One year after On Purpose: where are they now? With Juan Pablo Astolfo
One year after completing the On Purpose Associate Programme, we catch up with our April 2021 Fellows to find out what they're up to now. Today, we speak with Juan Pablo Astolfo.
Can you tell us about your background and your career prior to On Purpose?
Prior to joining the Associate Programme I worked in government and consulting. I’m originally from Argentina where, for about 10 years, I worked for the government in Buenos Aires. Here I coordinated diverse projects and led teams of up to 200 people. I then moved into different consultancy roles and also started work with Asociación Sustentar, an NGO dedicated to the design and implementation of instruments for the promotion of sustainable development. In this role I worked in collaboration with the City of Buenos Aires and various universities on different initiatives aiming to support and improve urban street cleanliness and recycling.
Why did you join the On Purpose Associate Programme?
I first heard about the Associate Programme a couple of months after I relocated to the UK - and thought it was the perfect fit for me! Arriving in a completely different country and a new city, I really wanted to connect with likeminded people, build a network and start my new career in London. I was also very interested in the impact space but realised I needed to better understand how things worked in the UK, while continuing to build and refine my skills. I felt that the Associate Programme would not only enable me to do that but also allow me to work in different roles within diverse organisations and develop my leadership skills, which sounded great.
It's been one year since you completed the Associate Programme. What are you doing now?
After finishing the Associate Programme, I joined the Technology & Innovation Team at Greater London Authority (GLA), the devolved regional government body of Greater London, which has been really interesting. Among other projects, my team runs ‘Challenge LDN’, an annual initiative that invites startups and innovators to develop solutions for problems the city and its people are facing. This year the initiative’s focus is ‘poverty prevention’, where we are looking for ideas that help people affected by the cost of living crisis. We will then select a number of ideas and work with the innovators to bring their solution to life so that they may empower those who are struggling.
Under the ‘Challenge LDN’ programme, we also run initiatives around data science and support Councils in achieving the Mayor’s climate goals, driving new ways of working with data and collaborating. All of these programmes enable me to apply the concept of design thinking, something I got fascinated with during my time on the Associate Programme.
Next to my job at the GLA, I also freelance part-time for Asociación Sustentar where, as Director of the Observatory of Urban Hygiene, I lead a team on projects focused on promoting a circular economy approach to local issues and improving street cleanliness in Buenos Aires.
Can you tell us more about your placements?
My first placement was HCT Group (unfortunately closed down in late 2022), one of the UK’s biggest social enterprises, which focused on the provision of safe, accessible, affordable community transport services. Working with HCT Group was really exciting and my time there provided me with interesting insights into the challenges a growing social enterprise can face. I learnt more about the balance between ‘business’ and ‘impact’ and what issues can arise when the business side of your social enterprise starts to compete with your impact.
My second placement was Big Society Capital (BSC), an organisation that wants to transform the financial sector for the better. I had never worked in the finance space, so being part of BSC enabled me to learn a lot and connect with many amazing people. I worked with the public affairs team, which helped me understand how the UK Government works on different levels. I also had tea and scones with an MP in Parliament (perks of the job haha!)! BSC uses the theory of change and system thinking in everything they do, so as an Associate I witnessed how this can be applied in practice. Everything I learnt about systems change during the Associate Programme and at BSC, I have applied to my work in Buenos Aires - for instance when trying to solve the city’s complex recycling problems!
What’s the most important thing you learnt during your year as an Associate?
I learnt a lot about leadership and how you can be influential in different roles and positions within a job but also in society. Before coming on the Programme, and being part of the public sector, I didn’t quite understand the different dimensions of leadership and power and often felt uncomfortable with it. However, getting training on concepts such as power, privilege and leadership as part of the Associate Programme enabled me to relate to power differently and view it as a tool for transformation. It's something that you can use to bring about change and my year as an Associate made me recognise my power.
What support did you get along the way?
My cohort and the On Purpose core team were just amazing. I’ve made so many good friends in the UK, thanks to the programme, and we’ve even formed a band made up of On Purpose Fellows!
My two mentors were really supportive as well. Throughout my year on the Programme, they were always there to provide me with their insights and feedback.
Finally, my coach was incredible and really helped me figure out what I wanted to do after the Programme. Even after the programme ended, he supported me, for instance, with preparations for a job interview. He also helped me define what roles I wanted to play in an organisation / team, what makes me happy and so forth.
How did you approach finding a job after the programme?
My last mentor really helped me approach the process strategically. He recommended I create a list of organisations I liked as well as the people I wanted to have a coffee with. I then started networking with those organisations and people. When having coffees, I always showed up with ideas and suggestions, for instance, of what an organisation could do to solve a particular issue. Having coffee with people really enabled me to redefine what I was looking for… I did it the hard way and had to ask for many introductions, however you’d be surprised how many people are happy to help and the On Purpose network is incredibly useful for that too!
What advice would you give to others in a similar situation?
Just go for it! Put yourself out there to live the experience. Open yourself up to new ways of thinking and doing things (don't be afraid of change!). The Associate Programme and its people are amazing and everyone is very happy to help you along the way.
What do you miss about your old career, and what don’t you miss?
I miss being a senior member of the Government and leading big teams. My previous role brought with it some productivity and efficiency challenges on a big scale, which I miss.
However, I don't miss the other side of Government - which relies heavily on slow administrative processes and operations. That side doesn't give you much time to think and innovate and takes you away from strategic decisions and real transformation, which I enjoy most.