Thursday, April 30, 2009

Blue and Blue Sky

Sometimes you have days in which meeting after meeting helps you put your own life and future in bettter perspective. I am thinking about my future a lot at the moment. Maybe it is because I turn 40 in precisely two months. Or perhaps it is because I sense that my own needs and skills will, at some point in between the near and middle-future, require a new chapter.

The day started with a one-off, free coaching session with a wonderful man called Stephen Crookbain who works in the world of executive search. He helped me realize, definitively, that I don’t, under any circumstances, want to take a `big job’ as CEO or MD of a large social sector organisation.

This is the first time I have written this down publicly because, till now, there was a `never say never’ thing in my mind. But there isn’t any more and I feel better already. Sure, my only channel to plenty of money has probably closed but it feels a relief to say `No, that isn’t my journey’.

Then I went to the Commons to meet Nick Hurd, the Shadow Charities Minister. Nick is a likeable man with a good mind and is sincere, I believe, in his vision for the sector as a vibrant, independent sector which enjoys a more trusting, less bureaucratic relationship with the state. “What do you think of our Green Paper?” was his question.

My answer was that I liked its overall message and that it was refreshingly candid and accurate in its understanding of the challenges. Where I felt it could be clearer was on the question of how the sector can, on the one hand deliver more of what is currently delivered (often badly) by the state while remaining independent from it, its roots firmly in civil society. I sense it will take something more than trust and partnership to cover the transfer of resources that such a move would imply.

The realities of power would, I think, make it very difficult, for a new government to invest into the sector without clear `contractual’ relationships, in which the outcomes are not defined disporoportinatley by the budget-holder.

We talked about how Speaking Up has developed and he was interested to hear about the contrast between the ways different types of funder operate, from Impetus Trust on one side – where the agreement was one sheet of A4 – to certain Government funders who ask for copies of my diary and emails (I wonder if they actually ring the people I meet to ask what we discussed, what I was wearing etc).

The afternoon brought me to Mick May, founder of Blue Sky. There is only one qualification to work for Blue Sky. That you have a criminal record. Mick excepted. He is an ex-banker who did nothing naughty (according to himself) and got out years ago before his soul was corroded into nothing. He spent a year out of work and eventually got a job with Groundwork. This morphed, after a time, into Blue Sky which started in West London and is now branching out in Manchester.

Mick is one of those magnetic story-telling entrepreneurs in whose presence it is easy to fall under a spell. `So what's the truth of it all?' I ask, in response to my own reaction. Well, not everyone gets jobs and yes its very bloody hard all the time. And the secrets to its success? Having ex-cons as operations managers is a big factor, he tells me. Because the men respect them. The one non-con (and ex-copper)didn't last five minutes.

The Blue Sky story is one worth hearing and I hope Mick gets to tell it to more people as Blue Sky grows. He pops us in Nick Hurd's speeches all the time, being just on the London MPs doorstep. They are both former bankers, he says, with a smile. Mick himself comes across as a man re-born. He says he had to wait till 45 till he did what he wanted in life. He says that I (at a mere 40) have done it all so young'. And it did feel like a weird inversion, me the grizzled pro wondering about life as a retired social entrepreneur, Mick a decade older, totally mad for it.

He emailed me afterwards thanking me for a great meeting. It felt like it should have been me delivering the thanks.

1 comment:

Mark Griffiths 'ideally speaking...' said...

Naturally, Craig, I can relate to all this. Today, it is possible to get well into your forties before you 'realise' yourself. However, as they reach middle age, people bang on unthinkingly about 'raging against the dying of the light'. I believe the light is often too bright in our twenties and thirties - too bright for us to see clearly, while we blindly stagger forwards through what we term our 'career'. Without getting too poetic about it, I know from personal experience that our forties can lead to Damascene moments of conversion, where we actually see the light (for what it is). With less than a month to go before I'm 50, I finally recognise where I've been and what I've been doing for the last 30 years. And I'm looking forward to moving on - with eyes adjusted to a new kind of light. My prediction for you is that 40 will come as a bit of a non-event, because you've been making big changes in your life well beforehand. Such that, in 10 years' time, you won't recognise your pre-40 self.