On Purpose

"This feels like the most important conversation to be having" - a conversation with On Purpose's outgoing Chair, Will Day


What initially drew you to On Purpose (and maybe still does)?

I had known Tom Rippin since before the establishment of On Purpose, and over a period of several years we had occasionally met up and discussed the problems that we both saw in a system that wasn’t working for so many people. I was therefore delighted to see (from afar initially) that he had established On Purpose, and even more so when I was approached to consider taking on the Chair.

At the time there were few, if any, organisations that were paying sufficient attention either to thinking about this, or more importantly doing something about it. It’s probably fair to say that there is now a growing movement of thinkers and doers focusing their efforts on the subject of the necessary systemic change, but the thinking about both the problem and potential solutions has deep roots in On Purpose.

What do you think is different about On Purpose?

On Purpose sets out to understand and then provide a response to the potentially existential, systemic challenges we are facing today. It not only thinks deeply and innovatively about what is needed, but also works to put it into practice through its programmes, and the people involved in them. 

Increasing numbers of people are becoming interested in and concerned about these big systemic issues, but don't know how to make a difference, and I’d like to think that On Purpose can help them identify and live a practical response.

It also helps that we have an innovative commercial model and therefore do not have to spend large amounts of our time fundraising. 

How would you describe the board and how it operates?

One of the consequences of that funding model is that the Board has the relative luxury of spending a greater proportion of its time on the longer-term strategic conversations (the Why? and the How? rather than just the What?). Although responsible oversight and good governance and structures matter, we haven’t needed to be heavy-handed, and have developed what I hope is a collaborative approach with the team. 

As for many ‘people’ organisations, the past two years have not been easy, with constraints on physical meetings as a board, but we have still managed to have conversations that go beyond the numbers.

My fellow Directors are focused, capable and smart and provide a range of views and skills that can provide both a sounding board and source of ideas and suggestions to Tom and his team, in addition to the appropriate level of oversight that any well governed organisation requires. 

What have been the highlights during your term as the Chair of On Purpose?

There are plenty. I have particularly enjoyed my occasional contributions to induction sessions with Associates, often on their first day of the year-long programme. Their commitment, enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, diversity and level of engagement is infectious, and a reminder of why this matters, and why On Purpose is doing something right. I find that rejuvenating!

I also love the fact that we have programmes in Berlin and Paris and relish the opportunity that that provides us with to recognise the diversity and at the same time connectedness of the issues that matter to us all.

Do you have any thoughts for your successor?

On Purpose is working to understand, and do something about, a global system that is at present leading to the erosion of social and environmental stability and seems to be heading in the wrong direction. This feels like the most important conversation to be having at a time when the news reflects social polarisation and environmental breakdown on an almost daily basis. To be able to help better understand this; to seek to learn and disseminate that learning, and to build a community of like-minded, actively engaged people is a real privilege, and my successor as Chair will have the enviable opportunity to help further develop that process. 

I have seen my role as Chair as primarily working with Tom and his team to enable them to do what they do well. There is a collaborative and respectful culture across the organisation and Part of that role is inescapably the regulatory and statutory duty of good governance and oversight, but by far the majority of my time has been on wider strategic issues.

I would urge anyone who is interested to think about how they might apply their own skills and experience to help make an important and timely idea realise its potential more fully, and how to work with a talented board and team to do that. On Purpose is a small and effective organisation with a big idea, and the potential impact (as well as what has already been achieved) makes this a genuinely exciting prospect.

As well as being the Chair of On Purpose for the last six years, Will Day is, amongst other things, a sustainability advisor to PwC, a Fellow of the University of Cambridge's Institute for Sustainability Leadership and the Chair of the Sainsbury’s Foundation Advisory Board.

Could you be our next Chair?