The Breakthrough Leaders programme launched a new concept this year entitled the “visibility challenge” where each participant must raise their profile against an issue or cause of importance to them. This is an exercise outside their comfort zone – resulting in an array of different responses to this challenge – public speaking engagements, new initiatives launched and active participation in external groups.
2015 Breakthrough Leaders participant and chief financial officer of Trilogy, Lindsay Render used her visibility challenge to create a food programme for a community in need – and teaching the community’s children new skills along the way.
Lindsay’s words are below.
This story is about the amazing food programme I’ve had the pleasure of seeing twelve 10-year-olds develop, and what I’ve had the privilege of learning from them.
A desire to make a difference
As with many people in full time roles trying to balance work and home life, I struggled with working out how to give back to the community aside from donating money. I knew I wanted to do something of community value with my life – beyond helping businesses to optimise returns to shareholders – but couldn’t work out what that was, or how to get started.
One day on a community Facebook page I read a post relating to tragic death of two young men when evading police in a stolen car.
The writer of the post talked about a leadership development programme run for at-risk but high-potential boys. He wrote had the boys been on this course, they may have had better decision-making tools and avoided the tragedy. But money was an issue and they couldn’t find a way to get enough boys on this course.
This person was a teacher at a local school. I got in touch and very quickly I saw the passion the teacher and vice principal had for the kids and for the community around them. I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to be a part of, and that there had to a way to help this school and the wider community.
I proposed that I would fund the yearly development programme, and provide my networks if they ever needed them. We all have vast networks that can be put to use, even if it was my builder taking out a child for the day to see what that is like.
It turned out the school was also helping some of their families in times of need by providing food packages, but it was limited by resourcing.
So, I proposed to work with the school to create a community food programme – not a huge investment from me, but enough to be meaningful.
Also, being a low-decile school, some kids were missing out on a few peripheral activities, and so I wanted to help make that a little easier for them.
When I agreed to do it, I admit I had romantic notions of being able to watch from the sidelines. I was wrong about that – given resource shortages, they didn’t have a teacher to lead it, so asked me to do it. I had no idea about how to do this, but thought “why not?!”.
Putting my money where my mouth was turned out to be the best decision, and looking back I don’t know why I didn’t suggest that to start. Well, actually I do: I don’t have kids, don’t know how to teach kids, and was pretty freaked out I would get it wrong…and as women, I know we are all worried about getting it wrong!
Over the past few months I’ve spent time with the students researching food, talking to local food banks, helping the kids to come up with menus that work both within our budgets and for the families who need a bit of support, and looking to people like our local Countdown to partner with us.
This is a self-directed program, where the council need to come up with the solutions on how to best spend limited funding, in a way that creates the best and most sustainable outcome for the local food bank.
The intended outcomes of this work were: a community need is met; the kids begin to learn the value of money; and they enhance their learning of empathy for the world around them.
One of the really great things about working with kids, is that they don’t expect perfect PowerPoint presentations to generate activity – working with post-its, paper, and felt tip pens works a treat. What they want is time, and the opportunity for self-thinking, debate, and generating solutions. As someone who has spent hours/days perfecting presentations and papers, this was quite refreshing!
We worked out a framework as we went, and below are the key activities we undertook:
1. Consideration of what food means to the kids, and why it’s important to help those around them.
2. Self research on what it costs to feed a family of four, by discussing with their parents, and using online tools, such as the Countdown website.
3. Consultation with the local food bank on what types of food are suitable.
4. Development of menus that will feed a family of four, for one week, at a cost of circa $100 per shop
5. On a fortnightly basis going to Countdown to do the necessary shopping
6. On a fortnightly basis going to the local food bank to help get packages ready for the families that need it.
7. Managed the school health and safety processes around taking kids offsite, and writing letters to parents to seek permission to do this.
8. Writing a proposal to Countdown to support this (pending).
The kids did an amazing job of coming up with ideas, debating what people need, and working with our community partners to get the best outcome.
We’ve just done the first shop, and as chaotic as it was to get 12 kids around the supermarket, it was so great to see them debate and problem solve on the spot (who knew there could be so many debates about muesli bars, or two for one deals!?), and come away with trolleys full of yummy food that we knew was going to be good for the families..
I was lucky enough to also be a part of the food drop off, and see them work together to get the packages ready for the families that needed it, and see how enthusiastic and energetic they were about doing it.
They’ve had some great feedback from our community.
My own learnings
1. It didn’t take a lot of money to invest, and it takes up only about an hour of work time every few weeks (and a little bit of work at home), so I was able to go beyond just donating to causes and put my money where my mouth is.
2. It has been rewarding seeing the natural empathy these kids have for the world around them and the social conscience they have – I sure know I didn’t at that age.
3. It doesn’t take much to make a difference, and that you don’t need to be an educator to be able to teach them – I’ve totally pulled a few corporate tricks out of my hat to make it work.
4. The best laid plans need to have room to flex, and sometimes having something all planned out doesn’t work – we encountered a stumbling block around the reality of young kids working directly with families who have to put their pride to one side and ask for help (especially from an emotional intelligence of 10-year-old’s perspective), which meant that we had to change our path slightly, and it turned out for the better.
5. If you plant the seed, more ideas will come – one of the classes is looking at doing a food bank fundraising dinner next term. Certainly not my idea, nor in my realm of thinking, but an awesome idea – they have taken the concept of inquiry and made it their own.
Where to from here?
I’m looking forward to continuing the program with them, seeing how it develops, and what ideas next year’s student council comes up with.
If you are struggling to find something that makes a difference, I highly recommend spending a bit of time looking out to the community for what they need – not every community is going to be the same as ours, and not everyone’s interests are going to be the same as mine.
Start by putting one foot in front of the other: you’ll be amazed where it takes you. Have a chat to your boss – companies across New Zealand are working hard to support their communities, and I’m sure they will support you in your endeavours
Don’t overthink it, or overcomplicate, just get out there and do it. It takes less time and effort than we tell ourselves, and we can all make some kind of difference.
As a final note, I’d like to thank Rutherford Primary and the student council, in Te Atatu Peninsula Auckland, for letting me do this, and welcoming me into your school. Its been such an honour to have been part of the school this year, and getting the opportunity to meet your wonderful children, and see what they can achieve.
In particular, I’d like to thank Lisa Cochrane and Paul O’Leary-Ryan-you were the two people who inspired me to get involved, and who have tirelessly supported the programme, and me, throughout the year. You are both inspirations, and I can see why the kids look up to you so much!
See also: Marae Tukere’s visibility challenge