A world where just being yourself is enough and no judgement is passed.

A world where just being yourself is enough and no judgement is passed.

By Daniel Croft, Chief Executive Officer of Foster Talk

When I think about the phrase ‘Fearless Futures’ I think of a society where my children can thrive, a world where just being yourself is enough and no judgement is passed.

A future in which my daughter can decide to be an astronaut, or a stay at home mum, or a poet or all three and she’s given those opportunities in such a way that she’s not afraid or constrained by her environment to take them and blossom.

A future for my sons to be proud sensible and sensitive men without any recourse to be a man’s man and hide their feelings.

A future that provides the platform for all children to be children, live in safe and stable environments in which they can express themselves fully.

But mostly it makes me feel like we can fearlessly fail forward, make mistakes and do great things, not being afraid to change the status quo to try new things and make huge leaps forward that benefit us all.

The future of workplace culture by Chief People Director Mark Shrimpton

The future of workplace culture by Chief People Director Mark Shrimpton

A fearless future is a world where people are treated equally. Where everyone’s view is as important as each other. Regardless of their age, gender, race and ethnicity, faith, class or sexuality or any other personal characteristic.

Part of this fearless future is recognising that nobody is ever just one thing.

Every person is a collection of characteristics and no single issue should be prioritised over another. As an example, most organisations have a gender diversity programme looking to improve the number of women in leadership. However, the outcome of the initiative is often positive only for women who tend to be “white, middle class, heterosexual and able-bodied”.

By only focusing on one element, we’re telling some people they need to wait their turn and, as a result, such policies can be divisive. Both for those that they are looking to support and to those who are excluded. Instead, we need to focus on creating an inclusive culture where people can show up as their whole selves every day.

For true change to happen, there needs to be a level of discomfort around this and a challenge to ourselves to expand our horizons. It needs to be uncomfortable for us to be able to move through it as these periods of discomfort can be the most rewarding learning experiences.

We are going to make mistakes when talking to others and when acknowledging our own privileges and mistakes in the past. That’s why we need to have courageous conversations that listen to other people’s experiences, backgrounds and cultures, and work towards a commitment to do better. We can truly start to understand who people really are and how to achieve the best from when we talk to them, rather than forming stereotypical assumptions.

Our own diversity charter draws on this by asking all of our colleagues to be culturally competent. To take the time to learn about different cultures, races, religions and backgrounds represented in (and outside) of our Network. We have many resources to facilitate this, including our office library, our company wellbeing app TalkOut and encouraging brave, open and honest conversations. If employees make a mistake when talking to their colleagues, we ask them to apologise and ask for help.

We also ask our colleagues to treat people in the way they wish to be treated rather than the way you would wish to be treated. Most importantly, we should be respectful always to others.

So today, I invite you to challenge yourself to move out of your own comfort zone. Have a courageous conversation or learn something new about a different culture. That way you’ll be making progress towards a fearless future.

EPIC Youth: Our first official launch – Eleanor Covell, Head of EPIC Youth

EPIC Youth: Our first official launch – Eleanor Covell, Head of EPIC Youth

When Ayyab Cockburn founded EPIC Youth, she wanted to give young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to become young entrepreneurs and build amazing, self-sustaining, and vibrant businesses.

Often when we hear about start-ups and businesses, the term self-made is used. But when you look closer, mentors, investors, and education all help build a self-made person. Many young people have the passion, the vision, and the drive to build empires yet lack access to capital, mentors, and skills. EPIC Youth is here to change that.

Ayyab started the EPIC Youth Programme in January 2020, and just 14 months after it was created, EPIC is having its first business launch!

B-London Collections, a start-up Beauty Business run by a young 23-year-old woman of colour from London, became EPIC’s first young person to launch successfully. Currently, she is selling high-end false lashes with the hope to branch out in the near future to hair and eventually run her own complete beauty brand.

