Forward Foundation

Maggie’s message in a bottle
The above is in response to this question:
"You (as founder of The Big House) are stranded on a desert island (indefinitely!) and you can send one message in a bottle to the new guardian/leader - what would that message be?"
We’re going to put this question to more partners over the coming months.
What would your message be? 

Maggie’s message in a bottle

The above is in response to this question:

"You (as founder of The Big House) are stranded on a desert island (indefinitely!) and you can send one message in a bottle to the new guardian/leader - what would that message be?"

We’re going to put this question to more partners over the coming months.

What would your message be? 

Build, Measure, Learn

This month, the Forward Foundation’s Head of Digital, Suraj continues our series of blogs about failure.


As Head of Digital for Forward Foundation I’m tasked with designing and building technology to solve some of the big challenges faced by organisations supporting young people. My job involves a lot testing. Everything from testing ideas, to testing code; and nine times out of ten, testing means failing.

However with each failure you get closer to that gem of a great idea or perfect design. Our approach to solving big problems is to develop and test an idea thoroughly building an initial micro product and learning as we go. In order to make this happen we invest mine and my team’s time, by the end of which we hope other organisations will be convinced enough to support our idea.

Failing is painful

Most recently I’ve been working on the problem of securing and giving funds between charities and grant-makers. The Forward Foundation had been conceiving an idea around this issue for the past couple of years, and a grant opportunity came up to scale the development.

We failed to secure the support.

Besides being disappointing, the real pain was the feeling of wasted effort. Nevertheless; we learn.

In fact, the very experience of applying for and being unsuccessful for a grant has given valuable insights, which will enable us to design and develop the best possible solution. So watch this space…

Design to remedy pain

As I think back on the failure I can recall the sinking feeling in my stomach. This feeling is priceless! It’s one of the best guides I have for designing the most useful tech solution; as this direct experience enables me to empathise with the users and customers we’re building products for.

I wonder how might this translate to your work?

What makes an amazing project?

 by Anna

We’re fortunate to visit East Africa several times each year, to work with our partners in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia and to find new partners to support. To make the most of our visits we pack a lot in, so over a two-week period we might visit over 20 organisations, all doing different but amazing work.  This exposes us to an incredible array of projects and approaches to supporting young people. 

Working out in Africa and away from daily life in London can also make you quite reflective.  So during our last trip to Uganda, after being blown away by a visit to one organisation, I started thinking about what it is that makes a really amazing project.  

This particular organisation, the Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU), uses hip hop and dance as a tool to engage and empower disadvantaged youth in Kampala.  We went to  meet the leader Abramz one evening, at one of the sessions.  What I expected was to sit in a room and watch a dance lesson led by a teacher with a small group of young people, and then to have a chat with some of them afterwards.  What I didn’t expect was to see a sea of people of all ages dancing outside as we approached one of the community centres where they work.  The music, energy and sheer mass of people was overwhelming and you could immediately feel that this was something special.  It was more than a project – it felt like a movement.  At BPU, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a leaner.  Kids were teaching teenagers, teenagers were teaching kids, 30 year olds were learning from both of them – everyone is valued and appreciated for who they are and what they can offer, no matter how big or small.  What was also clear was how much everyone loved what they were doing.  The sessions start at 5pm and go on for hours, and more people keep joining and performing as the evening goes on.  It was clear that for many of these people this was their home and the people there were their family, and it was a privilege to be there and be part of it for the evening.


Pictured: Breakdancers at Breakdance Project Uganda

Afterwards, I tried to capture what it is that makes BPU, and so many of our partners’ work, so powerful.  Of course, organisations are unique and you can’t distil them down into a winning formula that equals a successful project.  However, there are often three common threads between organisations that stand out for me, and when you get a combination of all three like you do with BPU, this can result in something pretty special.

1. The Hook

At the risk of stating the obvious, organisations who engage young people in something they enjoy, tend to have a greater impact on them. If the activity is something that they would choose to do in their spare time, or that they would love to have the opportunity to try if they could, then half the battle is won.  When young people continue taking part in a project because they want to rather than because they are told it will be good for them, they are engaged in a meaningful way and therefore benefit from it more.  This is demonstrated by Fight for Peace, one of our partners who uses boxing, martial arts and fitness to engage some of the hardest to reach young people.  Where other interventions have failed, Fight for Peace is incredibly successful at engaging these young people because the want to be there, learn how to box and get fit. Once they’ve built up a relationship, they can then start to support them further through educational training and mentoring.


Pictured: A Muay Thai training session at Fight for Peace

2. Peer-to-peer Learning

Most of us have seen or experienced school assemblies where an ‘inspiring’ speaker has been brought in to talk to the students.  Perhaps it’s about careers.  The audience is made up of 200 year 12 and 13 students.  The speaker is a 50 year old man who’s career in The City has spanned over three decades.  He’s got a lot of wisdom to impart but people aren’t listening.  Why?  Possibly because they can’t relate to him. Bring on a speaker who’s been to their school, just left last year and is talking about what their first job is like, and it’s a different story.

What we often see is where organisations encourage young people to support other young people, the engagement is so much stronger.  A couple of our partners who are a testament to this are Franklin Scholars, where Year 10 students tutor Year 7 students, and Balloon Kenya, where young entrepreneurs who have been through the Balloon Kenya programme and are now successfully running their own businesses train other young entrepreneurs on the programme.


