An Australian Big Club With a Shared Vision

As I write this blog I’m literally halfway between Australia and the UK as I travel back following three weeks helping the Good Things Australian team in Sydney. I’m feeling inspired as I reflect on Good Things’ new normal as a Group with a subsidiary on the other side of the world, as well as reflecting on how much we’ve achieved in such a short period of time in Australia.

 

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Me with Good Things’ Data Design Manager Tom and National Director Jess at Parliament House in Canberra

 

Something to shout about

Two really big milestones for our Australian team happened in my last week in Sydney.

We reached 900 Network Partners in our Be Connected Network in just six months – that’s from all over Australia, every State and Territory, and in metro, regional and remote areas. This is a huge achievement and I hope it means that what we have on offer is really attractive. Talking to some of our Network Partners they are also really enjoying being part of something bigger – a big club with a shared vision – and we’re looking forward to providing ongoing advocacy and support for digital inclusion at a hyperlocal level.

We also held our first and only physical face-to-face partner meeting for organisations who are working with us to capacity build the Be Connected network. We’re working with around 10 organisations who come from different geographies and from different types of organisation. Including:

  • In New South Wales, we’re working with Leep – an organisation who are experts in recruiting and motivating volunteers and who are now embedding that expertise in digital mentors.
  • In Western Australia (WA) we’re working with the Australian Seniors Computer Club Association (ASCCA) and two project coordinators from the very North of WA and the very South of WA – both remote areas – and they will be working with organisations wanting to join the Be Connected Network and supporting them mainly via video calls.
  • In Victoria, we’re working with two very different organisations. Lively is a new non-profit start-up linking young unemployed people (18-25) with older people who want help with their internet skills. ECCV (Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria) is a much older organisation who works with social clubs and seniors clubs in Melbourne and Victoria who are from specific ethnic groups.

It was wonderful to meet all of the Capacity Builder projects. We will continue to have webinar meetings face-to-face but we won’t geographically be in the same room again – nor, even in the same time zone (in the Australian Winter there are five time zones across the country).

My reflections on leading and working in a Group really feels like I’m working for two organisations who have the same vision, the same goals and ambition but with different governance, different funders and in an opposite timezone. Working with teams on opposite sides of the world is challenging but also rewarding.

A big thank you

I really need to give huge thanks to Jess Wilson our National Director in Australia who is doing a great job keeping all of the plates spinning from the practical recruitment of network partners to engaging a range of stakeholders and bigger partners. Our plan is to keep the team small in Sydney and for UK staff with relevant knowledge and expertise to help us set up all our digital tools and systems and processes.

A huge thanks also goes to Fran Coleman who is leading the teams in Sheffield (our UK base) to support our Australian counterparts. Both Jess and Fran inevitably spend a lot of time out of the 9-5 just to make sure they can talk to each other.

Ooroo aka goodbye for now

When I’m in Australia there’s all the thrills and excitement of working for a start-up, except this one has a three-year contract with the Federal Government and colleagues in the UK with years of experience. Those thrills come with the knowledge that there’s so much to do, there’s so much opportunity and if you work 24 hours a day you’ll never do what you need to do.

Back in the UK, I have to hit the ground running reporting to the Digital Skills Partnership Board on Tuesday. It’s always great being in the Sheffield office and with our Sheffield team, they’re so positive and so focused and so productive.

My final thoughts as I jet back to the snowy UK is that I really am proud to lead such an effective organisation on both sides of the globe and I couldn’t do it without the support of so many amazing people.

Until next time Sydney…

Did we need a Minister for Loneliness?

I was delighted to hear the news that Tracey Crouch has been appointed as Minister for Loneliness.

We know that loneliness kills – it’s potentially more harmful than smoking or obesity.

I meet hundreds of people each year who would describe themselves as lonely. As one woman told me on a visit to a local community partner in Sheffield: “I was so depressed sitting at home with no-one except daytime TV. I just had to get out of the house.”

It’s great to know that the lonely people I’m meeting are now getting the essential social interaction that they need – through the Online Centres Network.

