I was a croupier, then I did a philosophy degree; recently, Ben Austin described me as an Explorer (in an entrepreneurial sense) and so I’m going to do some exploring (in a tramping round the world sense).
Some of the more questful stuff I’ve done since my degree:
While job-hunting, I found an internship at a debating website (read that again, it doesn’t say dating website). Debatewise.org aims to create crowd-sourced debates and, among other things, use them to influence policy. I applied, went for interview and quickly started peppering my job hunting with some interning at a desk in Shoreditch. Around the same time, a friend of mine introduced me to an idea in a pub.
“I had this idea…” is a phrase I hear a lot. These ideas usually involve monkeys and occasionally spaceships. This idea was a little more far-fetched. Alex (beardy Glaswegian autodidact) wanted to continue the work of Lord Shaftesbury and rekindle the Ragged Schools, the precursor of state primary education. Except Alex wanted to create the Ragged University. (It’s called the Ragged Project now, after the government said we weren’t allowed to use the word ‘university’.)
We’ve all been in a pub or café and found that we’ve learned something from the person we’ve been talking to. The Ragged Project’s primary goal is to expand that experience so that one person is passing on their knowledge to a whole room. It gives a platform for communities to educate themselves, it increases social capital (I didn’t know what it meant either), it encourages civic engagement and allows people who would otherwise be distant from education to engage with topics and attitudes they never would have been exposed to. And it’s free.
“That’s a frightfully good idea!” I thought (I’m quite posh) and the idea quickly turned into action.
It’s quite an experience being part of a team of your friends creating, developing, repairing, adjusting, re-launching, publicising and then maintaining an idea that is so much bigger than you originally conceived.
My internship at Debatewise went well. Debatewise was an entrepreneurial endeavour, the brainchild of the brilliant David Crane. His idea got picked up by IDEA, ironically, and after a couple of years of them funding the site, he has now taken over their UK operations; or rather, our UK operations, because he gave me a real job when we became a charity at the beginning of the year. So internships can turn into jobs too – especially internships with start-ups and entrepreneurs (I think they call them enternships).
The Ragged Project would have happened without me; IDEA would have a UK branch even if I’d never worked for David; I was just there at the right time and grabbed at those great opportunities. However, the lessons I learned from those experiences (and keep learning) enabled me to substantially contribute to my next project – Levantine Links.
A friend of mine went to Syria a couple of summers in a row, to the Syriac Orthodox community in the north east, to teach English and learn Arabic. Ben kept telling me he wanted to set up a recruitment process in the UK to send top graduates out to do the same thing. He kept talking about it. And talking. I kept pushing and pushing him to actually do it and eventually we sat down and started planning.
We achieved more in eight hours that day than I had contributed to the Ragged Project in eight months. When we work together, we are astonishingly efficient and productive. We were two months ahead of schedule, having recruited four amazing graduates and won the help of an ex-headmaster to help them develop a bespoke curriculum, but then Syria became a dangerous place to visit and we had to call the project off for this year. We’re now working (with the help of two of the graduates we recruited) on a project to address the surprising levels of adult illiteracy in London – a little closer to home this time.
I am new to this entrepreneur stuff, I’ve only been at it since summer 2010, but I am sure the following lesson will prove to be the most valuable one I ever learn.
Who you work with will define your business, its successes and its failures. So work with people who inspire you with their brilliance, yet acknowledge and defer to your areas of expertise.
If you’re one of those people, I want to work with you; whether that’s at the Ragged University, at IDEA, in Syria or on some other questful project. Drop me a line and let’s go questing together.