Prior confessions – I’m computer illiteracy defined and never venture into the world of blogs (I only discovered twitter about 2months ago) but there is a particular problem that faces Enactus teams each year around this time, its poorly dealt with and it needs fixing. Its something that every team needs to think about and act on. I’m therefore drawn out of my comfort zone, and now come to you in blog format. Brace yourself.
Firstly I should introduce myself. My name is Jonny Hick, former President of Enactus Nottingham, where I was fortunate to be a part of three Nationals winning teams. Since graduating I mentored over a dozen teams – from Royal Holloway and Surrey to Belfast, Leeds and York and many in between.
I also set up the alumni mentoring scheme and ran it until last year. I have been in this organisation for over 8 years, I’ve seen the name change, the criteria change and I even remember a time before Jim Ineson. Yes, I’m that old. But I do feel this length of time gives me a unique perspective on what has changed, and what hasn’t.
The topic of this blog is going to be fairly unpopular to most of you, because no, it’s not about the competition. For those still reading, this blog seeks to set out why you should look beyond nationals. Whilst having a national competition is vital, and is key for sharing best practice and setting “the bar”, ultimately it can and has been detrimental to teams, often terminally so, if not approached in context. Now I realise this sounds epically dull as a topic but it does come with a promise – if you read this blog your team WILL be better. Fact.
Here’s the biggest thing teams fail to realise. The world doesn’t end at Nationals. The Nationals is an arbitrary deadline. I am willing to bet that 80% of projects we see at Nationals won’t have fully addressed their beneficiaries’ needs by then. You need to work to their timetable, not an arbitrary imposed deadline. And if you’ve changed their lives by April, awesome. And if not, then you keep going.
Way back when I was in Enactus and the standard wasn’t quite what it is today, teams could start a project in October and expect to finish it by April, because the level of needs they were shooting for was low. But these days’ teams are going for real hard needs – the victims of sex trafficking, abused migrant workers, people wanting to exit homelessness etc. That stuff takes years to fix. If there was a quick fix for those kind of challenges someone wold have done it already. It’s a long term aim and that requires you to think and plan long term to achieve it, a multiyear plan. And sometimes Nationals just comes right in the middle of that plan. Well that’s fine. Don’t rush it just to get some results.
One team this year are having a project development day on Sunday 13th – the day before Nationals! – to hammer home the point that it’s business as usual, and that whilst there is a few 17mins presentations to get through over the following 48hours, ultimately on Wednesday 16th April, your beneficiaries won’t be any better off than they were on Monday 14th. So you probably have work still to do.
So my plea is simply this. For sure, Nationals is huge, and it can and will change your life. But whilst it might take just 2 days to change your life, it takes on average 2 years to change of the lives the beneficiaries most of you work with. Teams too often get half way, rush things for Nationals and have to start from scratch the following year. Handover’s get messed up because all the focus is on competition. Project delivery slows because all the key people are focused on a PowerPoint deck rather than changing people’s lives. And most people, after Nationals and exams don’t start again until September. So yes nail Nationals. But nail the summer. Nail the handover. And don’t let it stop you focusing on what Enactus is really all about – transforming lives. As Mike Austin says – “what would you be doing over the next 2months if nationals wasn’t happening?” Answer that question. Then do it anyway.
And many of your get this already. As an alumni, I advise and mentor 4 teams this year. 3 out of 4 have a President who will in all probability be President next year ie President for 2 years rather than 1. Every single one has long term project plans, and are taking a long term approach to building their team. They get that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Or even a year. Yes they want to do well at nationals this year. But they want to do even better in 2015, and even better than that in 2016. And they will.
The final word is this. Most people say they truly “got” Enactus at the National Competition. And it is great for exposing you to the rest of the UK programme. But then those of you who go to the World Cup come and back and say the same thing, because they have seen the world programme. And having done both of those things I’d agree, except, as I always say to my teams – I realised I didn’t get it after both of those great events. 3 years after leaving Enactus I went back to Ghana where I had worked on a project called Beevelop to improve the lives of beekeepers in Ghana. We were proud of our results, presented at Nationals, tripled the incomes of over 2000 people in the Tamale region. But 3 years later was on another level. More people had joined the cooperatives, the price of honey was higher – in short thousands more had been impacted by our project. Let’s think about that for a sec. 3 years after we had left Enactus. Long after we had left Ghana, long after they had forgotten us, long after we had forgotten them- left university, moved on with our lives, got a job, worked in the city for years etc., thousands of miles away – our project was still changing lives, with a bigger and broader impact. The impact grew with time, not decreased. More lives were impacted, not less. And as I type this, that is growing and continuing right now. Now that is when I “got it”. And it did get me thinking.
Because many of the students I have supported over the last 5 years spent the same amount of time in Enactus but spent them doing “token” projects- projects just to have something to say for Nationals – didn’t really change any lives but enabled them to stand on a stage with a story to tell. But I can tell you, because I still speak to some of those people, that they all look back and regret it. They realise, only after they have left and it’s too late, that Enactus is the opportunity of a life time, that they could have done something remarkable that continues to change lives and have an impact long after they are gone. But instead they spent their Enactus careers firefighting, running from one problem to another and thinking constantly about the short term problem in front of them, and never the big challenges beyond that. So they have what I call a “token” Enactus career. Yes, focus on the short term challenges, and focus on smashing Nationals, but don’t lose focus about what ultimately counts, and what ultimately – actually – wins competitions – transforming lives.