 

“I am so proud of our first EPIC Business launch, congratulations to B-London Collections! When I founded EPIC, my vision was to support young people create real businesses, may this be the first of many.” Ayyab Cockburn – Founder

B-London Collections’ creator had the vision for her success. EPIC supported her with grants for start-up capital and access to the Martin James Network‘s vast array of business, marketing, and finance experts. We also provided her with pastoral support, ensuring that her holistic development was completely supported throughout what can be a difficult process.

“Seeing B-London Collections progress from an idea to a real-life business has been amazing, she has shown the drive and resilience an entrepreneur needs.” Lindsey Hyde – Programme Manager

Luke Mulekezi, Special Projects Manager at the Martin James Network and Lead Business Mentor for EPIC Youth, supported B-London Collections from the initial idea to when the first set of eyelashes were sold. We asked him what it takes to build a new business.

“You need to be flexible, creative, and willing to roll with the punches. At EPIC, we support young people to do everything from registering their business with Companies House to mentoring them through difficulties and challenges like any entrepreneur would face. Our programme doesn’t just teach young people business skills, it teaches them how to cope with challenges, how to think creatively when faced with barriers, and be confident decision-makers. B-London Collections was born through a global pandemic, making it a resilient company with a bright future. I can’t wait to see what she does next!” Luke Mulekezi

Since EPIC launched, we’ve supported two social enterprise start-ups, helping them grow their reach and are working with a third small business. We’ve also given £7000 in grants to care leavers helping support them during the pandemic, and EPIC is supporting nine more young people to become entrepreneurs. In 2021, EPIC plans to support 20 more young people in starting their businesses and continuing to build our programme.

This is an EPIC Journey, come and join us.

Profiling Martin James Foundation’s Jim Cockburn on World Social Work Day

Profiling Martin James Foundation’s Jim Cockburn on World Social Work Day

Ubuntu: I am Because We are – Strengthening Social Solidarity and Global Connectedness

On World Social Work Day 2021, we recognise the work of our Chairperson Jim Cockburn, who has fearlessly championed the rights of children across the world.

Jim Cockburn has made a significant contribution to the fostering landscape that the world knows today, and in doing so helped to provide foster care for 45,000 children around the world.

Before he disrupted the rules, foster carers were often supporting children and young people with complex needs and receiving little in the way of support and training. Jim created an agency that aimed to take young people with complex needs out of institutional care and place them in families. Jim’s aim was to ensure his carers were properly supported, trained and paid a reasonable allowance for their commitment and care. Another key aim of Jim’s approach to fostering was to ensure the placements created feelings of belonging and inclusion for the children, many of whom had experienced abuse and neglect and whose life chances would have otherwise been limited.

Jim is proud to be a registered social worker, he first practised in children and families teams in Bristol, Sheffield and London, before moving to Dudley. He moved to Sandwell as a social services middle manager during the mid-1980s and worked in Smethwick, Oldbury and Cape Hill. These were areas of multiple deprivation, and Jim was involved in numerous care proceedings where children were removed from their family homes.

“The challenges many families faced meant we could have made a case to take any number of kids away, I felt burned out.” He didn’t fit into the local authority ethos, disruptors never do, so he moved to a night duty team before getting onto a course at UAE, in East Anglia, so that he could improve his knowledge and skills. He was told by a lecturer that he would never succeed with local authorities. “I was told my career would always be a disaster, that I’d always be in trouble.” He was too outspoken, too independent.

He got a job in Bromsgrove where he tried to change the direction of his career by applying to work in fostering. Ironically, for a man who went on to oversee 45,000 foster placements, he was turned down and told by raising fostering standards and support he’d make the process too elitist.

This provided Jim with the motivation to develop his own services that had quality care for children at their core. “There was a girl there, who started it all off. She was six, been multiply abused, and was severely traumatised. The local authority took her into care and she ended up in this institution with teenagers, which was just wrong she was so vulnerable. So I spoke to a foster carer who I knew and asked her to look after her, rather than allow this to happen.”

