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…

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.

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.

Making good things happen in Australia

I’ve been spending the last few weeks in Australia and this week was a big one. Christian Porter, Minister for Social Services, launched the Be Connected programme on Wednesday; he said: “Be Connected is another important step towards the Government’s goal to foster digital skills, access, and inclusion to empower everyone to thrive in a digital world.” We care about this as we’re working with the Australian Government to grow a digital inclusion movement for older people all across Australia. There is a great video about the programme you can take a look at here.

The last couple of months have been a bit of a whirlwind for me and the team – both in the UK and in Australia. It’s felt at times like we’re working for a start-up – meeting very important people in Canberra one day and getting phone lines installed, buying stationary and moving office furniture around the next. Of course, we’ve been working hard, meeting hundreds of new partners – national partners, state partners, and many, many local partners. And we’ve been getting used to our new policy and sector landscape and partners in Australia.

We’re excited to be working with the other Be Connected partners – the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and we’re learning lots from them.

 

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Me with new director Jess Wilson at the Online Safety – On the Edge conference

 

Looking back over the few months, I’m amazed at how much we’ve achieved; recruiting a team, including a great new Director Jess Wilson, holding nine events, meeting over 200 people and growing our network, which is now over 400 organisations strong.

I’ve met so many enthusiastic people, who are already having a huge impact on supporting older Australians to improve their digital skills and who are brilliant members of the network.

None of what we’ve done in Australia would be possible without the experience we’ve gained through running the Online Centres Network in the UK, and I’m proud that the UK government has been so forward-thinking in investing in a network which is now being replicated internationally.

The impact we’ve had in the UK has been amazing, as showcased at our 2 millionth Learner Awards earlier this year, and I’m already ambitiously planning on having a similar impact in Australia.

We’ve got exciting plans for the coming months, as we’ll be growing the network further, going out across the country to meet lots more people, and building many more partnerships that will help Good Things Foundation Australia to grow. Our mission is a world where everyone benefits from digital – and that’s just what we’re planning on making happen.

Seeing is believing

I’m currently in Australia working on the Be Connected project, setting up a new network of digital inclusion centres in Australia, quite similar to the Online Centres Network in the UK. A lot of what I do is inspired by the amazing work of the Online Centres and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about using our UK experience here on the other side of the world. Now, thanks to two new videos which we launched in the UK last week, I can share that amazing work with others too.

The first video is about the impact of the Online Centres Network. The story is told by a handful of network members and it’s their passion and commitment to improving people’s lives and their communities through teaching digitals skills that really puts the point across in this video. I always say that Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network is a big club with a shared vision and I think this video really shows that we’re all in it together. Take a look and see for yourself.

If you run a community organisation or you know of one and you’d like to explore the benefits of joining the Online Centres Network more, take a look at our second video because not only does it summarise everything that being a member has to offer, it shows how great it is being a part of this big club.

If you’re a member of the Online Centres Network, if you believe in the work we do and share our vision for a world where everyone benefits from digital, or if you simply love the videos and feel inspired by them, please do share them on your channels (websites or social media) and spread the word about the Online Centres Network and all the amazing and dedicated individuals who are working hard everyday to help people overcome social challenges.

A movement for social change

Good Things Foundation hosted an event at the House of Lords on Monday. It’s a bit of an annual do where we take the opportunity to launch something new and exciting or to celebrate the end of a big project. Since our last House of Lords event in 2016, we’ve continually built on our successes and grown our organisation both in terms of our scope and objectives and team.

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Hosted by our Patron Lord Jim Knight, it was great to see so many of our partners – national and hyperlocal – as well as members of our Board and colleagues from the Good Things team too, alongside our Chair Liz Williams.

Those of you who know us, will know two things:

  • We do what works – and we always do what we say we’ll do
  • AND, we don’t let the grass grow under our feet – we’re ambitious about going further and faster.

It’s all about the people. The world for many people is difficult. They feel that life is a series of hard knocks and that they don’t have the power to soften the blows. They don’t have enough money and find juggling with the little they have hard. They feel isolated from family and community. We are committed to helping people improve their lives.

And so we’ve changed internally too to face this challenge with not only staff dedicated to digital inclusion, but we also have staff dedicated to social inclusion too.

That’s Emily and Tim from the Design team out in the streets of Hastings at 4am to talk to rough sleepers about their health needs.

That’s Nicola and Rob and Charlotte, working with almost 100 Online Centres to help migrants learn English, like the Polish woman I met in Luton who just that day had for the first time rang herself to tell the school her daughter was ill. Her daughter is 10 and was born in Luton. It was a huge milestone for her.

Working with partners is important – we’re not just a network but we’re a movement. A movement for social change. Public sector partners, corporates, community organisations, volunteers, and the Online Centres Network. We make lasting social change happen through empowering and embedding new behaviours and relationships.

Our thousands of local partners are very important. They are grassroots organisations who understand the experiences and needs of the people they support every day in their local communities; they engage people that other parts of formal systems fail to reach. Our collective impact, across all our partners, is greater than any one would achieve alone.

I am ambitious – I am ambitious not for me but for all of us – ambitious for the scale of the impact we can make if we do the best we possibly can do. I am ambitious about the change we can make to people’s lives. It’s great to help a few people make a really big and positive change to their lives and to understand those micro journeys we followed 20 people over 18 months – the Longitudinal Learner Study.

It’s essential to help individuals but it’s even more important when we can help millions of individuals benefit. We’re committed to helping people significantly improve their lives and we’re committed to doing this at scale.

I started by saying it’s all about the people – and at the event I interviewed one of the stars of the new booklet, Mark Revell:

We also took the opportunity to launch our new Digital Nation infographic, which demonstrates the current state of digital and social inclusion in the UK, which you can see here.

To finish off this train of thought, I say let’s all be ambitious – and I ask all of you if you can do more. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done already and that you’re already committed to doing. But, let’s do more, reach further and move faster – together.