Volunteers and workers in our communities deal with lonely people every day. Good Things Foundation works with community venues across the UK – the Online Centres Network – and people come to get support to use the internet either for the first time or to get to grips with the basics, and so many of them say it is also important that it’s a chance to get out of the house and meet other people.

Bob Dunkerley, one of our 2 Millionth Learners from last year’s award ceremony, said: “Going along to Starting Point (his local Online Centre), for me, it’s a bit of a community that provides a necessary service for people who are on their own, especially older people. I need something in my life to give me an incentive to do things. The laptop training and companionship at Starting Point can do that.“

It isn’t just our digital skills learners that overcome loneliness by going along to centres. We’re a social change charity as much as we are a digital inclusion one, and projects like English My Way are vital in helping to tackle the loneliness issue. A video we released last year really demonstrates the camaraderie amongst one group of women at Online Centre Neighbours in Poplar:

Models that both empower people in a digital world and which provide face-to-face, community-based support are a powerful way to overcome loneliness.

Centres within the Online Centres Network provide an informal approach to help people overcome the issues they’re facing. That’s what an informal approach is all about, it’s focused on the person – what they need to do, and in the way and the pace that suits them.

Congratulations to you Tracey on taking up this vital role. It’s great to see the government making a commitment to such a pressing issue and I welcome the cross-sector and co-ordinated approach that will be taken.

I hope the community sector will play a significant role in cross-Government work around loneliness.

Tracey, you’re very welcome to come and visit an Online Centre and see this important work for yourself. Meeting the people who are taking such transformative journeys into the digital society and into happiness.

Digital is in everything and for everyone: A local approach to digital inclusion

I’m sure when you think of Salford, you think of Media City, culture, architecture, and… Manchester (the neighbouring city). In many people’s minds, Salford is probably one of the last places you’d expect high rates of digital exclusion, but actually, 24% of adults in Salford lack basic digital skills.

We’re delighted to be working with Salford City Council on a bold, ambitious, and groundbreaking digital inclusion project, Digital You, to bring all the benefits of the digital world to almost 8,000 Salford residents, with a goal of helping them to transform their lives.

We will be working with more than 25 local Salford community organisations – libraries, Gateways, community centres, community organisations such as work clubs and women’s centres, and housing associations. Any organisation who shares this vision of a better world for socially excluded people through digital – and who wants to join this movement – can. Our goal is to build on what’s already great in Salford – this is about growing capacity so that it’s not just a project but it’s a sustainable movement by working together.

It’s all part of a bigger project called #DigitalSalford and I was delighted to attend the launch event last week where I met lots of interesting and inspiring people, including Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Paul Dennett, Salford City Mayor.

 

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Me with Paul Dennett and Andy Burnham

 

There were lots of people at the launch event who were intrigued by Digital You and wanted to find out how they could be involved in the project. There was a sense that this was collective and collaborative action towards a shared goal – and there was a high level of enthusiasm.

Local Authorities tell us that it’s important for them to have digital on their agenda, especially when there are 11.5 million people in the UK without the basic internet skills they need. The world for many people is difficult. Many people don’t have enough money and find juggling with the little they have hard. Many feel isolated from family and community. We are committed to helping people improve their lives. It’s not about technology it’s about people – and people’s place in our digital society and our digital economy.

Digital inclusion is about two things, one, about helping vulnerable people to have better lives and, two, it’s about making sure no-one is left behind as digital improves the access, effectiveness, and convenience, of commercial and public services.

The UK government is taking action with things like the Digital Skills Partnership board, but with other priorities like Brexit at the forefront of their mind, and with powers being devolved to some local authorities, in the not-to-distant future it will be up to councils to lead the way for people, organisations and businesses in their area to fully participate in our ever-growing digital nation.

In Salford, over the next two years, we will be helping some of the city’s most vulnerable people to grow the basic digital skills and confidence they need to thrive in today’s digital society. Salford has a bold ambition to be a digital city using digital transformation to ensure the Council’s services are a great experience for everyone. Digital You is making sure that when digital is in everything it’s also for everyone.

I applaud Salford City Council for being bold – for their leadership, their vision, and their investment in this urgent agenda – and I strongly encourage other local authorities to follow this closely.

