Enabling Conversations on Inclusive Growth

By Anj Handa

As a Fellow of the RSA, I was interested to read its recent publication, Inclusive Growth Commission: Making our Economy work for Everyone. The report followed consultations and evidence-gathering from a range of sources as to how the UK can create opportunities for people across all parts of society.

One of the four priorities the report addresses relates to placed-based approaches. The report summary says:

Inclusive growth will require businesses and civic organisations to work together to create stronger institutional foundations in our towns and cities. The creation of quality jobs are at the heart of this.

Local businesses need to be directly engaged by local anchor institutions… to drive up productivity and stimulate demand, particularly in the low-paid sectors… which constitute much of the long tail of low productivity in the UK.

At a local level, this means an approach based on: deep understanding of local assets; connecting people to quality jobs; resourcing place regeneration as well as business investment; and helping businesses keep ahead in the context of Brexit.

My personal experiences

I’ve worked in the field of social impact and inclusion since 2003. First as a Regional Director of the Employer Coalitions, set up under the National Employment Panel; then as Head of Employment and Skills Partnerships at Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Since 2011, as the owner of my own consultancy, I have worked with bodies such as the UK Commission for Employment and Skills as an adviser and lead appraiser on business-led programmes.

It’s fair to say that I’ve been around (in the nicest possible way). My work has taken me across Europe and the US to speak about business-led employment and skills programmes. I’ve also learnt approaches from global counterparts as a member of fact-finding delegations from the UK.

This report doesn’t tell me anything new, although it may seem ground-breaking to others. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but there are some things I’ve learned which I would love to share.

Inclusive Growth Commission’s four recommendations

  • City regions work together to form sectoral coalitions linking industry sectors and places in order to modernise industrial strategy.
  • The creation of new institutions or civic enterprises to connect business and industry, schools, training providers and universities.
  • That cities become places of life-long learning, with a commitment to human capital development from ‘cradle to grave’ through coordinated investment and support at every level from pre-school, through schools, to FE colleges, technical institutes and universities.

 The sectoral approach works

In this article, I will focus on the first recommendation: ‘City regions work together to form sectoral coalitions linking industry sectors and places in order to modernise industrial strategy.’

My work as the Regional Director for the Leeds City Region and South Yorkshire Employer Coalitions involved bringing employers together by sector or by cross-cutting themes (e.g. Diversity and Flexible Working).

Each group was chaired by a private sector employer. The group comprised up to thirty others, drawn from the private, public and voluntary sectors. Observers from public agencies such as Jobcentre Plus and the Skills Funding Agency were also around the table. We brought in service providers to showcase their offers on an ad hoc basis, on agreement with the members.

The aim was for businesses to co-design pre-employment routeways for people of working age who were in receipt of benefits with public and voluntary sector partners.

Better outcomes

Jobcentre Plus job placement outcomes that didn’t use this model were on average 30% at that time. Our outcomes were typically around 70%. Others, such as a Heating and Ventilating programme, achieved 85%. The approach worked because of the focussed partnership model.

Over twelve years on, some of these programmes, such as the Media Foundation Placement Scheme and West Yorkshire Diversity Forum, are still running. The groups were sustained even when public funding for their running was withdrawn.

Why? Because the businesses were engaged and took an active role in benchmarking (individually and collectively), designing and measuring the programmes.

Enabling ‘difficult’ conversations

My key observation, as noted above, is that there isn’t much in this report that I feel is new. That’s because we are still having the same ‘safe’ conversations. There is often a separation between policy-makers, businesses and communities.

There’s not enough challenge within the debate and for some reason, people whom these agencies are seeking to ‘help’ are left out altogether! I’ll write more on this in a future blog…

To be able to have the kind of conversations that really get under the skin of an issue, we need to create a space for such discussions to happen, without individuals feeling as if they are judged.

