On Purpose

Lizzie Heighway

Lizzie Heighway

On Pupose London October 2017 Fellow, now Business Associate at Virgin Unite, the charitable foundation of the Virgin Group

Lizzie arrived at the Associate Programme from a background in the not-for-profit sector, and used her year to broaden her perspective on how to create change, and ensure she was maximising her impact.

Can you tell me about your background and your career prior to On Purpose?

Slightly atypically to others, prior to joining the On Purpose Associate Programme I was working in the charity sector.

After graduating I worked in arts administration, and following that spent a few years alternating between policy or project roles in UK-based health charities, and leading teams of volunteers on overseas trips.

What are you doing now?

I am currently working for Virgin Unite, the charitable foundation attached to Virgin.

I realised through On Purpose that I wanted to work closer to corporate organisations whilst still directly focusing on work that had a positive social impact, so I’m really pleased to be here.

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

Although I was working in not-for-profit organisations I had lots of unanswered questions about what I actually wanted to be doing, including key things like the type of organisation I wanted to work in, whether I wanted to work on the frontline or in more strategic behind the scenes roles, and whether I preferred a UK or international focus.

I was moving roles frequently and so was also finding it difficult to progress and feel I could contribute as I wanted to.

At what moment did you decide to make the change?

For a while I knew I’d need to do something to get a clearer focus and develop more skills to be effective. I was looking into doing a masters or applying for corporate graduate schemes.

Why did you join the On Purpose Associate Programme?

I was so excited to discover On Purpose and the Associate Programme — the chance to experience different working environments and projects, and undergo a year of extensive training and mentoring, was what I felt I needed.

What was the most difficult thing about making this change?

Apart from some apprehension about finishing the programme with unanswered questions, starting On Purpose was entirely positive for me — I couldn’t wait!

Can you tell me more about your placements?

I spent six months with African Prisons Project and six months at RBS in the Social & Community Capital team (which provides flexible loans for social enterprises and charities).

At APP I focused on two projects, one exploring how they could open a law firm in prisons in Kenya and Uganda, staffed by prisoners they are training in law, and one looking at internal communications across their three countries of operation.

At RBS I worked on Social and Community Capital’s impact report, designed and piloted a skills-based volunteering scheme for staff in the bank, and supported the team on their wider work.

Both placements were brilliant learning opportunities involving tackling complex projects, and in both organisations I could put into practice what we were learning in training sessions. The teams I was part of were a great support and I gained experience that has shaped what I’m now doing.

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

I learnt that there are many valuable, effective ways to bring about change, in non-profit organisations and other sectors.

As a cohort we looked at how to achieve system-wide and grassroots change and learnt from experts across many fields — I found it refreshing to work beyond the notion that the not for profit world only does good and the for profit world only does bad, and very interesting to see how this is currently working in practice, including through social enterprise.

Every industry and organisation has a part to play in addressing the social and environmental challenges of our time, and I learnt so much gaining this broader perspective and engaging with so many pioneering ideas.

What support did you get along the way?

You receive support from your placement organisations, cohort, mentors, coach, and the On Purpose network and core team, which was all really helpful for enabling me to tackle my placement projects and for wider personal development.

The chance to build such strong relationships with a cohort of like-minded, hardworking, supportive and reflective people going through the year with you is a particular strength of the programme, which I hadn’t foreseen when applying.

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

The exposure to different types of organisations and a variety of projects allowed me to gain a clearer understanding of what I want to be working on.

The extensive Learning & Development programme, mentoring and peer support from my cohort and the wider network was also invaluable, equipping me with tools and knowledge for effective working both now and in the future.

I left the programme with a huge sense of relief, not just because I’d learnt so much and finally found a focus, but because the year also sets you up to keep learning and engaging with ideas at the forefront of reshaping how our society and economy works, well beyond the end of the programme.

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

Apply! I can’t think of a better way to explore the beyond-profit world, whether you’re already in it or looking to move from a corporate role. There are so many elements to On Purpose, you’ll find something that will develop you and help your thinking.

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

I’m in a comparatively similar environment and role so there isn’t much to miss, but I’m enjoying the clarity and focus I now have, having a broader understanding of what is happening across different sectors and the tools that give me confidence that I am being effective.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Broadly two things — one is working with people to bring about something positive, and the other is ensuring things are done effectively, so you are maximising your impact.

I have always been passionate about tackling society’s challenges, but thanks to On Purpose I now feel I can contribute effectively and I know how to keep learning.