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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Wednesday 30 November 2011

The adventure ahead

It’s the simple things in life which fox me. Like trying to open Masterfoods squeeze-on tomato sauce without looking like I’ve been shot.   Too late.
I’m in the last hotel of my stay, on a floor with the ‘General’s Suite’.   I expect the person who stays there has a Condiments Officer to avoid culinary embarrassments.
It’s also my final night in Australia, the ending of the tour. There won’t be a wild party at the bar. Tonight is a period for reflection, for saying goodbye, and – like an episode in Southpark – for working out what the learning has been.
I began my last day with a visit to Mark Bolton at The Ladder project in Melbourne. Mark is an ex AFL player, and his outfit adopts the values of sports performance to empower and mentor young people.  They work in tandem with housing and support to offer a Foyer-like approach. I like what they are trying to do. Once the ‘support’ agency they work with allows them to integrate their work into case management, and the 20 young people accommodated are all part of the service, they will have the beginnings of an exciting Foyer. I particularly like the way they have worked with the young people to choose a set of values – commitment, respect, and inspiration – which the young people use to reflect on their behaviour and goals.  Like Carl Miller’s Lookup to Yourself in the UK, Mark Bolton’s work has a natural synergy with Open Talent.  Mark leaves me with a book on improving leadership and team performance , written by Ray McLean, who was a big influence on teams in the AFL.  A perfect addition to our Open Talent library.
My final speaking session is a workshop with Hanover managers. As always in Melbourne, the conversation bounces around like a tennis ball as we tease out strengths and challenges around the Open Talent approach.   Future actions include reassessing the current case management system across their services, and, for myself,  inventing a new way to play videos when the speakers, where ever you go in the world, never work.
Time for one final laugh with Shelley and Tony as Hanover descends into an Office parody around the Xmas party while we sketch out some future directions for Open Talent and Foyer accreditation. Places to open talent should be full of laughter. Maybe there is more to ‘stand up to open talent’ than meets the eye. 
And so, the tour has reached its end. I’ve learned that the people I have met in the sector in Australia – like Michael, Narelle, Tony –have tremendous courage and determination.  I think Michael is right, ‘The community of people working to end youth homelessness has shown continuous resilience over the past decades’.  I’ve learned that the majority of people here are open to new ideas, to challenging the status quo, to seizing the opportunity for change. For Australia really does have a tremendous opportunity – not to replicate the Foyers that were first built in the 1990s, or those that continue to work from a fixed model, but to shape a fresh approach that breaks new ground. Standing on the shoulders of Open Talent, with a leg up from Foyer Accreditation, and the support of business and philanthropy, Australia can create a community of practice that is inclusive, forward thinking, and revolutionary. I hope I have contributed something, in some way, for that to happen. At least as much to match the kindness and hospitality that I have been so grateful to receive here.  It won’t be a revolution overnight. It won’t be led by one service or organisation. It will open when the talents play together.
Shelley said that Open Talent was still, in some ways, in its nappies. What an adventure lies ahead.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Farc, Art, and Kafka

Today starts out with a morning gallop through the possibilities for Foyer accreditation with Dr Shelley Mallett, who already feels like a kindred spirit - someone who  shares my ‘accreditation is the death of ideas’ philosophy with the determination to do something more radical.  I think we have the makings of an innovative plot. It’s a windy day in Melbourne, so our thoughts are blowing through the air along with the local's 'flat white'.  One thing I’ve learned is that not investing in writing things up in the UK has limited how learning has been transferred into contexts like Australia. We really must take care with Open Talent to get the record straight at the beginning.  Another job for the long flight home.

For some reason, we end up talking about crockery – as you do – and I suddenly see a vision of a Greek smashing plates party, with all the plates decorated with the language of ‘disadvantaged thinking’. Our next staff party?  I want to watch ‘NEETS’ splinter into pieces, followed by ‘homeless sector’, followed by Centrepoint adverts, followed by… I better stop there.