A business example

Let me give you an example. In 2016, at a small gathering of policy-makers and businesses, a micro business owner admitted their reluctance to hire women of childbearing age. Like many SMEs, they had financial concerns around funding parental leave.

As a result of the discussions, HSBC introduced its Parental Leave support package in early 2017. It was set up to help UK businesses with less than five employees. The package includes interest-free overdrafts, repayment support for small business loans and capital repayment holidays. That’s groundbreaking within the sector.

So how do we enable effective conversations?

I feel that dialogue should occur in multiple ways. Even as a micro business owner, I have been able to model this approach. For example, through another Inspiring Women Changemakers member, I was introduced to Kloeckner Metals UK. The organisation’s HQ is in Germany and its Leeds-based colleagues are committed to increasing diversity within the UK operations.

In partnership with the company, I organised a roundtable event to discuss the advancement of women in Manufacturing and Construction and subsequently produced a report with the input of participants.

The report is now publicly available. Conversations are being held individually with businesses to discuss the report’s findings and consider which of the priority areas they would like to address.

Let us support you

Do you want to enable powerful, authentic conversations with your stakeholders? Learn how my team can facilitate your stakeholder engagement activity by emailing me at anj@inspiringwomenchangemakers.co.uk

How to tackle the big issues in society – without the overwhelm

By Anj Handa

There’s a drama that many people are talking about right now. It’s called Three Girls and is a TV series based on the true stories of victims of grooming and sexual abuse in Rochdale. The series made harrowing viewing.

It wasn’t just me who felt affected – I’ve been reading outpourings by friends across social media. Some couldn’t bear to watch, others now feel compelled to do something, but don’t know what.

Sometimes people don’t feel ready to become involved in these challenging subjects. They feel they don’t know enough, or that they might say the wrong things. This is where I advise you to just start!

Start by doing something, even if it’s as simple as following relevant support organisations and sharing their work. Begin somewhere, even if just to educate yourself about the subject. Speak up, even if it feels scary. If you don’t start, you will never know which ripples you can create.

My changemaking journey

My campaign work on ending Female Genital Mutilation is now well-documented in the media, but it was almost twenty years in the making. The seed was planted around 2000 when I read Desert Flower, the true story of UN FGM Ambassador and supermodel, Waris Dirie.

I was horrified, but wasn’t moved to act at that time, simply because the issue felt too big and I didn’t know what to do. Overwhelm can frequently get in the way of change making. But by taking a small step, then another and another, it’s amazing what you can achieve.

Using social media to campaign

This was a time before we had social media, which I consider a great tool for mobilising people on a large scale when used effectively. Fast forward to 2013, when I watched The Cruel Cut, a documentary on FGM featuring campaigners Leyla Hussain and Nimko Ali and QC Felicity Gerry. I know all of them personally now.

I started off by following them and others involved in campaign work on Twitter and also urged friends to watch the documentary. Just a few months later came an introduction by a friend to the family I would end up campaigning for. My Change.org petition went global. It wasn’t planned and my own self-limiting beliefs might have held me back if it hadn’t taken on a life of its own by then.

Bring your skills to the table

Individuals have written that they don’t feel equipped to do anything. They feel they don’t have the knowledge or experience of people working in grassroots organisations, such as social workers, counsellors and health workers. You don’t need to be an expert. Just ask those over-worked, under-resourced professionals how you can support their work.

We all have professional skills that we can offer. One of the key outcomes achieved once the campaign was over was to produce a report into the Scale of FGM in Leeds. My business partner, Dr Jean Garrod, has the data interpretation skills to model and present the necessary information.

My core skills are communication and stakeholder engagement, so my role was to talk to grassroots organisations about the report. I encouraged them to use its findings when writing tenders for much-needed funding.

I also used various platforms to spread the word. These included public sector events and even the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse following a play about a refugee boy called Nine Lives.

Inspiring Women Changemakers is set up to bring people together to effect positive social change. We do this by drawing on our collective skills, resources and networks.

