It is a busy time at Making The Leap. We continue to raise aspirations for young people across London by delivering workshops in schools, hosting careers fairs and running our monthly, in-house ACE Workshop. We also have the second year of the UK Social Mobility Awards, with submissions now judged and preparations for the awards ceremony in October in full swing. Amidst all this, on 12th July, we celebrated our 25th Anniversary with a wonderful reception at PwC, and it was at this event that we made an important announcement – Dr Julie Paine, the Chair of the Board for the last four years, is stepping down and we are welcoming our new Chair-elect, Nicholas Cheffings.
To mark this handing over of the reins, I spoke to Julie and Nicholas to find out what sparked their interest in social mobility and why they wanted to get involved with Making The Leap. Our Founder and Chief Executive, Tunde Banjoko OBE, believes, “the alchemy between a charity CEO and Chair is crucial to the success of the organisation,” so I sought to find out why the chemistry at Making The Leap turns everything we touch to gold.
Formerly a successful investment banker with Morgan Stanley, Dr Julie Paine is all-too-aware that social mobility “benefits the UK economy and therefore benefits each one of us.” Thus, it is no surprise that she found her way to Making The Leap, initially as a supporter many years ago. Julie believes that “creating a level playing field for young people, releases potential in the UK labour force and inspires young people to aim higher, because they understand the landscape and can determine how to best navigate it.”
With our focus on soft skills, unleashing potential in young people and preparing them for the intricacies of the business world, it seems inevitable that Julie would believe in the mission of Making The Leap. What we didn’t expect was quite how successful this partnership would be.
Looking back at the last four years, Tunde is full of nothing but praise for Julie and the work she carried out: “Making The Leap improved by every metric during her tenure. Julie was a great Chair and it was a privilege to work with her. She really led by example and didn’t ask anyone to do anything that she wasn’t prepared to do and some. It was fitting that she was Chair as we celebrated our 25th year of changing lives and I will miss her.”
Typically, Julie puts her success down to the people she was working with: “it is a great team, but some staff members underestimate how good they are because they’ve been there for so long! During my time we improved confidence in and within the organisation, helping to drive income, which generates the capability to expand programmes and broaden the reach to young people.”
Another person who noticed the change that Making The Leap was catalysing was Nicholas Cheffings, a Partner and former Chair at global law firm, Hogan Lovells, and Chair of PRIME, an alliance of law firms committed to improving access to the legal profession.
Having grown up “in essentially a farming and working class community in Lincolnshire”, Nicholas is open about the fact that he wanted to be a professional but didn’t actually know which profession he was interested in. It is a typical tale for the working class, wanting to transcend what was expected but unsure of how to do it. Even when he completed his law degree at the University of Leicester, “I was looking for training contracts and I thought I wouldn’t really fit in at a city law firm given the background I’d had.”
Initially, Nicholas joined the National Coal Board but soon moved to private practice when he realised he was more than equal to those elite lawyers. From that point, Nicholas’ career rose meteorically, leading to him being appointed Chair of Hogan Lovells. Having always gone out of his way to support social mobility in the profession and the firm’s diversity initiatives, in 2015 he was asked to succeed David Morley as Chair of PRIME.
On the importance of social mobility, Nicholas is clear: “It is about making sure that people who have the talent, determination and commitment to succeed in their chosen career path are not deprived of the opportunity to do so because they don’t know the right people, or don’t have the right connections, or don’t have the right family support, or come from the right school or university. From the perspective of employers and businesses, it’s about having a diverse group of people who are reflective of the society in which they are operating and with which they deal.”
When I ask why these kind of people, who have faced a variety of barriers in their lives including socio-economic difficulties, are so important to the success of elite organisations, Nicholas makes it overwhelmingly clear that they bring something to the table that others just can’t: “That resilience and strength of character, translated into the business environment, can be transformational for that persons success but also for the employer, who is able to inspire that person to keep stretching themselves. To have amongst the workforce somebody who, when faced with an opportunity to do something out of their comfort zone, is not going to be put off by the risk of it not going well but just thinks ‘this is just another challenge in my life’, that level of personal endeavour can be quite transformative and inspirational.”
It was this nuanced understanding and passion for social mobility that lead Nicholas to positions of influence and, eventually, to Making The Leap: “What particularly appealed to me about what Making The Leap was doing was how firmly embedded in the local community you are. It creates credibility, especially with the students. It puts those roots down and makes a long term contribution. It’s a really important way of connecting business to the community. In these fractured times that’s increasingly important.”
Echoing Julie, Nicholas has “been hugely impressed and inspired by the fantastic work that Tunde and the team have achieved in the last 25 years. The degree of commitment from the staff and their desire to make a difference and help improve the lives of others glows like a beacon when you are talking to the team. That’s one of the many reasons I was keen to be part of something which I felt had not only achieved so much already but was being taken forwards by people who constantly wanted to be moving things to the next level.”
Tunde is equally effusive in his praise of Nicholas: “I look forward to working with Nicholas, he has a proven track record of championing diversity causes generally, and social mobility in particular. He will lead a diverse and talented Board, who along with a diverse and talented staff team want to help many thousands more young people, and change the way organisations think about social mobility, for years to come.”
So, Making The Leap shows no signs of slowing down our progress. According to Julie, “Launching the UK Social Mobility Awards was an inspired move. This is not just a charity thinking about day-to-day activities, it is thinking about how we can galvanise business leaders and influencers to make important changes.” Nothing we do here is commonplace, least of all our Founder, Tunde. In her final thoughts, Julie reserves special praise for the person who made all of this possible: “Tunde has a great creative brain and he thinks outside the box. We’ve had many rewarding, sometimes challenging, conversations over the years which is as it should be. I have thoroughly enjoyed partnering him on this four-year journey. He’s a great inspiration for young people but also for trustees and business people. He has an indomitable spirit and social mobility is simply a part of his DNA.”
In the same vein, Nicholas is quick to acknowledge the success of Julie as Chair: “What Julie has achieved in her role as chair has been immense. Making The Leap is now moving to the next level in terms of impact and contribution, not only at the individual level but also the broader debate about social mobility.”
It is this broader debate that represents the next task for Making The Leap. For Nicholas, “The awards are a fantastic way of recognising the work that’s being done and helping to increase the engagement of businesses and public authorities in this great agenda,” but they are only part of our plans for expansion.
When asked what success in the role would look like, Nicholas has big plans: “Success means broadening our reach and working more with others, inspiring their imagination, enthusiasm and commitment. We want to broaden the reach of what Making The Leap is doing by collaborating with other local organisations across the UK and replicating the model.”
Alchemy is a far from precise science, but with the right people totally dedicated to changing young lives, together we will create a more equal society. We are beyond thankful for the work that our outgoing Chair, Julie Paine, has done for our small charity. We look forward to taking giant leaps forward with our new Chair-elect, Nicholas Cheffings.
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