Jim Riddiford

On Purpose London April 2013 Fellow, Head of Development at Challenge Partners

Jim tells us why he applied for the social enterprise leadership programme On Purpose and what’s happened next.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career?

I studied Classics at Oxford and five years ago I was entering my sixth year working for a private security company. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do out of university and ended up working there. I had a great time, met interesting people and learned a lot, but it got to the point where it was kind of pretty wildly unethical what we were doing. Also, there were no clear advancement opportunities and I found it hard to understand on a conceptual level what skills I had. I didn’t really know what else was out there.

What happened next?

I saw [On Purpose founder] Tom Rippin speak at an event and thought that social enterprise sounds amazing and exactly what I’m looking for. I didn’t really know what the next step I should take was because I was confronted by so many options, but On Purpose gives you one option and a year to think about what the other options might be and a really supportive network to be able to facilitate that. So I applied and got into the programme.

What did you learn and get out of the Associate Programme?

The first is that no one really knows what they’re doing all the time and it’s ok to try things, if things don’t work out just acknowledging that and trying something different. Being able to experiment with a supportive cohort and placements was incredibly useful for me. I was also really surprised by the quality of the training sessions and learned a lot of tangible skills.

All the personal development we do has made me a more reflective person and better at reflecting on what I’m doing and how I’m behaving. It has made me better at managing workload, stress, delegating and taking on more responsibility.

I found many aspects of the programme useful and underpinned by an amazing network of cool, interesting, and motivated people from a variety of backgrounds. You know when you meet them you will have something in common and ultimately will share the same broad values which I think is really important.

Can you tell me more about your placements?

My first placement was at Student Hubs and I was reporting to the CEO. It was a charity set up to encourage student volunteering and they had a bunch of ideas of things they wanted to do and it was up to me, in conjunction with the CEO, to say this is what we should be focusing on and this is what I think we can deliver within the timeframe. The main thing that came of that was The Worthwhile programme, now a sister company of Student Hubs, which I helped prepare for spinning out as a separate charity. Robbie, who was the placement after me, is now CEO there. That was an entrepreneurial placement and a big transition for me from my previous role which was process and rule bound.

The other placement was a place called Every Child which was going through a big internal change programme. I was reporting into an individual akin to the CEO who was managing a big transition programme of all the organization’s people and assets from one organization into another to deliver the same objectives in a very different way. They were an NGO that worked with children that then decided the best use of their money would be not to deliver projects themselves but deliver them with partners in the various countries and networks that fund organizations with the same goals as them. They were taking an interesting approach to how you use the power of Western donors to support improvements without the colonialist undertone.

What are you doing right now

I am Head of Product Development at Challenge Partners which is an education collaboration charity and I have been there for almost 2 years. I work with an On Purpose Associate at the moment and we have a few Fellows [people who have been through the year-long Associate Programme] on the team as well so it is really well connected.

What led you there?

After On Purpose I ran a start-up for six months and then did about 9 months of freelancing. I knew I wanted a full time job but there was enough freelancing work to keep me with money coming in until I found a role I really wanted. I found out about it through a friend from On Purpose who still works there and I run the delivery of all our collaboration programmes through a national network of schools.

I think a lot of it was trial and error, some through On Purpose and some outside it. It was great to have other people going through that journey with you. I went into On Purpose hoping for loads of answers and came out with more questions, but I think that questioning process was incredibly positive. I’ve wrestled with some existential questions and some smaller ones, but I think a period of that is good for everyone and On Purpose was a real catalyst in that. I’m really happy where I am now.