We’re always happy to chat about what we’re doing and how we may be able to work together.

Why, as Digital Leader of the Year 2017, I think there’s no such thing as a digital leader

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Last year, I was voted Digital Leader of the Year at the DL100 Awards, which was a surprising and amazing honour. With nominations now open for this year’s awards, and being in a typically reflective mood for the New Year, it has made me think. I was, of course, delighted to win the accolade last year, but if we, as a society, are to truly embrace digital then there shouldn’t be any individual digital leaders.

Bear with me.

Digital is everywhere in today’s society. It is implicit in so many roles, from communications through to service delivery and project management. To be successful, you need to be digitally competent and confident – which is why we exist as an organisation.

The same goes for organisations too. Those not embracing digital are being left behind by their competitors, as evidenced by the latest Lloyds Business Digital Index. The report says the most digital business leaders are three times as likely to report increasing turnovers. Which implies that the most digital leaders are just better leaders.

In our increasingly digital society, to be considered a leader, it’s an absolute must to be able to do things digitally and to be able to support others to do things digitally. If you can’t do either, then you just can’t be called a leader.

A good leader thinks about the future of their organisation, they are clear about their vision for their organisation and makes decisions based on an understanding of the wider world they work in. They know their staff make the difference, and build an environment they can thrive in, and they understand customers, stakeholders, and partners, they communicate well with them. None of this stuff can be done well without digital.

There are lots of great leaders that champion digital transformation, and I’m honoured to have been recognised as one of them. But in 2018, should we still be talking about digital transformation? Digital has already transformed most of our lives, in ways both big and small. So when we’re talking about digital transformation, we should be transforming lives for those who still aren’t being included in our digital world.

Digital transformation, after all, is just making our businesses better, improving the way we communicate with customers and citizens, seizing all the opportunities that are available to us. It seems a bit of a no-brainer to me.

I am honoured to be named a Digital Leader, and will fully support this year’s DL100 Digital Leaders Awards as they are a chance to shine a spotlight on the benefits of embracing digital as a leader. And, I’m looking forward to seeing, and being inspired by, this year’s winners and nominees.

But that being said, I’m hopeful that soon we’ll reach the stage where every leader is a digital leader, and we’ll just be celebrated good leaders, rather than good digital ones.

My Year in Review: top five moments for Good Things Foundation in 2017

As the end of 2017 comes racing towards me, I’ve been reflecting on our biggest and best moments and wanted to share with you my top five for the year. It’s been so difficult to choose just five as there have been so many amazing moments, so many fabulous projects we’re running, so many great partners. Anyway, here’s five:

  1. Two Millionth Learner Awards

What it’s all about – helping people have better lives through digital. This year we celebrated the amazing milestone of passing two million people we have helped, alongside our partners in the Online Centres Network, since 2010. In February, we celebrated some of those two million people as well as showcasing the hard work of the Online Centres. We had lunch up the BT Tower in London, followed by the Award ceremony itself. It was an inspiring day with many tears shed, and even though a few months have passed, I still feel fuzzy when I think about how much that day meant to people like Marita and Margaret. Read my blog about it here.

  1. Launching Good Things Foundation Australia

When we won the contract from the Department of Social Services in Australia in June, we were both excited and nervous. Expanding to another country on the other side of the world was such a great prospect but also a little scary. We set up our subsidiary and began recruitment of the Be Connected network, the Online Centres Network’s Aus counterpart. We recruited our new director Jess Wilson who has now met the entire UK team having visited us just this month, and we’re delighted to have recruited almost 800 Network Partners into our Australian digital inclusion network since mid-August. I’m very excited about what else we’ll be achieving in Australia in 2018. Take a look at the Be Connected website.

  1. Digital Evolution: a movement for social change

Our 2017 conference was one of the best ones yet. For the first time it completely sold out and we had lots of amazing speakers, including Molly Watt – a true inspiration – and Campbell Robb – the passionate CEO of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. To see just some of the day’s highlights, take a look at our round-up video below.

