Matthew Gordon, CEO and Founder of social value agency, Spectra, shares how collaboration and leading with empathy are central to creating lasting social change.
Founded in 2014, Spectra specialises in diversity and inclusion and strategic communications – working nationally in the UK to break down structural barriers to opportunities for both organizations and their employees, in order to help them collectively fulfil their social impact potential.
Helping organizations to deliver social value
The events of last year are very much at the forefront of a lot of people's minds – the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, racial equity and social equity. It's great that organizations are developing a stronger social purpose and social conscience. However, sometimes there's a disconnect between organizations' desire to deliver social impact and whether they feel that they are actually able to operate in that arena.
Spectra works with companies to enhance what they're already doing in the social value space, or corporate social responsibility space, to see how they can be quite dynamic and current. It's so fascinating because there are always themes which demand our attention. So we join the dots and we connect people who have a need to those with resources.
Supporting young care leavers to live independently
One of our major projects at Spectra is working as the National Delivery Partner for the Care Leaver Covenant which was launched by Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment. Wider society has a role in helping our young people who have been brought up by the state to integrate into society and to help them live independently. And so, we work to assemble a series of opportunities from companies looking to develop a stronger social impact under five key outcomes. The overarching one is that our young people are able to live independently; that they have increased access to education, training and employment, that they feel safe and secure – which relates to the criminal justice and housing component, as well as health and wellbeing and financial literacy. At different stages we will focus on one of those outcomes. This year, we’ve given particular attention to criminal justice with our 25-7 campaign.
The reason being is that the stats for our care leavers are horrendous in the UK; 25% of young people who are in prison would have spent time in care and only 7% of care leavers go onto study at university. At Spectra, we want to reverse that trend by bringing awareness during police custody on when to say, "Who are you and how can we offer increased support?", "How can we possibly circumnavigate custodial sentences?" and "How can we better utilise community resolutions as a restorative approach?".
A story that really stuck with me is that of a young person named Ryan who was one of our first ambassadors for the Care Leaver Covenant.A few years ago, he got himself in a spot of bother and was arrested and detained. Because of the nature of the charges and the crime, it was likely that he would have gone to prison had he not received appropriate representation. But the sad thing about Ryan’s story is that he would have gone off to prison and nobody would have known that he'd gone. The only reason that somebody was able to reach out to the Covenant was because they found his phone and called me, as they remembered that I'd visited him in previous times. This really troubled me, because it highlighted that individuals in the UK, essentially, can just go missing. And that due to a lack of family and protective factors, young people who were nurtured by the state are now warehoused in correctional facilities all over the country. It made me question, once they have spent time in prison, what happens when they're exiting? What housing provision and rehabilitation features are in place that enable our young people to thrive, and move on from any former or historic indiscretions?
I feel that it’s not okay that so many of our most vulnerable young people aren't getting the support that they deserve. It's a massive wrench for me and my leadership – I'm absolutely passionate about doing something about it.
Collaborating with my Common Purpose network to find solutions
Taking part in the Meridian programme in 2018, was far better than I expected and it has far exceeded my expectations in terms of impact.
The keynote speaker on the first day was a gentleman called Mark Rogers, who was a former Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council. He was working at KPMG at the time, and he highlighted the importance three things – having shared values, common purpose and reciprocity. Well, I wasn't entirely sure what reciprocity meant, so I googled it! I was really taken by his clarity on how we – in our leadership – could be transformative. I approached Mark at the end of his keynote, and said to him, "I'd like you to support with this Covenant." At the time, I'd only just secured the contract for the Care Leaver Covenant the month prior. However, I asked him to become my chair of the advisory board. And it's possibly been the single best thing that we've done for the Covenant.
What I learnt from this is to be bold with your vision, be ambitious with it. I was the first to speak to Mark, and even though he was a hotshot Chief Exec, I just thought there was a connection – I listened to what he had to say, his values appeared to align, and I was bold. In leadership, I find that you will learn if things aren't ideal the first time around, and there are always individuals or networks that can help you achieve your objectives.
Through the programme, I also met Ian Parnell, who was a Chief Inspector at the time, who is now a Chief Superintendent, and Harvi Khatkar, who was an Inspector, and is now a Chief Superintendent. All three of us came back together about six months ago as Ian and Harvey were familiar with some of the challenges that children in care and care leavers face. We were able to strategize on what we could do to help and had our first meeting in January with the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, defence advocates, the Department for Education. In April, we [ran] a pilot, which looks at system experience to better understand what the journey is for those vulnerable groups and questions how all key stakeholders can ensure that we are delivering best practice. Through internal champions Rosie Blackett (a former officer) and Sgt Simon Edwards, West Midlands Police are the first force to introduce a specific identification question on care experience as part of their new computer system.
It's the first time (which I'm aware of) where all of these key individuals have come together and assembled under one group. So I'm quite proud. And the common thread is Common Purpose!
Leading with empathy is essential to creating change
Having read Sir Peter Bazalgette's book 'The Empathy Instinct' before I met him, I was blown away by how essential it is. Sir Peter spoke at the Covenant's Empathy Summit about how we could be more empathetic in wider society – highlighting the concept of reversing the 25:7 ratio for young care leavers – and he now Chairs the Care Leaver Covenant's Business Council.
When we don't act or lead with empathy, then there is an unravelling which can take place very quickly. Following this, I adopted that mantra with Spectra; whether we’re designing models, systems or frameworks, having empathy at the heart of it is central to what we do. And leading with empathy goes back to the story of my young man, Ryan. When I saw him destitute, I felt moved. It wasn't that I wanted somebody else to take action, even though it may have been somebody else's responsibility. I knew that personally I had to step up. And when you fully embrace the concept of empathy, you as an individual, or as an organization will step up to the plate.
Advice for the next generation of leaders
Due to the nature of my work, as a leader I have an impact on the next generation of leaders and young people. Therefore, one piece of advice I’d give to the next generation is to volunteer in a selfless environment or scenario. Do something for an extended period where there is no direct benefit to you, only to the individual that you're serving. This is about just trying to understand those with less or with less privilege. I think that is an essential learning component.