Through our membership services, we work to give people the tools, techniques and the encouragement to bring about the change they want to see. Take a look at how we can support you on your changemaking journey.


Identity and change – a view from a retired Paralympian

Paralympian Elizabeth Wright on Change

By Elizabeth Wright, retired Paralympian turned Character Development specialist

At the top of my game

The last of the fireworks had died down, the stands were emptying and my teammates and I were walking back to the athletes village. It was quicker than trying to fight the other 4000 or so athletes trying to get onto the buses.

The quietness was pierced by our shrieking laughter and loud cheering. The excitement felt like it would last forever. What a party the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games had been. And what an ending to a seven year long career, winning a bronze and a silver medal in my home country.

This high lasted all of a month, but then, with retirement from my sport came a horrid realisation that that high might never come again. In the year or so after retirement from sport I didn’t become depressed, exactly, but I started to feel empty of purpose. I found that I would feel like crying for no apparent reason and I had no idea who I was without swimming.

At a loss…

This emptiness and feeling of loss, loss of identity and purpose can happen to anyone, not just elite athletes. This feeling can lead to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. In the sporting world it has become such an issue that in Australia elite athletes are now receiving counselling, help and advice on how to cope after they leave their sport.

This support and guidance should be there for anyone. Whether a student about to leave the safety and routine of university for the ‘real world’; a military serviceman about to leave the structure of the army, navy, or airforce; or even a person who has worked for years in a particular company or sector who finds themselves out of a job or having to change roles.

Ultimately it is about purpose and change and how we cope with this over the course of our lives.

Finding direction

I spent two years feeling absolutely lost. I worked in a newsagents for most of that time. It was a seeming fall from grace in my eyes, to go from winning Paralympic medals to working in the local shop. It seemed such a step backwards. As my mum kept telling me, I made up for lost teenage time by going out partying every weekend.

But that lack of purpose niggled at me. Those feelings of wanting to cry for no apparent reason became stronger and stronger and I still had no idea what to do….

After two years of going nowhere, it was mum who suggested I look at going to uni to study fine art. Art had always been a passion of mine, one that bubbled away behind the veneer of a sports-mad Aussie teen.

Off to uni I went. Through a completely different endeavour, I discovered that I was more than a swimmer, that I was more than a Paralympian. In fact, I could embrace the journey of change without fear and learn to live from a point of curiosity and confidence in my purpose.

And so my structure has shifted and changed over the years, but my purpose has melded into a drive – a drive to help others achieve their dreams and goals. This has led me to what I do now: helping teachers and pupils find their purpose and sense of wellbeing.

So what did I learn on this journey of change, loss, and reflection?

Here are three things to consider:

You have more than one identity, one purpose

It is so easy to feel so comfortable in a role that you have had for years. To have that role threatened can feel scary, can trigger feelings of fear, loss, and uncertainty.

You are not that role, you are not just a worker, spouse, mother, father, child, friend, etc. You are all of these things and can be many more. Be playful with your life, explore, and maintain a curiosity towards change. What has happened in the past doesn’t define your future.

Moving forward only requires one step

That fear you feel, whilst in some cases it is there to help you (like running away from the axe murderer in the forest). Fear doesn’t help you when you live your day-to-day life.

The only way you can bring yourself back to your purpose, or find your purpose again, is to take one step forward at a time. If you feel stuck today just think of one thing (big or small) that you can do, right now, and your fear will abate. Taking action is taking part in your journey.

Be inherently curious

Sometimes we are so defined by our roles in life that we lose our sense of curiosity about the world, about opportunities, about adventures we can take. Try to bring some of that curiosity back.

Explore the feelings that you have without judgement, consider where they have come from, and whether they define you. Really think about who you are. Write down a list of ALL of your interests, no matter how small, write about interests you would like to develop and grow.

Be open to experiencing life and saying yes more. By being more open and curious you start to see the opportunities around you that are yours for the taking.

Embrace the change!

