Looking Back: Looking Forward

Looking Back: Looking Forward

Somewhere, in the no man’s land between Christmas and New Year, feels like a good time to look back on 2011…

Overall, I have been incredibly lucky to find two business partners (Tim Reading and Ed Sellwood) who are fun, rewarding to work with and (crucially), massively more organised then I am.  We set up CoSpA (the Co-Sponsorship Agency) last summer and have worked with over a dozen organisations so far.  In brief, we’re working with brands to create or grow ‘social action’ projects.  In some cases we’ve created a project from scratch.  VIY, for example, gets young people fixing their own youth clubs.  We brought together Pimlico Plumbers, Wickes, A4E and London Youth and led the overall management of the project.  It is now well on its way to being a national scheme.  In other work,  we’ve been brought in to facilitate a particular conversation, like with Channel 4 on the future of news and current affairs reporting.  More recently, we’ve being asked by brands to help them imagine how an already successful project might be scaled up, nationally or internationally.  Our focus tends to be on young people and our increasing speciality is around cross-sector partnerships.  PhoneBrain, for example, gets school pupils working in groups to think about how they use their mobile phones.  Funded by PhonepayPlus (the industry regulator), we have weaved in ITV (X-Factor), EMI, Moshi Moshi (the record label) and Unltd to bring the project to life in over 1,200 schools.   

In 2012 we want CoSpA to be having more conversations with brands who see the connection between making money and making a difference.  Rather than talking about ‘do-gooding’ sidelines, we’re interested in how our work links with the assets and success of a business.  What is a company brilliantly placed to do?  How can a project be used to engage its team members or customers?  How can its success be measured?  Increasingly, these sort of questions are leading us into meetings with Chief Executives and Marketing Directors, more often than CRS managers.  Amongst the things we’re pondering for 2012… How can the Olympics inspire business?  How can the power of lyrics improve literacy?  How can music and dance increase physical fitness? How can retired people pass on their DIY skills to teenagers? And how can a telecommunications company connect people who don’t already know each other?  We’d love to plot with potential partners about any and all of these!

In other news…


I helped organise two trade missions (my fourth and fifth) in 2011.  In January, the Future Health Mission departed for San Francisco.  Charlie Burton from Wired Magazine (and now GQ) joined us in the US and wrote about his week here.  In March, the third WebMission took place with another great list of companies.  Missions are a great opportunity to get to know people.  The companies have been selected from a list of applicants and unlike meeting someone at a networking event, you can have several conversations over the course of a week – some light-hearted, some more serious.  I’ve just signed up for my sixth mission (in March 2012) which will be the second Clean and Cool Mission.  Supported by the Technology Strategy Board, I’m particularly looking forward to this as I get to work closely with the Long Run Venture.  That means rejoining forces with Guy Pattison (we worked together on WebMission 2) and working with Martha Jennings and Scott Cain, who I met through Tenner, several years ago.  


The end of March saw the launch of StartUp Britain, which I’ve written about here (at launch) and here (six months in). Highlights have been working with the co-founders (Emma, Raj, Jamie, Michael, Duncan, Lara and Richard) and team (Jamie, Lorna, Becky) and meeting up with the tour bus on the road around the UK.  January will be a big month for the campaign as we showcase some of the best events in the year ahead.

In the wake of the London riots over the summer, I worked with Arrival Education to help pull together an event for young people to have their voices heard.   Not In Our Name took place at Westminster Central Hall and I managed to coordinate with Downing Street to arrange a visit for some of the participants to meet the Prime Minister.  Although the event was relatively last minute, there have been some excellent conversations since then between the organisations which came together to make it happen.

PM meets young people taking part in 'Not In Our Name' event

Other things I enjoyed in 2011;

1) Travelling to Paris with MTV (Viacom) to speak to their global sales teams about projects which make money and make a difference.  I was encouraged to speak about Tenner and VIY, and also to highlight the work of companies including M&S, Greggs and Waitrose.  It was really inspiring to be able to talk with such senior executives who are serious about new ways of working.

2) Playing a role at the MADE Festival in Sheffield.  This year the organisers chartered two first class carriages and I was asked to host a group of delegates as they made their way to the event.  Some speed-networking (of course!) and a quiz ensued – all before 9am…

3) The Tenner Tycoon Awards in which I got to meet some of the winners.  One that sticks in my mind is the team from Yorkshire who made a recipe book in honour of a school friend who passed away last year.  By the day of the awards, they had already sold £6,000 of books!  Watch this space for news on the future of Tenner.  To be honest, following the end of Enterprise UK, it has been quite a challenging process as the trustees decide what will become of the scheme.  Ultimately, I’m confident that it has a great future ahead and look forward to being able to share more in 2012.

Tenner Tycoon 2010 Winners

4) Hosting a few Speed Mentoring events, which involve a group of ‘mentors’ taking part in a series of 15-minute conversations with up-and-coming delegates.  Highlights this year have been sessions with NABS (the advertising industry charity) and with the British American Project.  With the latter, we teamed up fellows of the project (from both sides of the Atlantic) with members of the UpRising Leadership Programme.  On my mind for 2012 is how you bring together the beneficiaries of a particular organisation so that they can meet and help each other.  I’ll have the chance to do this with the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust next year and hope to do similar work with others.


Another event I especially enjoyed chairing was the Big Conversation with Business in the Community, which took place at World Skills.  We paired up 20 Chief Executives with 2o students to have a conversation about work experience and how it can be turned into work inspiration.  The buzz in the room was remarkable – there is something very simple and powerful about one-to-one connections between people at such different stages in their career.  I really got the impression that they were learning something from each other, and look forward to doing more Big Conversations with BITC in 2012. 

On a personal note, this has been my first full year living outside London. Although I still have an office in town (now in Centre Point), the move has certainly helped me to disconnect from work, although it has meant that I have to think more carefully about which events I attend –  probably no bad thing! 

In November I visited India for the first time and was really grateful for the generous hospitality of Richard Alderson (running Unltd, the launchpad for social entrepreneurs in India) who made us feel incredibly welcome.

I’ve been grateful for the feedback you have given me on my blog this year, reader.  My favourite experience came through a fairly brief post I wrote back in August called ‘Clues‘ about stuff I wish I’d known when starting out. It prompted some of the most amazing comments from many of my favourite people which are well worth a read.

Once again, I’m fortunate to be working with a great team at CoSpA, which makes the work I’ve been doing with other teams (on Missions, Tenner, StartUp Britain and others) possible.  As someone who tries to stay positive, it’s been an important year to have had the support of close friends and colleagues.  One particular group (we call ourselves Sevens, and meet every six weeks for a ‘behind-closed-doors’ supper) has been especially supportive (they know who they are!) and I can’t recommend the formula enough –  regular catch-ups with a group you know, like and trust.

2012 is going to be a year of challenges and opportunities.  Hopefully, it will be year of solving ‘problems worth solving’ in new and interesting ways.  

In the style of Jerry Springer (but with bigger eyebrows), here is my final thought going into a new year: 

Most weeks, people will refer to me (and not least because it’s a link I have encouraged) as being ‘connected’ and often… ‘most connected’.  Of course, this is a massive exaggeration and pretty self indulgent of me to bring it up.  So here’s the thought – the resolution, if you like;

Forget ‘Most Connected’.  In 2012, I will do my best to be the ‘Most Connecting’.  I want to end the year having made good things happen through the people I helped to meet.  Would you be up for helping me with that?  If so, please let me know!

In the meantime, wishing you a happy and healthy 2012 . 

If anything I have written about here strikes a chord, then I look forward to hearing from you.

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