Last Friday, I had what unexpectedly turned out to be a most humbling experience, when I observed the judging panel session for the inaugural UK Social Mobility Awards.
There I was in a splendid room overlooking the Thames, in PwC’s Embankment headquarters, with 22 senior leaders from business, media, public and not-for-profit sectors to review the finalists in each category and determine the winners.
As the judges introduced themselves and spoke of their journey, it struck me how many of these successful people had their own social mobility story. Yet, in many ways, it is more difficult for young people from poorer backgrounds entering the workforce nowadays, to supersede their circumstances.
It was very inspiring to bear witness to the judges’ honesty, commitment, energy, passion and wisdom to decide who was the best of the best.
For me and the charity I founded, Making The Leap, this was an important staging post on a journey that had begun many years before to try and further affect change, to give young people a chance to succeed, no matter the family they grew up in or the school they went to.
Making The Leap has been working directly with young people in London, to raise their aspirations and increase their access to opportunities for almost 25 years. During this time, many civic-minded companies, charities and individuals have supported us.
Four years ago, we decided that we wanted more.
The issue of social mobility in this country is so vast and so pressing that as laudable as our work and the work of others was, we realised that as long as it remains something that is a ‘nice to do’ rather than a ‘must do’, the pace of change would remain negligible.
We discussed the formation of an awards event, dedicated to social mobility, to recognise and celebrate what businesses and institutions are doing to promote the issue.
By doing so, we wanted to encourage their peers, partners and competitors to do the same until every organisation in the country had a plan of action around social mobility.
The challenge was massive, but so is our ambition.
It was not until last year and the continued absence of such an initiative in the social mobility landscape that we decided to take the plunge and set up the Awards.
Firstly, we tapped into our own long experience of working with companies that were diversifying their recruitment intake or that wanted to be involved in the community.
We talked to organisations directly and established the individual and organisational categories that would form the competition. We wanted to have in the competition representation of the types of activities that an organisation that embodied sound social mobility values.
Crucially, we received lots of support from individuals for things as varied as PR to how to make a success of UK-wide Awards. A big break was getting Ken Olisa to chair the judging panel. We then needed to make it tangible, by developing a website that allowed people understand what these brand new awards were all about.
We needed to get sponsors on board. We are very grateful to all our sponsors – PwC, RAF, Foxtons, HSBC, London Town Group and BNP Paribas. Without these sponsors, we would not have been able to maintain the investment in time and resources to launch and continue to promote these awards.
We launched the Awards in January and there was a huge effort from Making The Leap’s staff, Trustees and friends to make companies and organisations aware of it. By the time we closed for entries in June, we had 105 submissions from organisations across the country, including many household names.
We were thrilled that so many firms and organisations had stepped up to the plate and ‘signed up’ to be a part of this movement.
That brings us up to Friday’s judging session where winners were chosen in 11 different categories. The winners will not be announced until the awards gala in London on October 12th and will be featured in The Times.
There is still so much to do between now and October. Our aim is to keep social mobility high on the agenda, right up until awards night and beyond into the 2018 UK Social Mobility Awards competition.
There are still opportunities to be a sponsor of the Awards. Alternatively, perhaps you or your company or organisation could take a table at this year’s awards.
If anyone is interested in getting involved in the first UK Social Mobility Awards please let me know.