I still remember the moment that changed my life. I was at school and my teacher picked out five students – one of them was me – as people who should go to uni. To put this in perspective, my school’s success rate was how many people got jobs once they left at sixteen, so this was a big deal.
At first, I was embarrassed that I got picked, but the fact that someone believed in me was enough to give me a burst of energy and motivation. I read prospectuses and filled out the university application form. To support me, my dad gave me a fiver so I could send off the application – a lot of money at the time for a poor family like mine. Without the kindness and belief of someone more experienced than me, I would never have had the confidence to go to uni. It was this experience that enabled me to see the value of having a trusted adult who believes in you in your life when you're young and the importance of the work that UK Youth does.
"If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to young people today, it would be to pursue what you love."
Decades later, as CEO of an Enterprise Information Management company, I wanted to pass on that same baton of inspiration and support to the next generation. That’s why Aiimi has worked with UK Youth for the last five years, helping young, disadvantaged people in the UK build bright futures. In that time we’ve helped fundraise through events such as Tough Mudder and the Royal Parks Half Marathon, with our company matching the same amount every employee has raised. We broke UK Youth fundraising history by doing the first skydiving event together, and ran sessions alongside Microsoft to help young people solve real-world business problems.
As CEO I passionately believe that corporate social responsibility is not just good but essential – for the individual as well as the bottom line of a company. The world’s increasingly moving towards companies who think ethically and care, so investing in CSR helps build your reputation as a responsible business which gives you competitive advantage. It also helps you find and keep talented staff. Whenever our co-workers take time out to teach young people coding, or help people experiencing homelessness, they come back inspired and energised. I’ve seen time and again that when we give something we always seem to get more back ourselves. Caring is not just the right thing to do, it also brings value to us as individuals and companies.
Looking forwards, I want Aiimi to be transformational, even if that’s changing one person’s life. When we looked for a charity partner we wanted to work with an organisation whose values matched our own and whose work resonated with our staff. We found this in the work that UK Youth does to understand the barriers young people face and the help them overcome these with incredible opportunities to develop their skills. I’d like our company to support young people’s journeys personally, knowing that thanks to our support (whether that’s financial or us teaching them new skills) that one person could get the degree or job they always wanted. I am especially keen to support young women get into industries they’re under-represented in such as engineering, data science, coding or mathematics. As I noticed with my daughter, talented young women are often discouraged from pursuing such subjects due to peer pressure and a lack of female role models – and I want companies such as ours to lead this change towards more diversity and representation. That is why this year we are working with UK Youth to offer internships to help young people in their network build bright futures.
If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to young people today, it would be to pursue what you love. As a dad of two, I’ve noticed that young people are naturally confused about what they’re going to do, and worry that they haven’t got things figured out. Find that one thing you’re inspired and excited to do – and pursue it. When people join Aiimi, I try and figure out what they’re good at and shape their role around this. Sometimes we program kids to think they must be good at everything but the truth is that most people are really great at a few things. And that’s okay. When you encourage people to work on what they’re really good at, everyone feels like they’re making a contribution and there’s a positive energy that ripples through the entire company. The more we encourage people to do their best and help others, the greater positive change we will create. As my teacher showed me all those years ago, it only takes one inspirational person to give a moment of encouragement that can give a young person the confidence to change their world for the better.