Then it was the Hanover AGM, where we were serenaded by a young person resident who is going to be a contestant on Australia’s Got Talent. It’s a shame he missed my speech – he gave a lovely description of the ‘talent’ inside us all, before a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace.  I did my best to follow.  I’m not a big fan of doing the same speech more than once, but it does have its luxuries, and third time round you can enjoy watching the audience react. A member of the board offers a thoughtful response on developing new approaches to the induction into adulthood, and someone asks me ‘which glass I’m drinking out of’ after the positive/negative water story.

However, it’s what follows which matters most to me today: the story of the incredible works of art hung in the space outside the conference room. These were painted by an artist who used to frequent one of the early Hanover projects, capturing the faces and personalities of its users with an honesty and dignity that is completely Open Talent. After a speech mocking the stereotyping of disadvantaged  thinking, this was the best illustration of what an advantaged approach is all about: putting the humanity of the people into the spotlight. I only wish I could take the pictures back with me, beyond the memory imprinted on my heart.

I love the values of Hanover housing: imagination, courage, fun. You can see all those things in the CEO Tony Keenan, and his bubbly staff team.  It feels like a family you want to belong to, just like YFoundations and the SYFS.  I have never enjoyed a report back from a finance, audit and risk committee so much after Tony’s witty intro to the acronym ‘farc’.

After the AGM lunch, I head off with Shelley for a meeting in the Kafkaesque building of the Department of Human Services, which, like the Starship Enterprise, has its own sickbay and a board room with a table big enough for a crazy golf course.   In this strange abode we meet up with architects and the housing and community building division to discuss the design concepts for the first of 3 new Foyers being built in Melbourne / Victoria. It’s a great opportunity to ensure that the key principles of innovative Foyer design are expressed, so I make sure that a focus on community, on flexibility, visibility, integration and interaction, are all emphasised.  It’s a good debate, and after a follow up session back at the architects, (if you are reading this Toby, they have a lovely round table), I’m impressed by everyone’s commitment to get it right – even if the timescale to do so is pressing.  I think it’s going to work.

My day is rounded up with a fascinating meal with the CEO of the Girl Guides and a trustee of a family trust, who kindly invited me out after the Open Talent speech.  It’s a conversation about changing the world through the right investments, connecting the passions of people who are trying to shift the story into a different paradigm. I end up with a guided tour round Melbourne, and begin to realise how much more there is to the city than the view from my hotel.  The horizon of the world opens up through other people’s insights.    Thank you Norman and Wendy.  Catherine Zeta Jones may not have turned up at the restaurant, but you were the biggest celebs in the backyard of your town.
I go to bed feeling a little like K. I wonder what I'll wake up as?  Hopefully, not Maslow...

Monday 28 November 2011

Diss Off Clothing

Vegetarian breakfasts in Melbourne come with avocado and spinach.   Food is a serious vocation.  A stroll along the block takes in everything from the M word to Sushi.  Maybe I should pop into the barbers for a cut, eat a dirty burger, and hang out with the locals at the liquor store.  I love the fact that opposite my hotel is the slightly on-its-knees looking ‘Elizabeth’ hostel. Nothing is named after Cromwell here. 

Day one of the Melbourne tour kicks off with the wonderful informality of, ‘oh you’re seeing the Minister for housing later today’.  Bring her on.  I like the sense of organised creative anarchy that prevails in a positive way. I join in with a visit from the Oxford Foyer team in Perth, seated around a plate of jumbo muffins. The questions cover the gamut of service provision on what makes an inspiring operational Foyer as we tuck into my six ‘asset tests’.  It’s good to hear that Perth is taking forwards their own version of the Learning power Award. I get the sense that Melbourne likes its ideas, or at least Hanover housing does.  We agree some actions including my suggestion for linking the developing Foyers in Australia with an ‘elders group’ of services from the Foyer Federation’s investor partners, to share practice, offer guidance and work towards some exchanges.  I think that will be an exciting forum.

