“… a brilliant and eye opening experience”: using ‘The Apprentice’ format for a good cause

This quote, from one of the Accenture team who took part in a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) volunteer day in blistering conditions at Islington, London a few weeks back, was in response to a question I posed at the conclusion of the event:

Q) As you leave: if someone in the office asked you about the day what would you say?

A) ‘Was a great day with a chance to do some real good.’ was another participant’s reply.

Those who follow my musings will know how honoured I am to be invited to become a founder trustee of the charity PlanZheroes (PZ) who aim to help make use of surplus food. The CSR day, one of a number of imaginative ‘offerings’ PZ developed, gives organisations and their employees a chance to put something back into their community while concurrently testing their innovation, teamwork, sales, negotiation and project management skills in a real life setting.

‘…your task…’

To make the day really energetic PZ introduced an Apprentice-style competitive element. Fifteen people, three teams, three separate areas of London: Who will raise most awareness and get most businesses and charities added to the map?

I was there with CEO Designate Maria Ana Neves and a team from PZ whose role was to shadow the teams as they made their way around Islington and to provide input for the debrief session that was to end the day.

The 16 participants began by introducing themselves and noting something that others might not know about them. This was to prove a great kick off session, part of the briefing to equip them for the time they were about to spend out and about in Islington.  We asked later what they’d expected:

Q) On arrival what were you expectations?

A) I did not expect the day to be as organised as it was or to have such supportive helpers

fired up and ready to go

Briefing over and armed with PZ badges and little books each team spent a while perfecting their strategy, the messages they were going to give to the organisations they met and who would be doing what.  A large part of the challenge of approaching food outlets is to recognise that surplus food is a natural by product of the suply chain, hence we advised them to avoid using the word ‘waste’.

IMG_1007

We were not to see them now for 5 hours so Maria Ana and I monitoroed their progress via Twitter and the PZ Map updated as contacts were made and organisations signed up.

The teams assembled back at base just before 4pm for the debrief. I asked them to use a timeline as a prompt to describe what happened, when and who was involved with a further commentary as to how they overcame difficult moments.

One of the team's timelines

One of the team’s timelines

Though lighthearted it gave the teams (and a senior manager who joined at this point) a chance to compare and contrast: what had worked and what hadn’t; where did they get pushback, from whom (and why)?

amazing results

Before revealing the results Maria Ana asked the teams to develop a one sentence ‘why we should win’ statement. The ‘results’ were amazing:

Announcing the scores

Announcing the scores

  • 14 new businesses on the map & 1 new charity sign-up
  • 35 businesses to follow up & 2 new charities to follow-up
  • one team even walked to Holborn to talk with Sainsbury’s head office
  • two teams got their lunches for free (or part of it!)
  • 130 mix of facebook likes and tweets/followers and we were told one celebrity chef is supporting us (details to find)

Perhaps the most value though comes from the way the teams come together and the roles they play throughout the day. Here’s a couple of responses to my question about role models:

Q) Role model: who did you admire during the day and why – tell us about what they did?

A) One memeber of the team really came out of their shell and were particularly confident when approaching businesses …

A) …The person was awesome and I think I have learnt some people skills that day.

To learn more about Plan Zheroes’ special days for volunteers and organisations please contract us via the PZ website

Brighton’s Food Waste Collective to run ‘making use of surplus food’ event

I met a woman last week in a cafe in Eastbourne.  Her name was Tam, a young Buddhist with a passion for helping others less fortunate. She is a member of the Brighton Food Waste Collective and she’d come from Brighton to interview me about the ‘making use of surplus food’ initiative I set up in Lewes in 2012.

Tam and her team are going to be running an event in a couple of week’s time which I’d heartliy endorse and not just because Maria Ana Neves of Plan Zheroes (she was a great hit in Lewes) is speaking.

food waste collective event posterTo be held at Brighthelm Cafe in North Road Brighton its going to be a real opportunity for donors and charities to come together and see how they might make use of a host of willing volunteers keen to make a difference.

In the hope it might help others who are thinking about a similar activity I want to share something from the excellent interview notes Tam took and published.

‘He said that there are the two ends, who wants and who has to give but it is the middle that creates the logistical nightmares – the getting the food from a to b. I talked about there having to have leaders and ideas people and the technology of the map but also we need the “foot soldiers” – the bodies, cars and bicycles to move daily food from a to b. This is what our event can find. People! Willing people! Hurray 🙂

Paul then asked if I would like some advice, I said yes please! He said “my experience tells me that…” in a nutshell he suggested starting small and high lighting six charities representing “demand”, and six restaurants or shops representing “supply” then set a finite time scale of six months to put only those twelve into action. Make pilot projects! Then he suggests we re-assess and see what has worked? What has failed? Why? He suggested treating it like a research project. He suggested using Google Groups (?) He said “Don’t spread yourself too thin!” Also, which I adored, “Don’t attempt to boil the ocean!”

Paul suggested making objectives: Can we identify the demand? Can we identify the supply? Develop a picture. Two ends – who wants? Who has to give? Make a brief: identify potential charities to supply to….

Paul talked about reverse brain storming – I love this – it’s a technique where you ask the people at the event “what are the best ways to prevent the food getting from a to b?” “How can we make sure the food is wasted/rots/has to go in the landfill?” “How would you ensure that the surplus food re-distribution chain would not work?” He described how he uses this technique in his professional life to get folks’ brains to work in a different way.’

Plan Zheroes is moving ahead apace with plans to be come a registered charity and I am honoured to have been invited to become one of the founding Trustees to provide a focus on knowledge sharing. This is what sets Plan Zheroes apart.  As its evolving technology platforms get completed it will be able to provide an instant view of where surplus food is located and so match the charities who need it with those who have it to give.  It’s skill is then in coming up with innovative solutions on how to get it from A-B.

And by making the knowledge of how to set up an initiative (and a guide for volunteer management) Plan Zheroes is attempting to help replicate the model (here and overseas) that is working so well in London.

Good luck Tam and the Brighton Food Waste Collective!

when your footsteps can generate electricity

Imagine a world in which the steps you take are harnessed as an energy source.

That is the premise behind pavegen ‘renewable energy from footsteps’ one of a number of Royal Society of Arts (RSA) supported projects on display at an open evening I was invited to last night.

I was there to visit the Plan Zheroes exhibit (another RSA supported project) ahead of the forthcoming Knowledge Cafe: making use of surplus food I am running in Lewes in 10 days time with Maria Ana Neves an RSA Fellow and Plan Zheroes founding member.

What struck me about pavegen was its simplicity and potential.  In conversation I discovered it gives a 2 year payback based on a footfall of 250k ‘visits’ a day. That will generate enough energy to power lights and LED displays making it ideal for Shopping Malls and Railway Stations.

Why I am interested? 

  • A couple of years ago the golf club I’ve been chairman of took a very bold decision to invest in alternative energy sources and sunk a number of heat inducers into the overflow carpark. The electricity from that source actually powers the club including water, showers and heating and we put energy back into the grid!
  • Portugal, my wife’s homeland has among the highest per capita energy costs in the world and recently sold off its national power company in an auction to meet the privatisation constraints imposed under the austerity plan of the Troika.
  • Many countries (including Saudi Arabia which is setting up the King Abdullah City for Renewable Energy) are looking at ways of reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and generating energy from other sources.

For those of you who want to follow up, below is a snapshot of the promotional material

Pavegen and Plan Zheroes