Project Partner Day 2021

21 December 2021

Introduction

At Big Change, we are always asking ourselves how we can best support our project partners, past and present, to grow their impact. In addition to providing financial support through our grant-making, and building visibility for their work through our growing and varied network, a clear opportunity to support our Big Changers has been to connect them with each other.

Once a year since 2018, we have brought together as many of our current and past project partners as possible at an event we’ve called our Project Partner Day – a chance for the pioneers in our portfolio to meet, connect and learn from each other. We know that magic happens when we get our Big Changers in one room – and our hope is that everyone will come away from the day feeling they have learned from one another, shared their experiences, and feel rejuvenated in their mission. 

Project Partner Day, December 2021

We were proud to welcome over 30 attendees from 20 project partner organisations – our best turnout to date! We were so glad to be able to create a space for so many of our project partners to connect, reflect, and create new opportunities to collaborate. It was wonderful to see familiar (and new!) faces from:

Speakers

We know that stories have the power to galvanize us when times get tough, which is why we love bringing in experts from within and outside the education sector to share their experiences. This year, we welcomed three speakers to share their insights and hopes for the future of education:

  • Holly Branson, Chief Vision and Purpose Officer at Virgin and co-founder of Big Change, shared her thoughts on why transformation in education has never been more needed, and why the work of our Big Changers plays a crucial role in this.
  • Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, gave us a talk on the ‘state of the sector’, and some reasons to be hopeful. While it is important to acknowledge that our workforce is (rightly) experiencing unsustainable levels of burnout, we should also not downplay the growing consensus for change – in assessment, in curriculum, in how we define success in education. It is down to the hard work of our teachers, youth workers, parents and carers that we are developing a shared understanding of the need to transform education for the better.
  • Dr. Antonin (Tony) de Fougerolles, CEO at EVOX Therapeutics, former Chief Scientific Officer at Moderna and inventor of the MRNA technology on which our COVID vaccines are based, shared some key similarities in working in transformation in medicine and education – mainly, that you have to plan for the long term. Some transformations that appear to have happened overnight have actually been a decade in the making! Tony also shared the impact of his favourite teacher, who had special educational needs, and who introduced him to a new way of teaching and learning. Tony, who described himself as ‘a B student’, highlighted the importance of skills like collaboration, creativity and communication over high grades when thriving in the world of work.

Conversations and insights

A big part of all of our Project Partner Days is enabling Big Changers to share not only the big wins of the year, but also the challenges, so that we may build each other up. We held a series of group discussions, on topics sourced from the Big Change team and from our project partners themselves, in accordance with our theme for the day:

“The way forward needs to unlock the commitment, passion and insight of young people, parents, teachers, leaders and employers, so they can support change in their communities and for the country. How do we show that his new way is possible, together?”

Some of these topics included:

  • How can we enable tomorrow’s young changemakers?
  • How can we get better at sharing best practice?
  • How can we best tackle issues of scalability, from day to day operations to big vision?
  • How do we stop preaching to the choir?
  • How can we link up different professionals and services working with young people?
  • How do we best achieve system change in education?
  • How do you find values aligned with funders and partners?

Everyone came into the discussion space with honesty and reflection, enabling a sense of shared mission and shared solutions. We really want to thank everyone for their candor, vulnerability, and generosity in sharing their reflections.

Some of the key insights captured during these discussions included: 

  • We need to be thinking about education not as a thing done to young people, but with and by young people
  • Young people’s vulnerabilities are linked, but the services they work with are not – we should not be training the adults who work with young people in isolation from each other
  • Local relationships and understanding different contexts are crucial to so many of the questions above – for scale, it’s finding the balance between a codified program or product and making it feel personal, adapted to a particular context or relationship
  • An insight echoed by many of our participants and our speakers was the need to equip young people with interdisciplinary skills and tools in order to solve the problems they (and we) will face
  • Some key questions – while sharing ‘best’ practice, which is retrospective, how do we also think about ‘next’ practice? Is a shared purpose for education required to do this?

Outcomes

We heard from participants that this day provided reassurance, motivation and energy to continue in their work. During our closing session, some of our participants reflected: 

“If we can deal with a pandemic, then our issues too, are surmountable. We are singing in harmony with one another.”

“Leading an organization is tiring and you don’t always get those reassurances you need. Today has been really energizing and motivated me to sustain the mission.”

“We have a tendency to beat ourselves up over not making change fast enough. Today has given me reassurance that it does take a long time and it is hard but that’s okay.”


We heard from our attendees that there is a strong desire to keep this momentum going into 2022, and that Big Change can play a unique role in making sure that this happens. We look forward to convening our project partners in 2022, and are committed to the following principles when gathering them in the future:

  • Build trust and relationships between pioneers
  • Identify opportunities for shared action – how can we help each other?
  • Create the conditions to have open, honest conversations that we can’t typically have in other forums
  • Facilitate learning from experts wherever useful – from both within the education sector, and from outside of it
  • Prioritize equity, diversity and inclusion – we will apply this lens to everything from the locations of our events, to the accessibility of our venues, to whose voices are being heard
  • Respect our pioneers’ time – our gatherings will be demand-led and always rooted in their feedback
  • Keep the connections going in between gatherings 

Thank you to everyone who came, contributed and organised Project Partner Day 2021, we couldn’t have done it without you! 

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