We head off for what is the first meeting of the Foyer Foundation ‘foyer network’ in the region, where I present Open Talent while John Burger from Anglicare runs through the model for the Perth Oxford Foyer. It’s a privilege to be able to offer an insight into Open Talent to a mix of Foyer practitioners and partners. The questions that follow are impressively wide ranging, intelligent and encouraging, with support from the corporate representatives present that Government is not the only funder in town to make talent happen.  The audience quickly adopts talking about ‘complex goals instead of complex needs’.   It might be just the beginning, but there is clearly an appetite for challenging disadvantaged thinking with something fresh.  John’s presentation on the Oxford Foyer offers the optimism of developing a replicable outcomes model for Government departments to fund and support, rather than the other way around. I’m impressed by the focus, although I’ll be interested to see if a 98 bed service can thrive in the Perth summer without aircon.  I hope it does, it deserves to be a success.

After the meeting, I chat through ideas around accreditation, ‘case management’ and learning with Hanover staff. We come up with a new idea for my next tshirt: ‘I’m a danger to myself and others – watch out!’  Perhaps a clothing range of disadvantaged thinking can go alongside the ‘stand up comedy’ plan.  Anyone like to help out, drop me a line at ‘Diss Off Clothing’.

The day finishes with a meeting with what has now become the Advisor for the Minister for Housing, Tim Rose. Tim has a real commitment to Foyers and instantly gets the ambition in Open Talent to change the service paradigm. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such an engaging conversation with someone from Government. But then I can’t remember when I’ve last had a conversation with someone in Government without  being covered in ink…

On the journey back to the hotel, we pass a Salvation Army Band with Santa hats struggling their way through Xmas hits.  We don't have time to spot their real talent, but it certainly isn't this. Has anyone spotted, the 12 days of Xmas is full of advantaged thinking presents. Santa gives talent to open!

Sunday 27 November 2011

Skating under the ice

I’ve arrived in Melbourne.  The city is a strange mix between old Oxbridge named University colleges, Washington / Philadelphia style streets, and people sitting on rooftops with beer bottles shouting out ‘great hair man’.  I’m taken out for a meal with my hosts from Hanover Housing at a lovely restaurant named after St Jude, complete with 'rabbit chips' and 'thrice fried chips' (is this some kind of potato torture? or an acknowledgement that in the world of the patron saint of lost causes, it's always going to take at least three attempts?)  I notice the questions in Melbourne tend to be a bit trickier than in Sydney, like bombs with longer fuses.  We are skating under the ice.

I’ve been thinking a lot about accreditation. It’s led me to combine - in my head at least - the Foyer tests with the Qualities framework to produce a new  hybrid shape, based on expressing, exploring, experiencing, and  energising  what we understand as quality for a foyer-style, strengths-based dimension.  AQE4 if you like, that follows through the phases as a process of development. We’ll see where that goes. I have it down in squiggles.

On the flight up – or down – I am struck by an article in the paper on ‘Dear me – a letter to my sixteen year old self’, edited by Joseph Galliano.   It’s a good idea for a book. For myself, what would the advice be? Probably that I was right without knowing it, but that getting it wrong would provide a richer source of knowledge.  Maybe the book needs to be the other way around too, for our 16 year-old self to remind our older entity of values that get forgotton through age. The secret of life lies in finding the bits of the puzzle.

Meanwhile, back in Gotham city, UK– what do you call a gathering of intellectuals and politicians? Another discussion on the riots.  It's a joke, but who is laughing...

Friday 25 November 2011

Think 'n' Chips

Have I woken up back in England? It is hammering rain against my hotel windows, the city skyscrapers disappear into mist, and at the railway station there are no trains.  Just an anomaly, I’m told.

On the TV news, 19mm of rain is a major headline. I find myself staying to watch the bizarre experience of the world weather screened with the backing sound of Vera Lynn singing We’ll Meet Again.  It shouldn’t work, but is quite moving.  Maybe they were thinking of the sun.

