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The word experience exists for a reason.

by Helen

At the Forward Foundation, we’re going to communicate our failures every month. The idea being we start to create an open space, and a better environment, in which our partners can share theirs. So here goes… 

Creativity backfires

I chose probably our most important piece of news in 2011, which was our our first ever grants round, to make a pretty bad judgement call on a communication to an audience who at this time knew very little about our values and our work.

As big news I was keen to announce the outcomes of the grants round ASAP. Off I raced… 

My ‘creative’ idea was to take lots of photos of the actual cheques in various locations, and make a theme of the whole ‘money thing’. Genius! I thought. 

Nb. As a Foundation, we are about about much more than funding.

We genuinely do ‘go beyond writing a cheque’ (to use a cliché) and I had gone and created a communication theme around just that – cheques. Not genius.

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The backfiring bit

The communication came off as pretty unimaginative, vague and shallow (and still makes me screw up my face a little now). It was definitely not inspiring.

As a Foundation, we do go further, providing a package of support (funding, expertise and connections) to our partners,  and there I was creating a visual theme around money. 

What didn’t help is that I hadn’t included much text in the e-communication to add meat, substance and context to the visuals of the cheques.

The communication ultimately made a bad impression on our founder (our main donor) and the person who was investing the money to enable us to make those grants!

My bad(s)

I was at the stage of my career where I was encouraged to step up, stride out a little and take some ownership. ‘Be bold’, I thought. The right attitude to take. My mistake was in completely ignoring my gut instincts. Something about the communication was grating and I should have explored that.

I was a little green and lacking in assertiveness. In trying to be reactive, I rushed and my “process” went of the window. I got swept along, instead of allowing myself to pause, review and take control. 

The word experience exists for a reason

A few ‘notes to Helen’ for next time:

  • Trust your gut instinct, and be assertive in what you think is best. Don’t let your process fly out of the window! Eg. Always do a litmus test. Gauge reactions. Test or share ideas with a small sample of your audience, or at least someone who understands your audience.
  • Know your levels of ‘perfection’. Know when 85% is fine. Know when something has to be 110% - ie. spot on. Allocate your time, energy and resources accordingly. 
  • You can control what you do in response to failure (your actions following it) but you cannot control how it makes you feel at the time. Give yourself (a little) space to feel the inevitable pang of disappointment or frustration, before you man up and come back with even more grit (and wisdom!)
  • Continue to be bold. Take on board what you can from criticism and then, LET IT GO. Be open to failure and do not be deterred by the fear of getting something wrong. Cue quote;

"A perfect circle. So hard for grown-ups to draw, never quite perfect. But for children it’s so easy, they are free to just draw it." (author unknown)

Take a read of Michael’s post on Failing slowly. Next month, Head of Digital, Suraj is up!

Forward Foundation is hiring…

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Entrepreneurial individual with unrivalled people skills and a passion for improving young lives required to help us build partnerships with exciting young companies that can support our work.

About us:

The Forward Foundation was set up two years ago by tech company Forward Internet Group. We exist to enable young people in the UK and Africa to achieve a career they can be proud of. To do so, we launch social start-ups with disruptive ideas and create digital products that, ultimately, help transform young lives. 

About the role:

Our new Partnerships Manager will play a critical role in shaping our future by building relationships with exciting young companies that can support our work. They’ll develop and implement strategies to embed the Forward Foundation within the work of our company supporters, and develop creative ways of inspiring and mobilising staff to volunteer their time for our social start-up partners. 

About you:

You’ll be an entrepreneurial and creative individual with unrivalled people skills and a track record of success. You’ll have developed your skills in an office environment for over two years, preferably in either the non-profit or private sector. You’ll have aspirations of developing a successful career in the non-profit sector and a passion for improving young people’s lives.   

What we offer:

In addition to a competitive salary, the successful person will work alongside a talented, dedicated and supportive team. They’ll be based in the gorgeous offices of our founder and big supporter, the Forward Internet Group. It’s full of talented young people and, as a bonus, there’s free food and drink throughout the day, a bar, music studio, games room, and amphitheatre. 