Pictured: Young entrepreneurs from Balloon Kenya

3.The End Product

Sometimes it can be hard to measure the impact of a programme on a young person, particularly if the focus is around building character traits or soft skills – things that aren’t necessarily as tangible as getting a job or gaining a qualification.  But with some of our partners we’ve found that when their project culminates in an event or an end product which captures how far the young people have come, the impact is palpable.

Perhaps no organisation demonstrates this more than our partner The Big House, which works with young people who have been through the care system, providing them with a platform for them to participate in the making of theatre and to have their voices heard.  Towards the end of the programme, they perform a play that has been devised from their stories to a public audience.  Aside from this being an amazing way to showcase how they have developed, built confidence and skills and bonded incredibly as a team, this is a way for them to have this recognised and appreciated by people in a way that they can really see and feel.  


Pictured: A scene from ‘Babylon’ from The Big House

Of course there’s not just one way to run a great project and you can have an amazing project without these, but from our experience these are things that have often led to incredible impact on young people and have left us feeling truly inspired.

Our Partners: Bringing work to life

by Michael 

We work with social start-ups in an increasingly intensive way, offering our partners a powerful package of support. So we invest a lot of time in finding the right organisations to work with. Before we invite organisations to apply for our support, we’ll always meet face to face to explore whether we’d make good partners. 

This is the favourite part of my working life. It’s a privilege to be given a personal tour of an organisation and to learn about the people and ideas behind it. Since we started out two years ago, hundreds of organisations have opened their doors and welcomed us in. And, along the way, we’ve learnt that a few things work particularly well. Three things stand out:

1. Getting out of the office

We get most excited by an organisation’s work when we see them in action. It brings the work to life for us, sparks questions and often inspires. For example, in May we met with The Breakdance Project Uganda at their weekly breakdance session in downtown Kampala. We were able to see for ourselves how leader Abramz brought young people from different backgrounds together to learn how to dance, build leadership skills and promote social responsibility.


Pictured: Abramz, Breakdance Project Uganda, doing his thing 

We’ve found that taking the conversation out of the office relaxes us and our hosts, creating a more open dialogue where we can better explore whether we’d make good partners. Being outside four walls encourages creativity, important when thinking about how we can work together. With Breakdance Project Uganda, we were able to have a wonderfully open conversation while watching on as breakdancers did impossible things with their bodies.


Pictured: Breakdance class, Breakdance Project Uganda

2. Meeting young people

As well as meeting with an organisation’s team, we love meeting with those closely connected to their work. Not only can this validate and strengthen everything we’ve heard from our hosts, these individuals often provide different perspectives that we might not have considered. We’ve met with trustees, donors, partners, and the government, but the people we most like to meet are those that we exist for – young people.

We’re at our happiest when we’re meeting with young people. It’s often the most memorable experience of a visit. We particularly like the rawness and openness of their responses to our questions, enabling us to clearly understand the impact that the organisation aspires to create.


Pictured: Forward Foundation with Suzanne, freelance designer and alumni of KampaBits.

Earlier this year Anna and I met with super impressive Suzanne, a talented designer and graduate of our brand new partners KampaBits. We were struck by the impact that their intensive digital design programme had on Suzanne’s life. Our conversations with Suzanne and her peers influenced our decision to support KampaBits.

We don’t think grant-making is a scientific process. A lot of it is about gut instinct. And a memorable meeting with a young person with an inspiring story to tell can influence our thinking.

3. Getting to know the leader

We place an awful lot of emphasis on the leader behind the idea. The first thing we talk about when we walk out of an organisation’s doors is the leader. Did we think they had the skills to launch their new organisation? How did we think they interacted with young people and with their staff?

We’ve written a blog about some of things that make an exceptional leader. During our visits we’ve been particularly impressed with those leaders who have acted naturally and been able to show off their best qualities to us.

Take Samuel from our Kenyan partner, Tumaini. Samuel took us to the dumpsites of Eldoret in western Kenya to visit the young people who lived there. We met many people he knew along the way. By being able to watch Samuel interact with others he was able to demonstrate his exceptional ability to build relationships and his deep integrity. Samuel acted in the same way with everybody he met, whatever their situation, giving everybody his time and respect. And he didn’t change the way he acted just because we were there. 


Pictured: Samuel, leader of Tumaini

Similarly, Alex, leader of KampaBits, designed our visit earlier this year so we had lots of interaction with others. By being able to observe Alex interacting with his colleagues and young people he was able to demonstrate his warmth and passion for supporting people. We wouldn’t have picked up on his special talents had we been stuck in his office watching a powerpoint presentation. 

imagePictured: Young people and staff at KampaBits HQ

Finally, and this might well be just us (!), we love a bit of fun and silliness on our visits. We often end up playing football and other games with children. We’re found that doing something different can create stronger relationships and make for a more memorable experience for all.

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.


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!

Donnas - the man behind the entrepreneurs of Acholiland

"In three words. What’s important to me? Impacting young lives."  (Donnas, leader of the KATI programme

We produced this video (along with two others) following a visit to Uganda in September to gather stories to communicate the impact of the programme and to help War Child get further support for KATI. 

Watch more KATI videos:

"Go Smart" - The first ever barbers in Lapono

Lillian and the most infectious smile in Northern Uganda

Forward Foundation is hiring…


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 as soon as possible and no later than Monday 28 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!


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…


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.


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.

imagePictured: 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.

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