A morning off, so I make straight for the nearest prison museum.  It’s the usual story of our failure as a society to cope with, nurture and rehabilitate those deemed to have fallen outside the law. Yet we still don’t seem able to understand how to change the narrative.  The youth justice system is as problematic here as it is in the UK.   The tools of puinshment many have changed, but the mugshots of people remain the same.

I follow the tourists snailing around the Opera House. My mind though is elsewhere, thinking of Open Talent day back in October, and the wonderful young person from Arena whose talent goal was to be an Opera Singer. In many ways, her journey towards that goal had taken her much further than where I was standing in Sydney.  The birds squark and the joggers run.

For lunch, I meet up with 5 members from the Sydney Rotaract Club. Appropriately, they choose the 24 hour Express cafĂ© down at the Circular Quay. Its newspaper style menu claims that it is ‘always open, always good news’. The prefect venue to present Open Talent. Indeed, the paper wrapping my (thin) chips includes an article from 1912 entitled ‘A thrifty people’ on the value of human capital. This is the new Open University - learning delivered through chip paper.  I’m impressed by the Rotaract group’s energy and commitment, the range of talents they offer around the table.  We are soon discussing practical ideas on how to invest in advantages.  In particular, how micro financing can be applied as a vehicle for empowering enterprises and personal goals. I think they’ll be pioneers for a positive investment in young people.

Walking back along the harbour, I finally bump into the person known around the world in every city: the guy who plays the wooden pipes. He conjures up the great George Harrison track, 'Something'. Just another anomaly.

As the sun sets over Sydney for the last time this tour, I notice some of the pictures from the conference are now up on photographer Anna Zhu's site.  The usual one of me - all hair and lips.  Great to see that Anna captured the 'hands up' moment at the beginning of my workshop.  I hope that makes my colleague Nicola Kidston smile. 

Bye bye to Sydney - thanks for the memories.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Putting dreams back into housing

Finally checked out from the Santa’s grotto of the Novotel at Brighton Le Sands. Great hotel, but there are only so many breakfasts you can take listening to the Jingle Bells Rocks and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  I’ve started using my ‘end youth homelessness’ Keepcup, as the next hotel down at the Rocks has cups so small you can hardly fit a teabag in them.  Love the quote on the Keepcup instructions – ‘through our own actions we inspire others to be the change they wish to see in the world’.  I’m advocating for a world of big cups.

Today I was a guest ‘expert’ at the NSW Homelessness Unit ‘Youth Housing Roundtable’.   This kicked off with a presentation on a ‘research synthesis’ on youth housing models, which, although very useful, had seemed to miss out a few important points on the Foyer experience: namely, the evidence showing that Foyers do operate with young people with ‘complex needs’ as it is called; and the importance of our quality assurance experience to define Foyerness around a focus, approach and relationship rather than a fixed model.  It was good to be able to throw that into the conversation, straight from the horse’s mouth.

I used my own 30 minute slot to pick up Minister Mark Arbib’s quote from EYHC that housing provision should enable young people to ‘reach for their dreams’. In other words, how do we put the focus on ‘dreams’ back into housing – which very much lies at the heart of the Open Talent vision.  Reflecting on our current work with Investor Partners in the UK, and our ‘youth offer’ paper for the UK Government’s Youth Action Group, there seemed plenty of connections to support the Australian experience, as well as perhaps the ‘permission’ to be ‘lateral’ in thinking.

After lunch, we broke into small groups to design ideas for a capital project. My group came up with a ‘flexi youth space’ proposal, which we focused on flexible design options to shape around different uses for different client groups, while building into the design the potential for social enterprise. It was good fun, although I kept wondering why there were no young people in the room, and why there didn’t seem to be a more formal and collaborative process to take forwards the thinking.   But I’m just the voice of a political tourist.