How to apply:

To apply, please send the following to recruitment@forwardfoundation.org.uk as soon as possible and no later than Friday 25 July 2014:

1. Your CV

2. A video of no more than 60 seconds telling us why you think we should hire you

Good luck!

Our five new partners & what made them the perfect fit

We are interested in ideas that will shake things up a bit in their approach to transforming young lives. We’ve invested £193, 313.51 in five new social start-ups; three in London, one in Uganda and one in Ethiopia who are on the case. That investment is part of a package of support - funding, expertise and connections -  that will help them to launch their organisation.

Teamwork. Our favourite. from Forward Foundation on Vimeo.

Introducing our five new partners and why we’re excited to be teaming up with them.

Tutors United is making private tutoring accessible to all young people, regardless of economic background. They pair up university students with primary school pupils to help them achieve their potential. Private tuition is proven to provide a huge educational advantage so by making this opportunity available to all primary pupils Tutors United will help reduce educational inequality.

EduKit brings schools and youth projects together. Many youth projects have the potential to have a huge impact on young lives, but don’t reach the right people. Through an intelligent matching service based around the student’s unique needs EduKit ensures that young people are able to access the right kind of support.

Radar supports young people to have a voice in society by creating networks of young journalists within marginalised communities. Making clever use of online tools and platforms, they provide those reporters with mobile and digital skills. Radar is a catalyst for change, turning young people from stories into storytellers.

KampaBits is a digital design school, turning young people living in informal settlements into digital developers and designers. Their impact is huge with over 80% of KampaBits graduates securing highly skilled employment.

iceaddis provides a platform for Ethiopia’s young tech entrepreneurs to flourish. As the country’s first tech incubator, iceaddis is a catalyst to creating a strong tech start-up scene to support Ethiopia’s emerging tech sector.

This time last grants round…

We’re always keen to share our partners’ stories. One of the projects we funded during our last grants round was The Big House; a Hackney based social start-up who provide young care leavers with a holistic, wraparound support and use theatre to help them make their voices heard. We recently caught up with the inspirational leader, Maggie Norris.

Demystifying Funding

A few photos and a fantastic visual on ‘Getting your idea off the ground’ (created by Bryan from Wapisasa) following last week’s evening around demystifying funding here at The Foundation.

Big thanks to speakers from Big Lottery Fund, Nominet Trust, Forward Partners and MAC-UK who shared a their experiences and provided some candid insights from a variety of perspectives.

And thanks to all the funders and people from emerging social start-ups’ who took part in the speed-dating (of sorts) that followed, which seemed successful in getting open conversations flowing and creating some new connections.

Yesterday our old friends Enabling Enterprise came into run an enterprise workshop with a group of Year 10 students from Brentwood County High School.

Their challenge for the day was to design a new space for Forward3D’s office, figuring out how to make it the most enjoyable place to work possible but also somewhere that motivates staff to work hard.  The three teams came up with some amazingly creative ideas, including installing a virtual zoo and 7-aside football pitch in the office, with an oyster card system to earn free time over the course of a week.

Thanks very much to Forward3D’s Jack Howse, who volunteered at the event and supported the teams throughout the workshop, helping them to hone their ideas. Thanks also to Joe Hale, who made a special appearance as an ex Brentwood County High School student himself, to help judge the final presentations (and compare notes on teachers!).

Well done to the winning team ‘Potato’, pictured at the top with Jack and Joe.

Introducing our new Associates!

Here at the Forward Foundation, we’re big on values and one of our most important is that our approach is youthful.  Given that our mission is all about supporting young people, it’s vital that we’re in touch with how young people are thinking and feeling about the world today, and that they are feeding in to everything we do. And that’s why we’re delighted to announce our wonderful new Associates as the newest members of the Forward Foundation team!

