What has helped you get where you are in your career?
A great team.
Co-founding multiple organisations has been possible because I was not afraid to say, "I don’t know." It is more important to gather smart people around you – and then have the courage to ask for help – than to stick adamantly to your guns. Sharing a common goal and encouraging flexibility within the team is not just fulfilling, it's the most effective way to succeed.
Great ideas come from dialogues with clients, customers, colleagues. A good company doesn't manifest from one mind, it’s an interactive process which needs multiple inputs – as well as time to mature.
Do you have any tips for people about to embark in your field on how to make a success out of their careers?
Give your time, volunteer in an organisation before you go there. Go to their events, read their website, research the individuals and teams.
With the advent of the ‘prosumer', many of the largest corporations have come to us over the last few years as the social investment sector has become a hot space. Social enterprise seems to be a viable gateway to bring ‘purpose' back to the market. So be authentic, go boldly, but also proceed with care.
People who may seem to disrupt your path are actually valuable allies. If those who oppose you do so with passion, try to see it from their side – work with, or around them if need be – inevitably these people will stay in the sector, so hold true to your word and persevere without negative comment or aggression or it will all come back to you.
Who have been your role models/mentors in your career?
Jack Dunbar: Although he left school at seventeen and never formally trained in university he had apprenticeships with Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright and others. After inventing Track Lighting he was named in the architectural hall of fame. His multidisciplinary approach was so effective it spanned architecture and design, art, marketing and communication. He is a humble and powerful originator of ideas, taking on new concepts and hobbies even at the age of 96.
Zaha Hadid: In the face of religious, gender and age inequalities, Hadid created a vision. Her work, more brutally clean and masculine than the man who tried to thwart her while at the same time being tender, fragile and whole.
Ka-Shing Li: Best known for his fortune, Li left school at the age of fifteen when his father died. He worked 22 hours a day and gave equally to his family and charity. By supporting and investing in social programmes with a purpose, Li brought a sense of balance to the financial markets.
What stages of your career have been the most rewarding?
The time when I was a project manager deploying energy power stations, while running social works programmes. In particular, teaching our 40 week paid youth training programmes (14-20yrs) that not only taught them the finance, IT, technical, legal, media and marketing elements of setting up and owning a renewable energy power station, but also had them learning how to build solar panels and dig gardens, install energy monitors and draft proofing measures.
How did you land your current job and can you explain a little about it?
My masters in Architecture: Advanced Environment and Energy gave me enough time to research areas I was interested in… I then began to ask the right questions.
Presenting these questions in a Transition Town meeting hooked me up with other professionals who lived locally and over two and half years we built the organisation to support one full-time staff member. I remained unpaid for a year and eventually had enough revenue to employ people and build the organisation.
What have been the groundbreaking instances or milestones in your field that have really changed the way you have to work? And how did you adapt to these events?
The government's changing perspective on social enterprises, tax relief and structure and dropping its support for renewable energy. These shifts presented significant challenges to the sector which we overcame through innovating, adapting and sharing knowledge and resources.
Have you been offered much continuing professional development, has this been useful?
As co-founder of a budding organisation that has grown from me being the only employee it is still struggling to pay for much professional development. I learn a great deal from my peers, using conferences and lectures as educational opportunities.
What does the future have instore for your industry – choppy waters ahead? Or a fruitful and secure future?
As innovators in the sector we have the potential to weather the storm. We installed the first community-owned renewable energy project on social housing, the first to allow consumers to purchase energy infrastructure with local currency, and now the first community energy project to get a dispensation from a government to develop a blockchain local energy trading solution.
The future is exciting… whether we succeed or fail next year the journey will be fruitful. The energy sector waters are not only choppy but rising due to global climate change.