My journey has taken me to places I could not have imagined being ten years ago (or even five years ago…. or even a year ago!). I have learnt that you can’t fight the journey, all you can do is embrace it with a fluidity and joy, taking each change, each detour, as it comes, and knowing that where you are today is where you are today – next year, who knows!

Read more about Elizabeth on her website.

Are you experiencing tech overwhelm?

By Paula Atherill, Creative Analysis Ltd

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. This is a very serious subject and there are so many elements of life that contribute to maintaining good mental health. Work, business and your career are obviously a big part of that.

I regularly hear women say “I’m so overwhelmed” when it comes to technology. This is on top of all the business tasks that they are juggling: sales, marketing, networking, delivering, customer service, accounts, business operations and so much more.

The majority of our clients are women so I will refer to ‘women’ throughout the rest of this blog, since that is our direct experience.

Choices, choices…

Technology has a knack of being the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The wide breadth of technology choices is having the opposite effect of ‘efficiency’ on women running their own businesses.

When you couple this with the frustration that occurs when tech breaks or goes wrong, it really does get the steam pumping out! The last thing we need are more choices in our lives. Most of us want to know what the best options are and to be able to trust recommendations that are made.

Sadly, in most cases, it’s the trust that prevents us from taking a recommendation rather than becoming overwhelmed by trying to ‘figure’ it all out ourselves.

It takes a long time to build up trust so a lot of women are reluctant to go to traditional IT companies because of the lack of unknown and the possible costs associated. It’s a bit like taking your car to the garage – is the mechanic really telling the truth?

How you can mitigate overwhelm

There’s no easy or fast solution to reducing overwhelm but the very first place that you can start, when it comes to technology, is discipline. Don’t be tempted by ‘shiny pennies’ every two minutes.

Yes, there are new products and apps that state “we can fix your whole world in 15 minutes if you trial us now” but really… NO THEY CAN’T. Don’t be distracted by all of these bold headlines. The less tools that you work with, the easier your life becomes.

Addiction to technology and ‘updates’ is also a huge challenge for most of us but again – discipline is the answer here. Set your own rules. When should you turn off your notifications? Do you really need to have your email app notifying you of every single email that’s coming in? Can’t you look in your app when you choose?

Can you leave your phone/tablet out of reach for a while?

If Sweden can run a live trial of a six-hour working week to improve wellbeing then surely we can all trial a little bit of time each day without technology. Anything is possible.

What about turning off your sound notifications whilst you focus for a couple of hours? This ‘clean’ thinking time will work wonders and you’ll achieve so much more.

Overwhelm can very quickly lead to burnout. Surely technology isn’t worth that?

My personal mantra with any technology or app, when it goes wrong – which it will, is “it’s  technology, it’s not perfect, it does break down. Accept that it breaks”. When you say this to yourself it makes it so much easier to look at the fact that it’s ‘broken’ (usually very temporarily).

Technology and Mental Health

Coming back to the main reason for writing this post; Mental Health is obviously so many more things than overwhelm about technology. It has many complex factors which must be treated carefully by an experienced professional.

There are many studies around health and technology and direct links have been shown. For example, this quote is taken from Digital Responsibility, Taking Control of Your Digital Life:

Technology can have a large impact on users’ mental and physical health. Being overly connected can cause psychological issues such as distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification, and even depression.

This blog is about the small things that we can control and recognising the things that are very important to our ‘everyday’ lives but on the grand scale of things are no big deal. Technology is there to serve us, not to control us. We can easily take control back and reduce the likelihood of burnout a little bit.

If you’d like to read more about burnout specifically and how you can deal with burnout then take a look at this blog by Anj Handa.

I’ll leave you with this thought: It’s only technology, you don’t need it all and when it breaks it can be fixed. Keep things simple.