I left with the feeling that there is an opportunity to work with organisations in Australia on an alternative approach to outcomes and research evidence that can promote the types of innovative provision that I think anyone who understands the youth sector believes in. If we can’t tell the real story, in everything we measure and say, then we have lost the right to be ‘experts’.

Wouldn’t it be great, from an Open Talent perspective, to create our own design agency with young people as the co-consultants. It’s not just a question of the collaborative involvement process; it’s also an opportunity to turn someone’s experience into a business solution.

It was sad to say goodbye to so many wonderful, passionate people. As the Keepcup suggests, we leave each other with the inspiration for change.  I hope I’ve given as much as I’ve taken from Sydney.

Running on full

The conference is over. Returning back to the hotel, without the other delegates, I have that end of summer twilight feeling in my heart, when you are missing the fun and learning you’ve had.  YFoundations is like a family you want to be part of.  But lots more to come – the tour heads to Melbourne on Sunday! 

I spent my morning chatting with the lovely Jaime Alden, from Sydney Rotaract club, a group of young people wanting to ‘empower people to help themselves’.  I think clubs like these, and the people who make them happen like Jaime, are where the ‘democracy of talent’ will be forged. It’s not all about trying to work with big business. The generational tribe to open talent is all around us.  Let’s make the campaign start here.
Over lunch, I talked with the passionate staff team from Pathfinders in Armidale. This is a rural area with limited access to housing opportunities, so they are trying to explore the concept of developing a Foyer approach by applying it to the resources they have – such as converting a caravan park into a learning community, and running an exchange programme for young people from care to support their peers in Ghana.  If I didn’t have a job to return to, I think I’d be flying to Armidale to help them.  This is why Foyer is exciting - it's an approach to be expressed without boundaries, as long as you have the ethos right.
This afternoon, I was picked up by George, a driver used by Virgin Unite, who took me to and from the Sydney office while explaining the wonders of Beirut nightlife, the philosophy of taxis, Richard Branson’s books, and Sydney society.  A taxi that makes you feel better for the journey because of the conversation. It’s a dying art – and George is an art in himself.
At the Virgin office, with a magical view of the Opera House, I sat in with Anton and the Managing Director from People Development group (with the best business card I’ve seen this year), before getting ‘miked up’ to be filmed presenting to a mixed group of staff from Virgin Mobile, Money, Active, and Atlantic.  This was a trimmed down version of yesterday’s presentation - the expresso version, if you like. We had a great conversation afterwards. Every time I meet staff from Virgin I’m impressed by their drive and creativity.  The world needs more businesses you can think with like Virgin.  Thank you Anton )
A little time left to prepare for tomorrow’s Youth Housing Expert Panel.   I’m over my jetlag – now I’m just plain tired.  But Open Talent is the ultimate battery, I'm always running on full.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

'The beginning of youth talent'

It’s really hard to put into words day one of the End Youth Homeless Conference. Sometimes I feel like a stranger from another planet when I speak, but in this conference I’ve been at home. Everything connects. What a day. From the moment we were treated to the wonderful greeting from Uncle Les, it’s been a moving, innovative roller-coaster of voices and ideas.  
I particularly loved the idea of being introduced by a comedian, which gave me the perfect excuse to try out a few well received jokes of my own about the weather (how English of me) and the way politicians in videos manage to talk while smiling. Open Talent will be a comedy show one day, so watch out disadvantaged thinking, we are coming to get you!
Or the press release: Investing in young people’s talents is integral to ending youth homelessness in Australia, the UK Foyer Federation’s Director of Innovation, Colin Falconer has told a national conference today. “Young people are one of the world’s most important resources. As a pioneering nation, Australia has the opportunity to change the way we view young people, particularly those experiencing homelessness. We must challenge the vision of young people as disadvantaged and instead fight for young people to identify, develop and promote their talents and have access to advantage” Colin Falconer told the End Youth Homelessness Conference 2011. “The end of youth homelessness is the beginning of youth talent.”
I was really moved by the two young people who came up to talk to me afterwards, who totally got it. Bright and passionate individuals – they are the future talent makers.  I loved the tweet from one of them saying ‘even as a young person I’ve underestimated young people’.
 I also found out from someone in the audience from Middlesbrough that Cook the explorer started out as a farm labourer before his own talent was spotted. Just glad that that no Maslow fans didn’t try to mug me afterwards. Maybe a bit naughty of me to orchestrate the audience to say out load, ‘say no to Maslow’, but I think they enjoyed freeing the yoke.
Following my workshop (the advantaged thinking exercise created a great buzz, as did the video when it finally played) I enjoyed an excellent presentation from Virgin’s ‘Champion’ Bee Orsini. Amazing speaker – hope we can get her to the UK to link up with our UK Champions.
I’ve met so many passionate people today, the opportunities to create a new community of practice here are mind blowing.  Australia’s got the talent – thanks to YFoundations for bringing it together. Now we just need to harness the energy with some advantaged thinking.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Snow, strengths, and ice