The carer agreed on the proviso that she had long term support, therapy for the young girl, respite care and a financial allowance to cover her costs. For the local authority, they realised that properly supported foster care placements were not only better for the children, keeping them in a family setting instead of an institution, they were often more cost effective than expensive residential units. By accident, Jim came across adverts for independent foster caring. At that time there were limited regulations and rules. He learned fast and decided to give it a go himself, setting up an agency. “There was no registration or inspection, which we later lobbied for. It was deregulated. There were 15 groups at the time, all in Kent with one in Sussex.

In 2006, the organisation had grown to become a world leader. “Our reputation grew as an organisation that was able to provide really high-quality care and we were able to grow our services and reach more children and families. We went to New Zealand, Finland, Australia, Norway, Ireland, Japan. As well as finding families for displaced children, we also took children out of inappropriate settings such as hotels and motels and got them resettled in homes with families. These children blossomed. To this day when I hear about the individual stories of the children’s progress where carers and colleagues have made such an impact, I am so proud of what we are all achieving.”

“Ultimately what we have done for the past thirty years is that we have recruited and supported foster carers, and we have done this well. Simply, we placed hard-to-place kids with families and provided therapy and educational support. We learned it was no good building schools, you need to get these kids back into mainstream schools. I believe really strongly, that kids are better with families, and communities not in institutions where they are often cut off from society and schooled on site.”

This journey has led Jim and his wife Ayyab Cockburn to establish the Martin James Foundation, which continues to improve standards for childcare around the world. It includes services that deliver the highest quality care and support services in; Key Assets Canada, Key Assets Australia, Key Assets Japan, Key Assets New Zealand, FosterTalk UK, and EPIC Youth. “We want to improve standards globally. People think you’re nuts when you say that. We’re about deinstitutionalisation, getting young people out of institutions. We’re practice based. We’ve got 300 social workers who know what fostering mean. The Martin James Foundation plays a key role in connecting them and allows them to share best practice amongst themselves, and also with organisations and governments who are looking to reform their care systems.”

The Martin James Foundation is currently looking after close to 1000 children and young people in foster care placements, and FosterTalk (an organisation which solely supports foster carers) supports 30,000 foster carers a year. MJF takes the knowledge, skills and experience from this direct delivery of services, to empower and influence others who share the vision that children belong in families. “We are also pleased to be working in collaboration with our partners to make a difference in countries far and wide including Jordan, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Madagascar to name but a few.”

“It is our mission to continue to change child-care, one child at a time in order to ensure that all children are brought up in families. We believe all institutional care is by definition harmful to children and life chances.”

On World Social Work Day, the Martin James Network recognises all social workers across the world who join us in strengthening social solidarity. Jim Cockburn and the Martin James Foundation will continue to empower global partners to strengthen family-based care systems, in order that every young person grows up in loving family.

Creating A Life Worth Living – Loubna Bouarfa

Creating A Life Worth Living – Loubna Bouarfa

I want to share with you my journey as a women entrepreneur, explaining the challenges that I faced while driving the implementation of AI in healthcare.

I was born and grew up in Morocco. At the age of 17, I moved to the Netherlands to study Electrical Engineering and Informational Technology at Delft University of Technology.

My journey in artificial intelligence started 13 years ago, when I embarked on a PhD project. I was assigned to build a cockpit for surgeons in the operating room, using AI to predict surgical workflow and detect anomalies in real time.

Back then, the only surgeon I could find that was not intimidated by an AI cockpit monitoring his operating room was in Germany, Prof. Feussner. All the other surgeons I spoke to in the Netherlands, the US and Nordics, felt that their work could not be automatically interpreted definitely not by machines and perhaps nor by women, that what they did was “art” and no machine could help to make it better.

But that didn’t stop me from my goal of saving and improving human lives with artificial intelligence.

I believe AI holds huge potential across healthcare. We are facing unprecedented challenges from a population growing to 10 billion by 2050. The impact of AI to sustain a healthy population of 10 billion is enormous. As an entrepreneur I’ve always looked at how this impact can be maximised with technology.

With this goal in mind, I founded OKRA Technologies in 2015.

