Chair of Trustees Richard Charkin bids farewell after 22 years with Common Purpose.
I have been involved with Common Purpose since 1998. I had been recommended to meet Common Purpose’s Founder, Julia Middleton, by a former business colleague, Jan Shawe. It was raining as I walked to the Common Purpose offices in London and it was in the days when you had to print out a map rather than use your phone. The map was sodden as was I. Within minutes of meeting Julia I found I had been appointed to the board of Common Purpose (whose function I did not yet fully understand) and within what felt like minutes I was Chair of Common Purpose UK. One thing led to another and I found myself Trustee, Chair, or member of this or that part of Common Purpose for a further 22 years. A form of Catch22 I suppose.
Common Purpose makes a profound and much needed impact; not just on individual leaders, who develop and grow because of their experience, but on society as a whole, by connecting leaders from completely different worlds and showing them how they can become more than the sum of their parts. Over the years, I and the other Trustees have periodically tried to describe in a sentence what the essence of Common Purpose is. There have been many discussions and many drafts but I am not sure we have ever nailed it down completely. I can only describe what I have felt and why I have hung in through more than twenty years by the use of keywords. Here are a few: democracy, communication, culture, global, education, morality, change, interchange, innovation, philanthropy, professionalism, technology, belief in humanity, decency.
I cannot claim it has been an easy ride. Common Purpose is nothing if not challenging. In the early days (and pretty well throughout) there have been economic, reputational and pedagogical challenges. Perhaps my only tangible contribution has been to insist from day one that we build a financial reserve to help carry us through inevitable crises ahead. Thank God we were able to and, right now, I am even more grateful than usual.
The other set of challenges was always about priorities. There has never been a shortage of ideas. Strategic planning was not about what to do but to agree on what not to do. So what have we done?
1998-2000 – complete focus on securing and building the UK organization and broadening our target audiences across difference ages.
2000 – we launch the South African entity. After Ireland and Germany, one of our first overseas adventures.
2004 – over the next few years, our footprint in Germany begins to grow, as Common Purpose Germany deliver programmes in many more cities.
2005 – we begin delivering programmes for university students
2006 – Global Vodafone Foundation awards us a grant to expand into India, Turkey, Ghana, Hungary, and France.
2009 – we partner with American Express Foundation for a leadership academy in the UK which grew to deliver in India, Hong Kong, South East Asia, and Southern Africa.
2011-12 – we deliver a hugely impactful programme on civil society in Libya.
2011/12 – we partner with HRH Duke of Edinburgh Commonwealth Study Conferences to launch CSCLeaders, developing senior leaders from 54 Commonwealth countries.
2012 – we deliver our first global student programme with Oxford University, leading to our current worldwide student leadership enterprise.
2014 – we establish the Singapore hub to expand our footprint in Asia-Pac leading to our partnership with many institutions in the region such as RMIT University in Australia.
2014 – we partner with FutureLearn to deliver our first online programme focusing on Cultural Intelligence; from then on we continue to develop our expertise in online leadership development
2019 – we run our first Legacy programme for young people in the US, in Chicago, working with the Chicago Community Trust.
2020 – our rapid and effective response to Covid19 via digital programmes and creative solutions.
And more, much more.
I must admit, I had to be helped by the team to remember this timeline fully. But what I do remember without any assistance are the people.
Julia Middleton was (and is) clearly an inspiration. There were no boundaries to her ambition for Common Purpose. The world needs to be a better place and we were here to facilitate the necessary changes. My role, as I saw it, was simply to slow her down a bit so we avoided crashing.
And then there are the people working within Common Purpose. They were and are motivated beyond any realistic expectation. The force that drove Julia (and now Adi) is amplified by the people around the world with complementary ideas and goals, all individual but all motivated by the same vision of improvement through understanding.
And the Chairs and Trustees of all the various units, countries, programmes who give their time, intelligence, and support free of charge have been an inspiration. I have had a fascinating and broad career in publishing but Common Purpose has allowed me to meet colleagues from many different industries and cultures all of whom have enriched me in some way or other.
My latest stint as Chair of Common Purpose Charitable Trust has been to oversee the transition from the founder CEO, the inspirational and frequently described as irreplaceable Julia Middleton. Well, that task is now complete. To my relief we have replaced the irreplaceable Julia with the irreplaceable Adi and Common Purpose is fit for the future while I can continue to be in awe of its achievements while others take on the worries. The attached chart shows clearly the numerical progress we have made but it cannot monitor the lives that have been changed – many tens or even hundreds of thousands.
I have no doubt that my successor, David Grace, will be an enormous asset to the organization in its ambition to change the world. David has supported Common Purpose for many years, having been involved in the start up of Common Purpose 30 years ago. He has been a trustee of both Common Purpose Charitable Trust and the global students entity, Common Purpose Student Experiences. While David brings with him a wealth of experience from the world of professional services, where he has held global roles and people roles at PwC, he also has a huge passion for social enterprise organizations. I believe his track record and rich experience – from both the commercial and social worlds – will help guide Common Purpose to continue to be the purpose-driven, sustainable social enterprise it is today.
Thank you Common Purpose for 22 wonderful years.