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Pictured: five of our new Associates

Eight young Londoners have joined our team, and will be working with us to ensure that we are supporting young people as effectively as possible, and addressing the most important needs of youth today.

We had our first session last week, which saw Sandra, Kwabena, Ozlem, Tierney and Jemail (pictured above) have their say about which new organisations we should be partnering with in the UK. The five Associates were given information about five organisations which have already been shortlisted by the Forward Foundation as potential new partners.  They analysed them according to five criteria and following some a truly rigorous and insightful analysis, came to their final decisions.  Their insights were recorded on film and will be fed into the board’s final decision making next week.

imagePictured: the Associates analyse the shortlisted UK proposals

We were so impressed by the enthusiasm and critical thinking of the group, who were clearly so passionate about youth issues themselves. And with many of them coming to us having been involved with our existing partners, their grasp of our work and mission was hugely impressive.  A truly amazing start!

We can’t wait to continue working with this lovely and talented bunch. Watch this space…

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Kwabena (second from the left) wrote a guest post on our blog last month, take a read

Discovery 6 months on…

Last Monday we caught up with participants from 2013’s Discovery Programme.

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It was an informal get together, during which the Discovery crew all opened letters which they had written to themselves six months prior. Everyone was asked to use one word to describe how they felt on reading their letter:

  • Energised
  • Hopeful
  • Restless
  • Content
  • Eager
  • Grounded

We want to better understand the impact of the Discovery Programme on the leader and their organisation, so there will be more updates as we catch up with them individually.

It was a great opportunity for the leaders to  reconnect, and who knew so much could happen in six months. Read some of the reflections written by the leaders shortly after they returned.

Mike and Matt’s road to Uganda

by Mike Wickham.

Uganda was my first visit to Africa and I got on the plane with almost no idea what to expect. The culture, the language…I didn’t even know what the weather would be like (didn’t think to look any of this up before I went). As a result, I spent most of the trip in shock – a good kind of shock – and this was mainly due to the people we met. Such quiet, humble, and incredibly gracious people.

imagePictured: Me and Matt (stripy) with Product of Prison

I think that this was most visible when we visited Jinja Prison, a male penitentiary for long-term convicts. We were visiting thanks to Product of Prison – one of the Foundation’s partners, who focus on rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners. They provide the inmates with the ability to learn new skills in the hope that, when released, they can find jobs and assimilate back into society. We were there to assist Product of Prison with their online marketing and advertising – aiming to get them more visible in the digital space.  Being a young start-up charity, this visibility is invaluable towards generating awareness, support and funding.

My imagination of what a Ugandan prison might be like was incredibly far from the reality. Neither the guards nor inmates were intimidating in any way. There was no hostility, but instead an atmosphere of respect and friendliness. This was summed up during a meeting with the Chief Officer, who after five minutes was interrupted by a smiley cellmate presenting him with a gift (a painting that had clearly taken him some considerable time). The prison officer then continued by expressing his sorrow for a lot of the inmates who he knew were most likely innocent (unfortunately the penal system isn’t quite as fair as it is here in the UK).

It was noticeable that there wasn’t only a respect between the inmates and the guards, but actually friendships. And I think this sums up the humility of the Ugandan people. Even though some of them may have had tough lives, they treat each other with a lot of respect.

imagePictured: Inmates at the end of their ICT course

Next we were taken through the prison - guided by one unarmed guard through a thousand inmates. Again, this was not at all intimidating. We made our way upstairs to a group of 50 inmates who applauded as we walked in. We were the “guests of honour” at their graduation ceremony. They had all participated in one of the Product of Prison ICT courses, and were being presented with their certificates. After a few uplifting speeches from the tutors (and some not-so uplifting speeches from myself and Matt), we handed the guys their certificates. Each one came up to a round of applause and looked genuinely pleased with what they had achieved. It was a real privilege to have been there to share the moment with them, and this was without doubt my highlight of the trip.

