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Coming Together for the Common Good


Monday, 5th December 2016 at 10:55 am
Wendy Williams, Journalist
Listed by The Times as one of the 50 most influential women in Britain, Dame Julia Cleverdon has established an international reputation for building cross-sector partnerships across business, charities and education. She is this week’s Changemaker.


Monday, 5th December 2016
at 10:55 am
Wendy Williams, Journalist


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Coming Together for the Common Good
Monday, 5th December 2016 at 10:55 am

Listed by The Times as one of the 50 most influential women in Britain, Dame Julia Cleverdon has established an international reputation for building cross-sector partnerships across business, charities and education. She is this week’s Changemaker.

Cleverdon is a former special adviser of HRH The Prince of Wales and a sought-after global voice and advocate for youth literacy and women’s empowerment.

Over the course of her career she has become known for “connecting the unconnected”, inspiring individuals and organisations to work together for the common good.

She served as chief executive of Business in the Community for more than 16 years. After stepping down from the role in 2008, she continued to serve as the organisation’s vice president and became special adviser to The Prince’s Charities, focusing her efforts in particular on disadvantaged communities.

She has also held senior leadership roles in charities aiming to transform education and opportunities for young people. She is now vice patron of Teach First having chaired the charity from 2006 to 2014. She was appointed to chair the National Literacy Trust in 2013 and chairs Read on. Get on.

She was recently touring Australia to share her insights on community engagement and supporting youth literacy.

In this week’s Changemaker Cleverdon talks about why it’s a tough world for charities now, the need to get everyone on board, and why leadership is like a teabag.

Dame Julia CleverdonYou have an international reputation for “connecting the unconnected”. Why are cross-sector partnerships across business, charities and education so important?

I think the challenges we face in the world now are not capable of solution by one sector alone. I think the days in which we could say “oh well the public sector will really sort this out” or “the private sector really understands what to do” or “the voluntary is so impressive”, I think those days are gone… I think the sectors are blurring now in terms of what they are necessarily strongest at.

So actually I think most of our experience now in the UK, and I’m really interested to understand more about what’s going on here, is I think you have got to get the private, the public and the voluntary sector to work collaboratively together both on key social issues but also on places. I think we’re seeing more and more in Britain if you’re going to turn around the most deprived communities or try to tackle what you’re doing in a very rural area you have got to have everybody on board, not just one sector.

In your work with His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, you helped develop and implement The Place Strategy, encouraging charities to work collaboratively. What has made this program successful?

Well I wouldn’t over claim. I think we’re in the sort of nursery slopes of understanding what to do and how to do it. And in the UK on a very specific point, post all the problems of 2009, the last government in power took a very strong view on austerity and on reducing the deficit and cutback a vast amount of resource which hit very hard on the voluntary sector, so lots of local authorities, public sector in Britain stopped funding the sort of statutory work that they were doing with the voluntary sector. That therefore meant that the voluntary sector had to either find alternative sources of revenue or become more collaborative, sharing resources or merge or give up. And I think we are seeing different things across the UK.

In some of the more successful cities, and we’ve always had a mantra from the Labour Party that 90 per cent of all deprivation is in the eight core cities of Britain and therefore if you concentrated on improving the core cities you would tackle the deprivation. So in Manchester, or in London or in Leeds, I think you can see that those cities are probably doing better and they have got quite a strong private-public partnership. If you take Manchester, we’ve seen a lot of very impressive work with the new Manchester leaders, to both bring more devolved authority and par and money into Manchester. The challenge is that a lot of the poorer communities, who interestingly did not vote for Brexit, don’t feel part of the mainstream, don’t feel that they have the jobs or the opportunities or the spotlight and so I think we’re working quite hard… I think the British are good at disaster in a way, and so we are seeing more innovation, better ways of doing things and a greater use of technology and social media and I think we’re also seeing a growth of young people being involved in their communities. Some great young campaigners and ability to use social media and to not have a bone in their body of fearfulness about they won’t be able to achieve this, just really getting going. So we are seeing some things work well but it’s a tough world for charities now.

How can some of the learnings from the UK be applied to an Australian context?

I have just done a tea with the Community Foundations… and I was immensely impressed with some of the some incredible stuff that seemed to me to be going on, a marvellous project in Victoria that was talking about 45-year program supporting Indigenous young people where they were already after five years appeared to be producing fantastically impressive results, Ganbina. I thought if we could just bottle some of that and take it back to Britain we’d be doing well.

But I was also interested in a rather similar program to something we are trying to do better in Britain is to get more young people involved in youth social action and community service. I remember when I was founding the campaign, which is called the I Will Campaign, I came over to talk to Jan Owen at the Foundation for Young Australians, and was so impressed with the really innovative, ground-breaking social media stuff that they’re doing, getting young people to own the issues and own the problems and I think we’re trying in the UK to do better on the engagement of young people both in the causes they care about but also in being the advocates to older people and older organisations about how to tackle the lead.