How to start mastering your mind AND your body

By Anj Handa

When we become unwell, we experience an emotional shock which causes stress.  The level of stress that we experience is differentiated between ongoing relentless stress (e.g. through long-term disease such as cancer) against commonly overlooked causes (e.g. bereavement/divorce).

In this blog, I will write generally about both mental and physical illness. I feel qualified to write this, having undergone two serious illnesses myself.  The first time, in my 20s, I was hospitalised for a week with acute pancreatitis caused by stress following *five* (I don’t do anything by halves) separate, traumatic incidents.

Then, in 2014, I had vertigo for around eight months and still carry some symptoms. It’s a ‘hidden’ illness which can easily be forgotten about by others around you, especially when they can’t understand the feelings of disorientation, exhaustion and diminished confidence.

Mental and physical illness are interlinked.  Dr David Hamilton, whose workshops I have attended, wrote a blog, entitled ‘The Four Components of Emotion.’  Here, he describes the relationship between the Automatic Nervous System (ANS), brain chemistry, the muscles and emotion.  He states:

…Not only does emotion affect chemistry, muscles, and the ANS, but chemistry, muscles, and the ANS affect emotion…we can’t actually disentangle emotion from the brain or body…we really can think of emotion as ‘smeared’ all over and throughout the body.

Eckhart Tolle, author of ‘Power of Now’ and listed by Watkins Review as the most spiritually influential person in the world, describes this as the ‘Pain Body.’

The pain-body is my term for the accumulation of old emotional pain that almost all people carry in their energy field. I see it as a semi-autonomous psychic entity.  It consists of negative emotions that were not faced, accepted, and then let go in the moment they arose.

Seeking Support

Knowing this, what can you do for yourself?

I always advocate professional advice first (medical or psychotherapeutic), but wraparound support can be invaluable.   My friends who were once cynical about incorporating complementary therapy or trying different diets are now more open to this after seeing how I manage turbulence.

As one such friend said to me (I’m paraphrasing a bit) “I’ve got all the medical help, but I need more and now I am ready to consider my spiritual needs.”

You will need to identify who can help you and how, but be aware that close friends and family aren’t always equipped.  Sometimes they back off because they feel helpless, or they give unhelpful advice such as ‘pull yourself together.’  Reach out to your network to get the right support for you.

I know it’s easier said than done.  The result of illness can be to withdraw into ourselves and shut people out.  We may even lash out at the people closest to us, because we know deep down that they will forgive us eventually.  I recommend the Change Curve to help you recognise where you are on your own journey.

Managing your relationships

Open communication and being specific about your needs can help loved ones see that supporting you isn’t necessarily a difficult or overwhelming task.  Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them to go to the supermarket for you when you’re tired.

Choosing your support network is important.  When we’re not well, we sometimes resent people around us for not helping us in the way that we hoped.  Are your expectations relating to each individual realistic?

The process of identifying your support team will reveal who steps up to the role, as well as who falls away.  Trauma can end relationships that no longer serve you and this can really, really hurt. However, it can also bring in wonderful, unexpected friendships that are right for this stage of life and maybe beyond.

Why self-care is a must

Apart from the chemicals that are released into your body, when you’re stressed your lymphatic system can also become sluggish.  This system helps the body get rid of toxins, waste and other unwanted stuff. Primarily, it sends lymph around your body, which is the fluid that contains infection-fighting white blood cells.

It’s in your interest to allow it to work more efficiently by not putting it under undue strain, so rest when you can and look at what you’re putting into your body (food as well as alcohol or other substances). Exercise, even if it’s just a gentle walk or stretching.

Did you know that vocal toning (extended vocal sounds on a single vowel in order to experience the sound and its effects in other parts of the body) can help you relax, release negative emotions; reduce stress, and improve your focus and stamina?

Figure out how to express yourself in a healthy way.  Yelling doesn’t help anyone, so could you go for a run, paint, or do the gardening?  You know what calms you, so try whatever works for you.

Let us know how you found this blog and if there’s any additional guidance that we can give to you.