Uganda - not your typical experience

by Matt Morgan

Imagine growing up in a country where your education system and curriculum gives little thought to life beyond final exams, IT skills or personal development.

imagePictured: Matt and Mike’s workshop with Kampabits in Uganda

Now imagine you’ve just been told that there’s a free one year course run by a non-profit called Kampabits that can give you all the skills you need to pursue a career in graphic design, web-design and development or the entrepreneurial business skills needed to identify opportunities within a market which is surprisingly open to start-ups. An attendee of one of my Organic Digital Marketing presentation is now, as a direct result of the workshop, putting together funding proposals for Uganda’s first SEO start-up. You’re doing well if you’ve managed to come up with a novel idea that seems feasible to more than one friend in London’s current digital marketing space.

Wait, there’s more. Now you’re told that of those who have successfully graduated, 95% of them have found employment within the first month, and 5% have gone on to start there own business. That’s pretty incredible, and sums up the Ugandan experience myself and Mike were lucky enough to have.

Some of the scenes we were greeted with were more like the world’s media might have prepped you to expect - dirt roads and wooden shacks. However, what struck me more than this were the seeds of innovation and labour springing up out of seemingly nothing. Everywhere, people we straining to forge industry and a living. They were immensely grateful for the work the Forward Foundation were doing, but none had the attitude of reliance upon it.

Pictured: Mike engrossed with Fundibots!

There is a sense of responsibility that is not felt back home. We met a tiny organisation grown out of a person’s passion for robots. Instead of assessing how he could make a successful career from his skills, he realised there was very little opportunity for young people to practically experience mechanical engineering, and so forced his way into schools taking the responsibility of this transference of knowledge on his shoulders.

It was the Ugandan attitude, amongst so much opposition and hardship, that I will take away from the trip. From the prison officer that was planning to donate his home to ex-cons upon his retirement, to the Kampabits trainer who rode with us (each on the back of a motorbike) to our hotel once our taxi broke down to ensure our safety. Ugandans feel a sense of responsibility to make their country a better place for the next generation, and I felt privileged that I was given the chance to be able to inspire a select few Ugandan non-profit organisations in a country that is more than ready to start helping itself.

Matt works for Digital Marketing agency Forward3D. Read more about why Matt and Mike went out to Uganda to work alongside some of our partners.

Maggie Norris – Demystifying drama

We had a chat with Maggie, former Theatre Director and founder of The Big House, about the power of drama as a tool to build confidence and how she approaches acting…

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I demystify the whole process of acting. We don’t talk in a way that they may perhaps at a drama school, where they will be talking about all sorts of techniques, stanislavski etc. I have found alienates the youngsters we work with and makes them feel on the outside.

We do a lot of improvisation-based work and it’s really about being comfortable in your own skin.

So when we develop the play, we develop characters and qualities that are very close to the people who are playing those parts and that’s a very particular choice that’s been made, because it allows them to be themselves. Now that doesn’t mean to say it’s not acting. You’ve got an audience of 100 odd in watching you so of course it’s a performance.

It’s very natural, very real and very raw. It’s about absorbing the character into themselves.

So one of the very early games that I play with them is a game whereby I have to go out of the room and come back into the room and they’re either delivering a script or they’re just talking. And until I can’t tell which it is, that’s when the real acting begins. So it’s very natural and very real and very raw and it’s about absorbing the character into themselves and that’s really forging a very close bond between them and the material, the part they’re playing, influencing and shaping.

We work very closely at bonding the group that we work with on each three month course, so that here is a support system within that group.

Sharing their problems and also having the opportunity to use drama to express frustration, anger, whatever that emotion might be that they are feeling is a fantastic release and it’s a brilliant way to channel something that could be very negative into something positive that will then be applauded. 

It’s very much up to them whether they want to impact on the play that is developed during the 3 month course.

It’s quite a fine line really because we don’t want to exploit anybody’s story in any way. They can share their story anonymously. They don’t have to share their story at all. So the process is that they workshop with myself and with the writer, Andy Day. And we get to know each of them very well, we find the common problems within the group and we ask them what they would like to foreground in terms of the themes we look at in the play. 