Australia must be the only country where people apologise if it’s raining. Which, today, it has been. Just imagine if we did that in the UK.  ‘Welcome to England – we’re sorry, we're really sorry’.  
Over breakfast, I was surprised by my first dose of piped Xmas carol music. I even wondered for a moment if the possible might happen and it start to snow.   Or, as someone else put it to me, it snows inside here. I like that idea.
Today was a pre-conference training day, and I got the chance to sit in on a workshop applying the ‘strengths based model’, something very much part of our Open Talent approach.  Along with anecdotes on house decoration by beer can, and a wonderful description of a computer as ‘the machine that makes words’, we were given a useful guide around the key concepts from Rapp and Goscha’s 2006 work on the strengths model.  I liked the emphasis  on ‘possessing a healthy disrespect for the impossible’ as a way to keep the focus on young people’s aspirations,  that ‘only the staff can be non-compliant’ in the client relationship, and the need for providers to ‘build strong reputations’ to leverage partnerships. 
The presenter, Steve Bailey, from Macquarie University, used a number of similar techniques we apply in our own Open Talent inspire days. One I shall certainly adopt in future is asking staff participants to share a young person’s achievement with the group. It was fascinating that some people chose to ‘pass’ on that, but even more so the range and diversity of achievements offered up. We have to do better at capturing the everyday 'what happens' if we are to campaign successfully for an aspirational approach. Telling the story, whatever shape and size, should be an essential part of all practice. I expect we have much to share and learn with Steve.
My day rounded off with a stimulating conversation with Ray Bennett from the Australian Community Management Magazine, discussing the opportunities to create an international community of practice on innovation in the youth sector.  I think the Global theme is essential.  Young people are one of the world’s most precious resources – and we are allowing too many to go to waste.  We need to lead the future.
Apart from the lingering of jet lag, I was slightly unnerved during the day by drinking at the workshop from a jug of water which never seemed to lower its water level. Then I remembered what happens to ice: it melts inside here, just like the snow.

