Saira George

On Purpose London April 2015 Fellow, Associate at SystemiQ

I loved my first placement [at Accelerate CIC, as part of the Associate Programme at On Purpose], but it was also very un-comfortable. The institution-building that I was doing involved strategy and organisation on a level that my teammates (who were mostly nurses) didn’t immediately relate to. It was in a hospital, and their immediate priorities were the patients. They could help the patient in a tangible way that I couldn’t. It was challenging getting my co-workers to see how the outcome of my work would benefit them. I had never had that experience before.

The Associate Programme at On Purpose was way more introspective than what I thought it would be. Two or three years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate why I needed a change or what I was looking for. At On Purpose, we had so many discussions about why we were looking for change, what we wanted to achieve (not really the kind of thing you chat with friends about at the pub!). By the end of the year, I knew that I really wanted to work in a role that wasn’t necessarily on the ground, but the outcome of which I could see had a clear and positive impact on the world.

I enjoy playing devil’s advocate, challenging the status quo. In my current role, I help to run projects and advise companies. It’s what I wanted in terms of big-picture systems thinking.

One of the projects I recently worked on involved many senior people from all over the private sector getting together in a room to talk about tangible things, like how to clean up supply chains or how to get companies to on report their ESG standards. They collectively push companies to think differently, getting them to think about which day-to-day practices to change for greater environmental and social sustainability. It’s self-led — there’s no enforcement mechanism.

When lots of companies agree to take these actions, it can make a big difference. You realise that it’s no use painting large corporations as simply “bad” — it’s not black-and-white like that. Typically, there is no incentive for private sector companies to do this. So meeting these people who pro-actively do it was very eye-opening.

I like things to be fair. That is not easy, because nothing in this world is ever fair. My family is involved with a school for disabled children that is back in India. As a teenager, I’d spend a week or two at a time volunteering there, and it opened my eyes to how opportunities are not equal. So much depends on when, where and how you were born — it’s just luck of the draw. That had a big impact on making me think about how we can be more generous with our effort and time.

But when I considered switching from traditional consulting to the social enterprise world, lots of friends questioned my decision. They asked questions like — are you sure about this? Do you just need to take a break? Why don’t you take a sabbatical? Just go on a holiday!

Thinking about what your purpose is and doing something purpose-led is uncomfortable because it’s not the norm. But if you know why you want to do something, you shouldn’t let anything stop you from doing it. It may not be the path of least resistance, but you just have to go for it, trust in it and push forward.

Find Saira on the On Purpose website here.