A lot of people come to The Big House with preconceived ideas about what acting is.

So in the early weeks they put on a heavy cloak of a character if you like and I have to take that off.  And as I said it’s all about demystifying the process, having the confidence to be and to realise that the best acting, as someone like Mihcael Caine says is just absorbing the character and being, by saying those lines and thinking those thoughts you are the character and you don’t have to put on a heavy cloak as it were.

Keeping it incredibly simple and close to their hearts is our key really. 

We are not a drama school, we are not training people to go into the acting profession. What we are trying to do is free their spirits and to build their confidence. If you can build the confidence of a youngster to that extent, that they feel comfortable in their own shoes, it means that when they walk out of the door of The Big House and very confidently be themselves in front of an interview panel for example.

Having a play on at the end is a brilliant shop window for the youngsters and for the work.

So out of the production BABYLON that has just closed, a large number of people came from the community offering placements for our youngsters, which is extraordinary and we’re absolutely delighted

Giving a voice to rarely heard voices is empowering.

 What is fantastic about that process is the two plays we’ve staged is the huge impact on the audiences, many of whom are quite ignorant about the problem the youngsters face. And being able to share that is empowering. To give them a voice, because they are rarely heard voices. They have been really moved around a lot during their childhood and had very little say in what’s happened to them. 

We’d like to say congratulations to Maggie on just last week being listed in the Independent on Sunday’s top 100 happy people. See more about the great things she’s up to at The Big house.

Imagining new solutions for youth

by Anna

While we were in Uganda we brought together 30 leaders, innovators and young people from organisations working across the country, to imagine new solutions for youth.  

The purpose of the morning workshop was to give this group of very talented and very busy people the time and space away from their daily work, to reflect and dream up new possibilities for supporting young people in Uganda, and to encourage innovation to emerge.

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After an ingenious warm up session by our kind hosts In Movement, our creative juices were already flowing and everyone was raring to go.  The group was divided into five teams and were given their first task which was all about honing in on the biggest challenges facing youth in Uganda are today.  After much debate and analysis, each team landed on two core challenges that they saw as being right at the root of the struggles young people face.  These ranged from young people being ‘weighed down by their families’ and communities’ expectations’, to ‘Government corruption negatively affecting youth’, to a ‘lack or creativity and critical thinking’ amongst young people.

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Pictured: some of the 10 core challenges facing young Ugandans 

Next, came the really exciting part.  The teams were asked to imagine possible solutions to these challenges.  It was a tall order to ask people to narrow down the biggest challenges facing youth in Uganda, let alone to ask them to solve those challenges in one morning.  However, we were amazed at the creativity and imagination that came out of the session. 

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One idea was ‘The Nurture Academy’, a centre which would tackle the problem of ‘a lack of aspirational and realistic goals’ through peer to peer learning and mapping youth provision across Uganda, to connect young people with services that would help them to thrive.  ‘Catapult’ was an innovative mentoring programme that tackled the problem of a ‘lack of positive role models’.  The winning idea was ‘ICreate’, which was dreamed up to solve the problem of a ‘lack of creativity and critical thinking’.  The idea was to identify and champion young, unknown innovators across Uganda, promote them and through this, encourage innovation and fresh ideas across the country.

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For us the workshop was incredibly eye opening, and not just for the inspiring ideas that came out of the session.  Our original thinking was that an idea might emerge from the workshop which we would hone in on and then find a local entrepreneur or organisation to bring it to life.  On seeing the passion and creativity of the group, we came away feeling that what’s really exciting is when the process occurs naturally; when someone feels so passionate about an idea that they are inspired to run with it or infiltrate it into their existing work.  And if they are, we’d love to see if it’s something that we could support them to develop.

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As a result of the workshop’s success, we’ve decided to make it a regular event, helping organisations think differently and come up with new, creative ways of supporting young people.  