  1. Winning Digital Leader of the Year

At the DL100 Awards back in June, I was surprised and honoured to receive the Digital Leader of the Year award, a real accolade in the digital inclusion community. I didn’t just win the award for me, it was for the whole Good Things Foundation team and the Online Centres Network too. I’m so proud of everyone for all of the amazing work that you all do. Read more about it here.

  1. Launching our pilot in Kenya

Our second worldwide venture of the year was when we launched Digital Life: Kenya, a pilot project we’re running in collaboration with the Kenyan National Library Service (knls). We’ve developed a custom version of Learn My Way and two of our team, Emily and Michael, travelled to Nairobi to run Digital Champion training for 20 librarians to help them support their library members to learn about ways to use the internet for the first time or to use it more. There have already been some success stories with two learners from Kinyambu Library securing jobs after developing their digital skills using Learn My Way. Take a look at the short report about the project so far, launched last week, and our project page on our website.

I also want to mention our big three projects we’re running: with DfE there’s the Future Digital Inclusion programme that helps hundreds of thousands of people a year develop better basic digital skills and understanding; English My Way continues to go from strength to strength, supported by DCLG, we’re helping people with very little English language to grow in confidence and in community connection by learning to speak and understand more; and the NHS Widening Digital Participation is leading 20 design-led pilots working with medical practitioners, CCGs, and Online Centres in 20 towns and cities around the country. And I want to mention Lloyds Banking Group, Google, Talk Talk, MIND and Homeless Link for all of their help to deliver more reach and increased learning. It’s also been a year when we’ve developed more pilots including working with the Money Advice Service for a random control trial to improve financial capability.

We’re leaving 2017 with many uncertainties in the UK from Brexit to the rollout of Universal Credit. There are so many social challenges facing both individuals and communities – so many issues that need to be tackled. But one thing’s for certain, Good Things Foundation, the Online Centres Network will be here to provide support and help those who are most in need.

I want to thank the amazing team at Good Things Foundation – I really am so lucky to work with such talented, committed and hardworking people. We can’t achieve so much in the past 12 months without a lot of effort. Thank you to my team who share my passion for a better world through digital and who usually have a big smile on their face.

If 2017 is anything to go by, it’s onwards and upwards for 2018 as we continue to go from strength-to-strength. Watch this space as I’m sure 2018 will be another exciting year.

Digital Evolution: A movement for social change

On 30th November we hosted our sixth annual conference – Digital Evolution: Social Change. There were around 200 people there – many of our partners in the Online Centres Network as well as many of our national partners. I wanted to share my opening speech from the event, I hope you like it:

Rather unconventionally I want to start by saying thank you! Thank you to everyone for all of the hard work you’ve been doing this year, particularly our Network Partners and my team who are amazing and who have had an incredible year so far.

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Last year I showed the trailer from I, Daniel Blake. Now, Ken Loach has made it free on YouTube, so if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s no excuse. The reason why I showed that trailer was because we know people like Daniel Blake are real. This is not fiction – it’s fact. We meet Daniel Blakes every time we’re in an Online Centre and many of you meet your own Daniel Blakes every day as you work in those tough communities, our poorest communities, where people are finding it hard to find work, to tackle the welfare system, to get on. The thing that I love about the work that we all do is that we don’t just give people digital skills, we give them confidence, resilience and we give them hope.

In February this year, we celebrated 2 million learners and I met two people that I want to tell you about. Marita who won the Learning for Health Award has an amazing story. She was actually someone that we featured when we reached one million learners when she had undiagnosed fibromyalgia and she had used her new internet skills to get diagnosed and get treatment. But, between the one million and two million marks, her teenage daughter Chance was diagnosed with spine cancer and Marita said if they hadn’t had the internet, they would have felt in the dark. It was amazing that she and her daughter can actually use Marita’s new skills, to use the internet for health, to actually feel like there was light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully, Chance is now in remission.

The other person that I want to mention is Margaret. She was the winner in the Learning for Life category. She’d been struggling with alcoholism her whole life but luckily for her, she was able to get support from Blenheim REAL down in South London and they helped her to focus on something else, to focus on something new – learning on Learn My Way. The reason I’m singling out Margaret is because of my own personal experience in meeting her. When I gave her that award and shook her hand, she wouldn’t let go. She just kept saying “Thank you so much. My family are so proud of me. My family are so proud of me. They’ve never been proud of me before.”