Monday 21 November 2011

Foyer Pavlova

Wollongong – but not forgotten – after a wonderful day with Narelle Clay, Kristen Day and the team from Southern Youth and Family Services (SYFS) in Wollongong, Illawarra, 80km from Sydney.  Wollongong might be famous for its coal mining history, but it is SYFS’s holistic offer to young people which provides and supports a rich seam of local talent. 
I saw a mix of services on my visit, including a youth health and outreach service, a crisis refuge, a medium-term housing and support service, and some Foyer projects. Together, these and other connected specialist services outline a transitional roadmap for young people.  It made me think a bit of the original ‘Step by Step’ approach in Aldershot, or Forum Housing’s model in Birkenhead.
The ethos across different services is consistently strong – person focussed, with an attention to quality detail, good resources and resourcefulness, and above all an investment in the idea of community belonging.  Certainly, I can’t remember ever seeing so many xmas decorations! The idea of the Foyer ‘deal’ was evident in a prevailing culture of rights, responsibilities and commitment between young people and staff.  Both were articulate and passionate about what they were doing. These were environments I would feel happy living and learning in – which has always been my inner litmus test.  
At lunch, we tucked into Pavlova for dessert, which struck me as an appropriate metaphor for SYSF: a firm defined outer core, nurturing soft skills within, with a topping of cream.   Looking at the stats in the annual report, they seem to be doing a decent job, too, on what they describe as ‘turning off the tap’ to homelessness and ‘enhancing opportunities’ to improve and expand. I loved some of the creative acronyms for programmes – RAGE, for example, is ‘resourcing adolescents to gain essentials’, while ‘HAPY’ is for Healthy Active Positive Youth. 
As well as being a service provider, one of the aims of SYFS is ‘to act as an advocate for and facilitator of structural change that achieve improved living situations for young people and their families’. That aim was evident in our final conversation before the train back: on the need to campaign for greater flexibility in policy and funding to ‘open talent in all young people’. I left them with a couple of Open Talent usb wrist bands, and took with me the feeling that we had started a powerful conversation to connect across the world.

Sunday 20 November 2011

The RSL Club, and Thinking Class...

I arrive in Sydney airport to the sounds of ‘Tainted Love’ in arrivals. Not quite how I imagined it. For a moment I think I’ve travelled around the world for two days just to turn up at a shopping mall in Dudley, but the glinting sunshine outside and the sight of jumbo croissants and strange looking sausage rolls reassure otherwise.  I wonder back in my mind to the epic scenes of Lou Reed’s first arrival in Sydney, and the brilliant deadpan interview he gave to the bemused 1974 journalists. He clearly hadn’t been flying economy.

At the Brighton Beach hotel, I have both a glorious view of the sea, and an intriguingly named ‘RSL Club’ just around the corner. An international rest home for social landlords perhaps? The signs of animated life inside suggest otherwise.  Walking around I’m struck by how puny I seem compared to everyone else. Have I shrunk or does the world get bigger through jet lagged eyes?  No wonder England got stuffed in the rugby today.
I’d promised to finish Richard Branson’s 'Screw Business as Usual' by the time the flight reached Hong Kong. In the end I reached the last page as the flight was leaving Heathrow. It’s a fast-paced read, with the first few chapters the most illuminating.  Reassuringly, there is a close synergy between Branson’s ideas and the vision in Open Talent: ‘It can no longer be about putting sticking plasters on issues and hoping they will go away; it has to be about creating opportunities for people so that they can build the lives they deserve’.  Investment through sustainable business, rather than giving and aid, is the only serious game in town, and the book provides numerous examples through the stories of Professor Yunus and microcredit, C K Prahalad and the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, Chris West from the Shell Foundation, and of course Branson himself. 

Reading the book made me excited at the prospect of more 'action-tank thinking' through our Virgin Unite partnership. I also dreamed up the following as a proposition for the book, which I’ve just submitted to its ideas page:

'Here's my idea for screwing business as usual. Introduce a 'Thinking Class' for passengers (air and train) to opt into.   Passengers donate time and generate ideas through a virtual community platform, with options for 'Thinking Class' conversations during trips. These explore and share business approaches to solve a portfolio of live challenges posed by Virgin charities.  'Thinking Class' connects and harnesses the untapped power of advantaged minds using Virgin transport. Why should we sit back with so much potential around us in one place to do more?  Not when we can ‘upgrade’ our journey experience to #SBAU. Creating social good is the new air miles. 
Just imagine the power this can achieve. I work for a charity that opens talent in the young people society often leaves behind. We have a lot of issues we are trying to find solutions for. We also have lots of ideas. But what we lack are richer connections and conversations with different forms of thinking and talent from other spheres of life. In fact, the people you will probably find on the same London to Sydney flight I have just been on. Who sat and watched films and played games, but could just have easily spent 45 minutes thinking of a contribution they could make to a question read in a Thinking Class page online or in the flight magazine. They could have even discussed the question with the person they didn’t know sitting next to them wearing the same Thinking Class badge. (And why not a Thinking Class carriage in trains – not all of us want to be quiet). 