Thank you to everyone who came to the workshop for your creativity and ideas, and for imagining new solutions for youth that really could transform lives.

Digital gaps and apps

Today we teamed up with The Big Lottery Fund to host an event around how the sector can use tech to overcome challenges. The aim of the day was to understand the problems social organisations face, and to connect them to people within the tech world who might be able to help solve them.

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We brought together venturists (like Forward Partners), grant makers (like Nominet Trust), social organisations (like Only Connect), digital companies (like Salesforce) and tech experts (like Google, Neon Adventures).

The session was about igniting ideas and conversations, getting the right people talking to one another, filling in gaps and identifying opportunities. It focused around four main things:

1. Establishing the big problems the charity sector or society at large faces

2. Who are the people facing those problems, the people we’re trying to help?

3. What could we do to help solve those problems. Including early ideas for products

4. Pitching those products and establishing the viability. 

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A few afterthoughts from the people who came along:

“Learnt that we are not alone in wanting to solve this problem (data sharing among charities)” 

"CONFIDENCE! I have crazy ideas and others do too. Nice to have opportunities to flesh these ideas out in a safe environment.”

“We have shaped the nub of a great idea I want to take forward”

"Greater appreciation for issues such as mental health in youth and illiteracy as a barrier to digital services"

"Would like to follow up with Mozilla"

"Will talk to Isabelle about navigating the digital literacy world

"Will follow up with Simon about Radically Open Funders Lab"

We asked for one word from everyone in response to the session - check out the word cloud 

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A big thank you to all who took part. There are plenty more photos from the session on our Flickr page!

Ps. Watch this space for more details on some of the products masterminded to solve the sector’s challenges.

The sound - brains whirring. And the sight - small groups leaning around clusters of post its, making ‘we’re on the same page’ faces, at the start of digital apps and gaps this morning; a session we’re hosting with Big Lottery Fund in order to understand the problems social organisations face, and to connect them to the people within the tech world who might be able to help solve them.

With the World Cup kicking off tonight, all eyes are on Brazil; yet the public gaze was elsewhere yesterday evening, as the Foundation hosted a 5-a-side tournament in the grounds of Regent’s Park.
With representatives from Factory Media, Forward3D, Fight for Peace and the Foundation on show, the teams provided some good football and good humour to raise money for our charity partner, Fight for Peace.
Following the group stages, the grand final was contested between Forward3D and unbeaten Rammstein FC. With the teams drawing 1-1 after extra time, Forward3D kept their nerve to win on penalties. Notable performers included midfield dynamo Michael Wickham, the redoubtable Marcel Shuppert and Tim Gladston, who proved unshakable between the posts (cones). Jason Saunders provided the goal of the tournament.
After a successful and very enjoyable evening, we will now be turning our attention to next month’s Photography Competition and wine tasting fundraiser! Watch this space…
You can take a look at a few of the best photos from the tournament by heading to the Forward Foundation flickr.
Check out how we’ve been raising money for Fight for Peace at our past events.

With the World Cup kicking off tonight, all eyes are on Brazil; yet the public gaze was elsewhere yesterday evening, as the Foundation hosted a 5-a-side tournament in the grounds of Regent’s Park.

With representatives from Factory Media, Forward3D, Fight for Peace and the Foundation on show, the teams provided some good football and good humour to raise money for our charity partner, Fight for Peace.

Following the group stages, the grand final was contested between Forward3D and unbeaten Rammstein FC. With the teams drawing 1-1 after extra time, Forward3D kept their nerve to win on penalties. Notable performers included midfield dynamo Michael Wickham, the redoubtable Marcel Shuppert and Tim Gladston, who proved unshakable between the posts (cones). Jason Saunders provided the goal of the tournament.

After a successful and very enjoyable evening, we will now be turning our attention to next month’s Photography Competition and wine tasting fundraiser! Watch this space…

You can take a look at a few of the best photos from the tournament by heading to the Forward Foundation flickr.

Check out how we’ve been raising money for Fight for Peace at our past events.

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