of France, not far from the Spanish border. I’m here on maternity leave, which has morphed into a whole family sabbatical. My husband is here to write before he cracks on with training to teach, our four year-old is here to spend a term at the local school, and our baby and dogs are just here to soak it all in and stay warm for a while longer than they would back in Brighton.

While out here I am finishing up some research as part of my Clore Social Leadership Fellowship (http://toteachtolead.wordpress.com). I am also in the process of determining what my next steps will be.  I am stepping down as CEO of Spark+Mettle, and moving to become its Chair. It’s a really good time to be going, and we couldn’t have a stronger team in place to take it through its next phase.

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Spark+Mettle has been on a roll since I’ve been on maternity leave. Thanks to Kazvare Knox and her whipsmart team, it has been developing and running a series of programmes to develop character strengths and soft skills awareness to other youth groups. It’s moved into wonderful offices in north London. And, as recently announced, it’s set up an extraordinary partnership with the British Council and HSBC to deliver skills training to schools in nine countries across the Middle East and North Africa. That’s right, it is going global.

I’ve chosen to step down as CEO for a number of reasons. First, I’ve always been aware of the dreaded “founders’ syndrome” and so had only planned to stay at the helm for just 3–5 years. Second, my delight and my strengths lie in getting things off the ground; Spark+Mettle is now moving into a phase where it needs to level off and with that comes a different leadership style. Finally, my work over the last five years has taken me to London a lot. But Brighton is home and it is where I want to be based.  I love a full working day but I have a young family; time with them is precious, not to be truncated by trains. At the same time, Spark+Mettle needs someone at the helm who is a lot more present than I can be.

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I am thrilled that I will be able to take on the role of Chair and support the strategic direction and growth of Spark+Mettle moving forward, while giving space for Kazvare—someone extraordinarily dedicated, talented and focused—to be in charge. It’s been wonderful over the last few months to watch the organisation flourish and demonstrate its independence. It fills me with huge pride and pleasure to see others achieve so much and evolve what was once a teeny tiny kernel of an idea that I had into something that is so much bigger and better than I could have achieved myself.

This is not the end. Far from it. It really is only just the beginning.

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In the car, on the road

OK so the title is a metaphor for where I’m at with the charity. A whole lot happens in a month. We have moved on.

  • I’ve figured out the trustee thing. I now just have to figure out who to ask. The way the job description gets worded by the Charities Commission makes it sound super daunting. But it can’t always be as mega as that, right? I made one stab at asking someone, and was politely rebuffed. It’s like learning how to ask someone out on a date. But it involves a lot of your time and other people’s money. I’m giving myself to the end of the month to get it all organised. I wonder: do most charities get set up the other way round? As in, people figure out that there is a need for X and set up a charity for it, and register themselves as trustees and then find someone else to do the daily work? Is THAT how it is meant to go? I’m guessing it is. Hmmm.
  • I’ve commissioned a great organisation to do the website and branding. They’re called Wave and they are a co-operative based just down the road in Hastings. Which is nice. Buy local etc. They even offer me an opportunity to register the website with a company whose energy is all from the wind. I am SO into this! Thing is, I don’t yet have the money. As I write this I notice that there is a trend appearing. Perhaps I should rename this whole thing the BackToFrontUpsideDownInsideOut show. They want their first payment on May 1st. This will be interesting.
  • I think I’ve finally settled on a name. I got in touch with some of my ex-students who gave me some pointers. I think I’m going to go for Spark & Mettle. Although the acronym would be S&M. I’m going to have to work that into every pitch I make. And also if you look at the word Spark for a long time (like I’ve been doing) it kinda starts looking like Spank anyway. I’m going to have to forcibly turn the acronym into SAM. The two other contenders, you may be interested, were Talent & Mettle (the original idea but poo-poo-ed by some in the target age group as being too dry—’talent’ is floated around all too much) and then Liveligood (which I came up with after a frantic day of trying to figure out an alternative, and was so pleased with it, but it has been shunned by many and I am both democratic and wary to go it alone. AND there’s a Liveligood in the US already. That deals in health and diets and stuff.)
  • Talking about the BackToFrontUpsideDownInsideOut show, I haven’t yet summarised the final focus on the organisation. It still is going to work with 16–24 year olds. It is still going to provide free development programmes (to help them figure out who they are, where they’re at, where they want to go and how they can get there). But crucially the focus is going to be on finding GOOD jobs and FULFILLING careers. (Hence LiveliGOOD.) You want the mission statement and blurb? I’ll give you the mission statement and blurb: Spark & Mettle’s mission is to give disadvantaged young people an equal opportunity to unleash their potential and harness it to a fulfilling career. Our idea is simple: if you can find a good job early on in life, you will be happier and society will be better off. By ‘good’ job, we mean one that engages a person fully and pays them fairly, in an organisation that looks after its employees and contributes positively to society (be it directly or indirectly). There is currently incredible financial pressure to take any job that comes along, especially for disadvantaged young people. We exist to provide an alternative: enabling them to seek out jobs that will not only provide them with an income but also a sense of fulfillment. 
So this is where I’m at. I’ve got a new name and made some new deadlines. I’m getting good feedback—it’s helpful and encouraging both. So now it’s going to become all about the money…

The Art of Refining

Those first few days were a rush. Ideas were flying out of my head. I had scraps of paper by my bed which I’d scramble to find at 3am. Most every waking moment when I wasn’t eating cereal or tending to the kid, I was typing like crazy.

Now it’s the calm.  The reflection. The realisation that, though I had most of it, it’s not all there. Not articulated quite right. Not refined.

And crikey is the process of refining a whole lot harder. I’m on a come down. I don’t have that same energy. It does matter if I only had four hours sleep. My boy needs attention too, and he deserves it more than the computer screen.

I feel frustrated. I latched onto a buzzword, social mobility, to help define what I want to do. But it’s the wrong word, it doesn’t get at the heart of what I want to do. This week is all about getting to that heart.

I find a compelling article by Owen Jones on the Guardian newspaper’s website, and it makes me search out further pieces by Rebecca Hickman. It makes me realise that social mobility is not what I hope in particular to improve. Which is frustrating, because so much of my initial research was done on it.

No, what I want to look at is social egalitarianism. Rather than perpetuating the social hierarchy, I’d like to have a hand in restructuring it. Aiming for all jobs to be considered equal, but if there is any favouritism, then it be for jobs of high social worth.  A cold caller for Oxfam. A venture capitalist investing in social enterprises.

I start plugging away at further research. But my mind is slow. I feel frustrated still. I’m not doing a good job of being a mother, and I’m not doing a good job at articulating my vision.

The business plan grows from twenty-odd pages to close on forty. With small steps I move towards a clarified version. I now know I want to register the organisation as a company limited by guarantee, before then apply to the Charities Commission. And I discover that I need to have the names and details of two trustees to register. Asking trustees? I have a hunch there’s a list of duties that’s provided on paper, and then a whole host of unspoken expectations which I am yet to fathom.