I think the tapestry is different for the UK, the fact that we’re coming out of Brexit means… the world is not stable for us, we’re going into unchartered water. I think we’re a pretty resilient people and I hope we’ll be alright, we were very grateful the Australians rang up the morning after and said they would be prepared to talk about some trade deals and so that cheered us all up.

But I think that all of us, Australia in its own way is I’m thrilled to see really tackling what needs to be done in the most deprived communities to raise the game for education, Future Australia seems to be doing well. I always thought the Gonski report was a very important analysis of how you get more resources into the schools that need it most and I see that there seems to be some movement on that, there is more conversation going on about what we do on that.

That’s why the Prince’s Charities Australia are so important in their translation for us of the great things that are going on in Australia, the identification of particular programs and initiatives which are innovative, risky, going to push the envelope, not do what we’ve always done before and I think their portfolio of programs are an absolute example of some of the issues that we’re all going to be facing. The Prince of Wales has always been every concerned about what happens to communities, post-disaster when you know they’ve had the most appalling bush fire or an earthquake, how do you help the people to build themselves back and what is the effect of post traumatic stress, both on those who’ve helped them, all the ambulance people and the firefighters and so on and so forth, what’s the effect on them, how do you help them recover, but how do you also future proof communities against disaster. So they’ve got a great program on that, which I think will be groundbreaking and really innovative for the whole of the rest of the world, it’s called Disaster Resilience Future Ready, and it’s working with FRRR,  and I think he came over on his last visit and was very determined to attend the global round table that Janine Kirk and Aaron had got together so I think we’re learning a lot from what you’re doing over here. And if occasionally Britain has learnt something out of being ahead of the world in its problems then that’s good.

Part of the reason you are in Australia now is to support youth literacy. What are the implications of a lack of literacy?

I’ve really only got to grips with this in the last few years because personally when I stopped chairing Teach First in the UK, I took up chairing a marvellous charity which the Duchess of Cornwall is the patron of called the National Literacy Trust and we are probably the most authoritative evidence-based organisation in Britain understanding what works in raising the game for young people on literacy.

Literacy is totally connected to language. You won’t get young people to be able to read if they haven’t learnt to speak and if they haven’t been really well-engaged in their early childhood years, zero to three, with language. So increasingly we see an 18-month difference between children coming to school ready to learn, if they’ve had a lot of language development with their parents or their carers or their communities or their grannies or their elder sister or whoever, they will be infinitely better and if they haven’t had that development then they will be 18 months behind when they arrive in school. And it’s pretty tough and difficult to get them to catch up. So we’ve done quite a lot of work on identifying and the government has been very concerned about this, we’ve got a pretty innovative government at the moment, looking at what do we need to do for two year olds to have 15 hours of free school placements which is taking it back by a year, so kids in poorer communities can get involved in schooling at the age of two with some great examples of why that is really helping in poorer communities. So I think we’re doing something at that end but we’re also doing some interesting work with the corporate sector, on what can they do to raise the game on literacy.

I suppose the big example there for us is a very interesting, innovative company called Boots Opticians who we said to last year that we think there might be a million young people who can’t read because they can’t see. Because we in Britain stopped about 15 years ago doing school eye tests and we said everyone has to go and find their own GP, and get their GP to do an eye test or they could go to an optician and get a free eye test but in lots of communities, just getting some food on the table is difficult enough, remembering to go for an eye test is a bit challenging and doesn’t happen enough so we got Boots Opticians to come and work with us in some of the schools in the poorest places where we were working and we discovered that 20 per cent of the kids whose eyes they tested, at the age of six, couldn’t see. So this has been a real wake-up call for everybody, because if you are not learning to read by the time you are six, if there is an undiagnosed eye fault, then actually the eye muscles which aren’t working well enough will probably not recover unless you deal with it at an early enough age, so it’s a real example of where the private sector can add real value to something which we’d never really thought was a corporate interest to discover kids who couldn’t see, we thought that would be a public service job or a GPs job, but actually in this world you’ve got to use the resource and the innovation wherever you can find it.

You have been described as a “career campaigner”, would you agree with that assessment?

I can’t remember when I didn’t want to change the world and didn’t think that we could do things better and that people by and large want to make more difference… lying on their deathbed looking back over your life, you can’t take it with you and what matters in the end is, I think, the impact you’ve managed to have, of course your close family and your friends and your relationships and having fun and all those things, but in the end it is about so what did you leave behind. And so I have great admiration for people who may have run great businesses and have tried to do good as well as doing well, so great business leaders who really mind about how they manage their footprint on the planet or their workplace or their marketplace or their community engagement. I think that’s one of the most important things you can do. And I have great admiration for those who’ve made their money and then really concentrate on how to give it away.