The future is not just in a flight or train asking for charity donations in a bag, but in the option for people to easily invest their intellectual capital.  Every passenger could be a member of the ‘24902 community’ in Thinking Class.  Why not make that come alive.’

My other thought, not submitted, was to repeat Branson’s concept of the ‘Elders Group’ for the youth charity sector. A group of wise entrepreneurial voices leading the sector into the real world of collaboration and development.  Superminds pushing out the competing silos and 'disadvantaged widget delivery' into a better thinking and doing space. Not sure who would be on it - certainly not Anne Widdecombe, who has just popped up on TV. I expect someone will say ‘but that’s called the Youth Action Group’. And at that point, I’m calling it a night…

Friday 18 November 2011

Intrepid explorers

Off to the airport with Richard Branson's new 'Screw Business as Usual' to read, which promotes the idea of Capitalism 24902 - 'every single business person has the responsibility for taking care of the people and planet that make up our global village, all 24,902 circumferential miles of it'.  A smart image. It reminds me of the American idea that 'if you want capitalism, then you need to spread the capital'. I wonder if 'taking care' though was the wrong word, too loaded with the status quo that the book is all for breaking through; maybe it is a more empowering quality like 'nurture'.  However, by the I time I change planes in Hong Kong, I don't suppose I'll be pondering that one too deeply.

Interestingly, I was reminded today of Botany Bay's associations with the explorer James Cook, who (re-)named the bay on one of his famous voyages to Australia. Cook was born in Marton, Middlesborough, where I began my career as a teacher at the Marton VI form college. I remember waking up in the cold Middlesborough winter mornings and seeing his name on the way to work and thinking how far away this all was from Australia, and how much everyone in the school - teachers and students - wanted to excape from the system we were all stuck in.  So many years later, and in the Foyer Federation, we are trying to be intrepid explorers to find and share new ideas.  That's a nice thought for the journey ahead.

Monday 14 November 2011

Oxford Foyer, Perth

I had a meeting today in London with  Jethro Sercombe, who manages the Oxford Foyer in Perth. He is currently over in the UK to visit Foyer projects such as Aberdeen and Crewe - just as I'm heading in the other direction to Sydney. Think Global, and the world turns up on your doorstop.

An interesting discussion ensued on how 'accreditation', the 'foyer tests', and our new Open Talent  'qualities framework' might be expressed in an Australian context, with a view to shaping 'future foyers' through an Australian lens in just the same way that the UK developed the Foyer 'process' from France into something new in the 1990s.

It's great to find creative spirits in Australia who are really committed to quality, strengths-based approaches, and want to be at the vanguard of a dynamic community of practice. This point I shall return to later during my trip...

I'm hoping the opportunity for innovation in Australia will shake up the 'futures' debate in terms of what is possible for young people, both here, there and around the world.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Open Talent at the 'Ending Youth Homeless Conference'

I'll be presenting Open Talent at the YFoundation's 'Ending Youth Homelessness Conference' on 23-24th November in Sydney.

Here's a description of the Conference - I like the 'new decade' thinking at the end. Here's to Open Talent's 'advantaged thinking tribe'....

'Yfoundations' vision for the conference is "think global, act local". The Conference will present practices, policies and research from our backyard to around the world, then place them into a localised discussion. With this motto, the Conference aims to tap into all sources of expertise, knowledge and wisdom to foster discussion on how these sources can suitably fit into the Australian and local contexts.

The conference theme for 2011 is ending youth homelessness.

With the dawn of a new decade, this year's theme looks to reinforce the top priority held by people invested in the lives of young people- ensuring a positive future for the many young people who experience or are at risk of homelessness. The community of people working to end youth homelessness has shown continuous resilience over the past decades. The sector has grown from several young activists to one of the most sophisticated in the world. This new decade should be no less exciting. '