On Purpose

Borja Blanco Méndez

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On Purpose London October 2018 Fellow, now freelancing remotely in confinement from the little hamlet where he grew up, and is using this chance to reconsider the rural life.


Can you tell me about your background and your career prior to On Purpose? At what moment did you decide to make the change?

I feel I’ve been doing On Purpose even before I knew it was a thing.

The idea of having a career with a purpose began in 2006. After watching the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, I felt I had found my calling and decided to dedicate my career to fighting climate change and protecting the environment.

But finishing my degree at the peak of the unemployment crisis in Spain wasn’t the best moment to find my dream job. My English was not good enough to work somewhere else in Europe, and my family couldn’t afford to support me financially while working for close to nothing in the kind of sector where I wanted to specialise. So I didn’t hesitate when I got the job offer from the Kaizen Institute as a continuous improvement consultant. I took the job knowing that it was just a stage I had to go through.

Two years later, as soon as I had saved some money and gained self-confidence, I left my position and went to Indonesia to volunteer, intending to learn more about how to develop social enterprises whilst improving my English. It felt really good to work developing fair and regenerative business models. However, I wasn’t earning any money, so I knew that I would have to return and get a paying job at some point.

But instead of doing that, I joined my good friend Koh to start Flipsimply, a crowd-financing startup, where I was hoping to learn how to be an entrepreneur and create my own job with a purpose. It didn’t work as intended. So after a couple of years surviving on benefits and irregular sources of income, I stepped out of Flipsimply and moved to the UK to look for professional opportunities where I could have not only an impact but also have a reliable source of income.

And then I found On Purpose.

What are you doing now?

I’m freelancing remotely, in confinement from the little hamlet where I grew up, and using this chance to reconsider the rural life.

Over ten years ago I left this place looking for adventure and wanting to change the world. Now, I’m more convinced than ever that here I can find all the adventure and opportunities to change the world that I wanted while having a good life.

Why did you join the On Purpose Associate Programme?

I felt quite lost after years of experimenting and just surviving with no salary. I was looking for that opportunity I had been dreaming of, to make a positive impact and earn a reasonable wage.

How did you feel in your work before you decided to make a change?

At Kaizen, I felt I was compromising, but I also knew it was just a stage.

In any case, I truly enjoyed the job. I had a fantastic team, I felt empowered, I was learning and developing very fast, and I was earning more than a decent salary.

What was the most difficult thing about making this change?

Honestly, there wasn’t anything particularly difficult about joining On Purpose. I was a bit scared about the commitment of having to join training sessions every Friday afternoon, but those moments in the week ended up being the best ones.

Can you tell me more about your placements?

Quite accidentally, my two placements ended up being in the waste management sector (or circular economy if you want a fancier name).

My first placement was with Interface. They are carpet manufacturers leaders in sustainability, and my role was to help them to deliver ReEntry, their circular economy program. On the one hand, growing existing relationships with charities and social enterprises in the UK who would reuse carpet tiles from Interface’s customers. And on the other hand, establishing new relationships in Ireland and preparing the team to start the operations there.

My second placement was with SystemiQ, a consultancy that exists to drive the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals working in three key economic systems: land use, materials, and energy. Here, I’ve spent most of my time working at Project STOP, a series of city partnerships that aim at ending ocean plastic leakage by building sustainable waste systems. I’ve played roles mostly in innovation and knowledge management, helping to explore new ideas and to capture and share the ones that have been working well.

What’s the most important thing you learnt during your year as an Associate?

I’ve learnt how many of us (not just On Purpose people and friends) are on a very similar journey, and that there’s no need to do it alone.

What support did you get along the way?

I had an excellent coach who helped me feel more comfortable with who I am and what I’ve done.

On the professional side, I’ve been very lucky to have had an On Purpose Fellow at each placement as a line manager or development manager.

In terms of training, I couldn’t appreciate more the time from dozens of experts who volunteered their time to share their knowledge with us.

Last but not least, the On Purpose team and my cohort, who quickly became family and provide the so much needed safety net.

How did your year with On Purpose set you up for your new career?

As mentioned, it was in 2006, when I decided that I wanted to dedicate my career to fight environmental issues. It’s only now, 13 years later, through On Purpose that I managed to be involved in some of the most exciting projects in the field (and get paid for it).

What advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

Advice is so personal. I think people need coaching to make their own decisions and not advice.

What do you miss about your old career, and what don’t you miss?

I’ve never felt as empowered, valued and trusted as by my managers at the Kaizen Institute.

I don’t miss having to work to increase shareholders’ value regardless of the consequences for the people or the planet.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Exactly 8 hours of sleep. I often wake up before the alarm goes off and I immediately jump out of bed to start the day!

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