So Australia has got some of the greatest philanthropists, whether you are talking about the Myer Foundation or all the great small philanthropists that I was talking to this morning at the UK Community Foundation, and one of the things the Prince of Wales has done is to try to really encourage philanthropists. So people like Anthony Pratt here in the Australian world who was the first to invest and support the Prince of Wales’ interest in charities and has done a fantastic job in enabling a closer relationship between the Australia and the UK and the Prince of Wales in understanding what’s working here in Australia… what we can learn and take back and occasionally there are things that Britain has learned that are worth sharing.

I’ve always been concerned to change the world and in a way I’ve done different things at different moments… every work of art of is a child of it’s time so, my first working life was about working with the business world and understanding what they could do, then I went on to deal with more working directly with the Prince of Wales on some of his charitable initiatives and his charities and he’s a great, multi-chord philanthropist entrepreneur, he’s developed 21 charities which have made a fantastic difference to Britain and to other places in the world, so I learnt a lot, working with him, and then I’ve gone on to deal with what you do to raise the game for education in the poorest communities and i’m now very interested in what you do to get young people involved in their community and get them to own the future that they’re going to live through.

Has there been a highlight for you?

I suppose like all mothers, the highlight is when one is so proud, I have two marvellous daughters, one who is the youngest detective chief inspector in the Metropolitan Police, and the other who is an incredible palliative care sister dealing with those going to the next world day in day out, and I suppose I am as proud of them as anything I’ve achieved. I’m immensely proud of Charity, who is the eldest, and her entity and her belief in an afterlife and I’m very, very proud of my Victoria who is the police officer, who has just set up the equivalent to Teach First in the UK called Police Now, which is how do you get young graduates to come and be part of the police for two years… So they are both campaigners, both of them.

You have been listed by The Times as one of the 50 most influential women in Britain. Do you consider yourself a role model?

My daughters always really laugh at that… I mean I wouldn’t take that too seriously to be honest. But I do think I have been immensely fortunate in having opportunities of some great role models and some great leaders who’ve inspired and encouraged me, of whom probably the Prince of Wales is one of the most important. But business leaders that I’ve worked with and the great leaders here in Australia like Janine Kirk, who I first met in 2003 where she was running the committee for Melbourne, and as far as I know she was the first person to across the world who thought it out that what one needed to do was to promote Melbourne and make Melbourne more promotable and I rushed back to Britain and I said come one we’ve got to promote Burnley and we’ve got to make Burnley more promotable and we’ve got to promote Burslem and we’ve got to make Burslem more promotable, it’s a great theme to pull all people together around a common purpose for their place and their city.

So lots of people have inspired me and I’ve had lots of incredible opportunities. I love the private sector, I love the crackle of the private sector, I love people who succeed in the private sector in providing goods and services, I care most that they mind most about the jobs they are creating and the opportunities they’re giving and the hand up they’re giving to people who come from not necessarily the easiest, most connected communities. I really mind about people who use their connections to connect others and if I’ve been able to do that a little bit, I’m an absolutely passionate optimist that the world can be changed.

Do you have a favourite saying?

I have lots of favourite sayings, I say: “Every work of art is a child of its time.” You have to know when you are in the time in which you can make the change. Sometimes you are just pushing water up hill and the world is not going in your direction and although you must never give up, you know, I can think of campaigns that I launched 10 years too early. Where the business place wasn’t clear enough, where there weren’t at least 10 companies who shared that vision, if you’ve only got two companies to believe in it you won’t manage to get a snowball to roll. So that’s one thing.

I suppose I’ve always said: “Leadership is like a teabag, you don’t know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.” So when people are in the toughest times, as I think Britain probably is now, and America too and the knock back of both of those things across world peace and the way in which the world sees itself and the confidence of the world for the future will be tough for everybody and we just have to hold our courage and believe that people will do better together than standing alone and that the evils and the problems of terrorism or climate change or poverty or lack of opportunity, it is not a dog eat dog world. We will do better to stand together than to tear each other apart.

So I think I get great strength from seeing the energy and the drive and the determination of people here in Australia to make their communities a better place, because we’ve got some big challenges which face us and you need all the energy you can get and the connectedness between the sectors to work together on those issues and not throw bricks at either of the sectors, “oh, the politicians are hopeless, the private sector are only interested in themselves, the voluntary sector never stop moaning”, whatever the charges are. I think the media has an enormous responsibility in helping to shine a light on great initiatives and great things that are happening… if you read the newspapers most days you would shoot yourself with misery, there isn’t anything good going on and yet you go out into the Western suburbs to talk to great people who are working hard in the care of their fellow mankind and you think no this isn’t true, people are really trying here to make a difference.


Wendy Williams  |  Journalist |  @ProBonoNews

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector.

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