What the hell do I do?

Last night I was with friends, drinking wine and plotting a Halloween party for our kids. I joked that although I speak to my mother regularly about my work, she has no idea what I actually do, and what Spark+Mettle actually does.  They laughed. It was awkward laughter. One by one, they confessed that they have no idea what I actually do either.

I hate jargon and gobbledeegook, but clearly I’ve done an abysmal job of explaining myself. People get the rough parameters of my work, but have no real sense of what I do, or what Spark+Mettle does. Hashtag epic fail.

I know a lot of people who moonlight in between sectors and who explore new paths and who are used to the nodding-head-plus-furrowed-brow that beneficent listeners adopt when hearing about their work.

I saw a good question yesterday from the #growthincities conference organised by Nesta in Birimingham: “Describe your job in six words to a cab driver.”


  • I help 18-24 year olds to flourish
  • I broker new opportunities for young people
  • I teach strengths and skills through tech

All too wishy-washy, too vague.  I’ve got a way to go. In the meantime, I’ll try to compose a paragraph my old ma can grapple (and repeat).

Spark+Mettle is an online youth organisation that helps marginalised young jobseekers to achieve their aspirations and find work they love.

It does this by:

  • running a six-month leadership development programme for a small number of determined young people.
  • hosting a web-based platform that helps thousands of young people to showcase their strengths and skills to employers, while helping employers find and train talented youth who might otherwise have slipped through their net.
  • providing knowledge and resources about the best practices for developing character strengths and soft skills to schools, youth organisations and businesses.

Spark+Mettle believes that by building character strengths, soft skills and networks, young people will be much better equipped to be successful in both work and life.

Now I’m going to go back to the six-word question.

I help launch young people’s dream careers.


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…