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At Good Things, we have developed five underpinning principles for the work that we do and I hope that they resonate with you. The first and most important principle is that ‘we are committed to helping people improve their lives’.

Often when I talk to people about a ‘Network’ they think it’s a map with some dots on it. They think it’s bricks and mortar. But that’s not the point, it’s really about the people in the network. It’s about the people making that change and having that impact. It’s about us all working together to achieve social change. So our second principle is: ‘We lead a movement for social change’. Please do take a look at the video below to see for yourself the impact of the Online Centres Network.

Our third principle is: ‘We use digital technology to make change happen’ – of course we do! But the important thing here is that the work we do, the impact we all have – with people – is powered by digital. It’s digital in our back office as well, digital to provide you with those additional services, products and content, that really help you to turbocharge what you do. It’s digital to help us to unite, share and organise.

And it’s digital that supports your blended approach to supporting people to develop that digital understanding and personal confidence using Learn My Way. Today, we’re officially launching the new logo for Learn My Way. We’ve done this through working with you – with users. It’s like the conference it’s an ‘evolution’, not a ‘revolution’.

Our fourth principle is: ‘We do what works’. It seems so simple but it’s one of the ones I’m most proud of. We do what works and we’re tenacious. We keep on going. We deliver.

We also advocate and are advisors for government and other partners. We’re not buffeted by the world around us.

We’re also tenacious about piloting and testing and going back to the first principle, working with the people to make sure that we’re not doing anything that we don’t need to do. Because we’ve got to do the right thing.

We always do what we say we’ll do. An absolutely underpinning part of our behaviours is that we have integrity and every single one of the team would say that too. We always do what we say we’ll do.

Our last principle is that ‘we’re ambitious about the scale of our impact’. I’m ambitious and the older I get the more ambitious I get because I realise my time is running out and I want to use every minute of every day to have as much impact as possible in the world. I know my team and many of you feel the same way because the work we do is so important. It’s not just about helping one Margaret, one Marita or your equivalent of a Daniel Blake. It’s about helping tens, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of people like Margaret, and Marita, and Daniel Blake, and now by working together we’ve actually surpassed 2.3 million people that we’ve helped so far since 2010.

This year we’ve taken that ambition and that scale a little bit further by going to work in countries in other places around the world. In July, Emily and Michael went to Kenya to launch a new pilot working with libraries across Kenya to see if Learn My Way and the Digital Champion model can work for people across Kenya. Already we know that two people who have used Learn My Way in one of those libraries have now gone on to get jobs that they wouldn’t have got before. And we’re evaluating our work to see how digital inclusion can drive social inclusion and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

And the very big news is that in 2017 we set up a subsidiary organisation in Australia, we’ve set up a new office in Sydney. We have a $25m contract with the Australian Government ($20m of that is for grants, and it’s over 3-years) – to help older people thrive in a digital world. Then we have Jess, our new Director running things over there, and Jess is with us here today. In Australia, we have already set up a movement for social change with over 650 Network Partners joining us since August. Yes, we are ambitious about the scale of our impact.

I asked my team recently if they knew the story of JF Kennedy going to NASA and talking to the man he met sweeping the corridor. He asked him what he does and he said: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” I asked my team what their equivalent is and they said: “I’m helping to create a world where everyone benefits from digital” – “I’m helping at least 3 million socially excluded people improve their lives through digital” – “I’m working not only in digital inclusion but in social inclusion or both at the same time.” They also said – “I’m helping empower and enable people all across the world” and one colleague said, “I’m helping to make the world more equal”. We can be ambitious about the scale of our impact when we all share the passion and commitment to improving people’s lives.

So that’s our strategy: We’re committed to helping people improve their lives; We lead a movement of social change, and that means everyone, not just us and our network partners, anybody that we work with and anywhere in the world; We use digital technology to underpin our work and to make change happen; We do works; and, We’re ambitious about the scale of our impact.

And it’s only by working together that we can make good things happen.

If you’d like to watch my full conference speech, you can do so here.