As CEO, I have tried to build OKRA’s reputation to become a leading AI company for life sciences, supporting the industry in bringing the right drug to the right patient at speed. OKRA now works with top Pharmaceutical clients across Europe, using AI to empower decision making and bridge the communication between stakeholders in the ecosystem.

Diversity at the heart of technology

Only 25% of European businesses are using AI at the moment, and I am trying to raise that percentage significantly, specifically in pharma.

In starting my business, I’ve experienced some negative bias for being an academic and scientist rather than a seasoned entrepreneur, and for being a woman in the male-dominated technology and corporate environment, but that has never stopped me from reaching to my ambition. I feel different in many ways to many people, and that is ok.

 

As the CEO of a rising tech company in the life science sector, I have witnessed a general tendency in the industry to value rules and traditional processes, which can of course be crucial when human lives are at stake; but sometimes traditional processes can encourage traditional ways of being. 

To cope with these adversities and build a strong, trustworthy and unbiased technology, the OKRA team has always been committed to diversity. Our team has 15 nationalities and almost 50% of our employees are female. The strength of our unity has resulted in a workplace that is open, transparent and focused on building strong, long-lasting relationships. This has been especially vital during COVID-19, while we kept steadfast to the mission and continually grew the company through innovative initiatives that could help clients respond to the crisis.

I am incredibly proud to say that at OKRA we’re accelerating the growth and value creation for life sciences, making a big shift in the healthcare industry at a large scale.

We have developed 3 successful strong AI products that support life sciences in medical affairs, market access and drug commercialisation. We help our clients with decision making, by providing an AI-driven ecosystem that empowers the healthcare workforce to scale to precision medicine.

The end result of all this effort has been amazing. But I must admit that it has not been an easy journey, not at all. And there’s still so much more that needs to be done, for healthcare, for technology and for women.

This is the reality today, this is what we have to fight against. But how did we get to this point? What happened to “The Computer Girls?”

“Computers are for boys”

There are several factors that influence this dramatic decline since the 1980s. One of these factors was that when kids started to learn how to program, stereotypes began to appear.

At school, girls got this message: “Computers are for boys.” And when computer-science education programs began to expand in the 90s, the coding culture was set. Most of the incoming students were men.

Doors were being shut for women, not only in academia but also in business. Managers began picking coders more on how well they fit a personality type: the quiet, anti-social male.

Lucky for us, that trend didn’t last long and currently software is returning to its roots, with women everywhere. In fact, now is the time for women in AI.

We’re at the inflection point

Women are losing their jobs, especially because they are overrepresented in the industries that have suffered most during COVID-19. It is estimated that 40 per cent of all employed women work in severely damaged sectors – that is 510 million women worldwide.

Women have suffered a lot during this crisis, but let’s not forget about the opportunities that change brings. During this pandemic we have learnt to embrace uncertainty, acknowledging that this is the right time for change.

Let’s take this opportunity, let’s reflect on the lessons learned to reinvent ourselves and our futures.

Failure is part of success

In these situations, I always take inspiration from Australian musician, actor and comedian Tim Minchin and his “9 life lessons” speech.

These 3 that I’m going to talk to you about, are my personal piece of advice to you:

We still have a long way to go

Because even though more and more discussions around diversity, female leaders, gender bias and other topics are certainly taking place across the globe, the progress towards addressing the visible problems of diversity is still slow.

Women and minorities are still significantly underrepresented across Tech.

We need to ensure we are more inclusive as a sector, based on a number factors such as educational background, gender and ethnicity, and encourage individuals from an early age to stand up for what they want.

Let’s use the inspiration from the fantastic women who paved the way for us, and face these challenges with strength and optimism, just like they did.

In life, we need to be fearless. We must follow our strong instincts if we believe they are right, we need to do what is right even if it is terrifying. Many of life’s greatest achievements require going outside of our comfort zone, and the key to success is learning to fail. Failure is an essential tool for building character, it makes us stronger and resilient.

Let’s overcome fear, adversity and thrive against the odds. Because, after all, life is short and we are lucky to be here, so let’s all make it a life worth living.

I will finish by quoting Rumi, one of my favourite poets: “Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”