Give & Take: Improving Lives while Learning to Lead
I wanted to write about how the IICF – the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation – has helped me in so many ways both professionally and otherwise. From showing me the impact of giving back, to why it is important to be challenged on your perceptions of other people who are not like yourself.
So, how did my involvement in the charity start? Well, it began about five years ago, when I was but a mere intern at the Prosek London office on Fetter Lane. One day, the late great Andrew Waterworth, Managing Director in London at the time, asked if I would go along with him to meet the Head of the IICF in the UK.
The charity had been a pro-bono client at one point in the US office, and with it starting up in the UK, they wanted to meet Prosek London to see how we could help with the launch on this side of the pond. We worked with them for about a year, after which I was invited to join the Associate Board of the charity, a group of around 20 young professionals that would support the more senior members of the Executive Board. I joined the Communications team (naturally…) and fast forward a couple of years later and I am now the Co-Chair of the Associate Board, and the IICF has become a big part of my life.
Just to tell you a little bit about it, the IICF is a unique non-profit that aims to improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged people by working together as an industry in grant giving, volunteering and leadership. It awards grants to charities across the UK within the focus area of social mobility – charities that help individuals build skills and confidence needed to excel at school, enter employment or make a new start in life. The following are a couple of examples of where I have volunteered with the IICF and what I have taken away from those experiences.
The first of which was with Providence Row a charity in East London that aims to tackle the root causes of homelessness to help people get off and stay off the streets. East London remains one of the most deprived areas in the UK, and yet is situated right next to the City of London, home to some of the wealthiest corporations.
Some of the London team members and I have taken part in the English classes that the charity conducts for its clients. These classes have a huge range of age groups, men and women, from the UK and around the world and we helped them to pick up the skills and confidence to drive their future success. Whilst this may have been more obvious for some, what I thought was important from this experience was to look beyond the stereotypes and to be increasingly empathetic, as you never really know the situation that someone has been through to get to where they are today. Equally important was how this experience encouraged me to try and play my part in supporting a charity looking to resolve an issue that is right on my doorstep.
Another charity we have supported over the years is St. Giles Trust. The charity runs a variety of programmes, but one which they pivoted to as the Covid crisis began was to set up ‘The Pantry’, a food hub that provides high quality, nutritious and healthy food to those struggling to feed themselves and their families. These people tend to be those held back by poverty, addiction and mental health issues, who were and still are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic. I was able to safely volunteer to help package up food parcels for their clients and also to set up The Pantry itself at its new location, which was a little overgrown, with about four hours of gardening. What this has taught me was for one, I am not made for manual labour, though more significantly, it showed me the importance of second chances – something that the charity really relays to its clients. A final takeaway was how it showed me we should never rest on our laurels and that we should keep looking for new ways to serve our clients – whether in PR or the charity sector – when obstacles are put in our way.
Professionally, my involvement in the IICF has helped me to develop my leadership skills as running the Board can be a little difficult at times to keep people interested, attending meetings and carrying out the tasks they need to be doing. Though for those that know me, laying down the law has never been a particular challenge for me. It has also helped me to expand my professional network, offering the opportunity to meet and learn from senior executives across the insurance industry.
On a personal level, it has given me the opportunity to give back in more ways than one, to put the time into something that matters. A question I always dread in small talk is ‘what are your hobbies?’ as I don’t really have any, nor have I had a ‘passion project’, and I’m always told eating or watching insane amounts of TV doesn’t count as a hobby for some reason. On further thought, however, I have realised that the IICF has been that passion project for me in the last couple of years. I really enjoy the role; I have made a whole new group of friends and I have learnt a lot along the way. Most importantly, I like to think I’ve had a very small impact, and collectively a much larger one, in improving the lives of those living in our local communities.