Case Studies

Stewart and Duncan McCombe

Father and son, Stewart and Duncan McCombe, share their leadership journeys with Common Purpose. After graduating from their respective programmes Stewart moved from banking to the third sector while Duncan set up his own youth networking organisation.

Stewart's journey (Graduated in 2012)

Stewart McCombe spent 22 years in the financial sector, but something happened in 2007 which shifted his world view and inspired him to follow a different path

"In 2007 my son Duncan became seriously ill which had an effect on me - it sent me on a journey of meeting a whole new world of leader and it 'burst my bubble'. I was thrown into a world of communication with consultants, who gave me a whole new perspective to risk, and families, in the form of middle of the night meetings at the kettle in the parents' kitchen. It painted a picture of unfairness in society as there were young children like Duncan in hospital.

"I wanted to make a change and meet a different kind of leader, so I decided to leave the banking industry in favour of pursuing third sector work. After being introduced to Marie Mohan (now CEO of Common Purpose UK) and being told about Meridian, I signed up to the course to see what my skills were and how I could apply them.

"In a Common Purpose forum - you open yourself up and have your thinking challenged - and I had a significant shift in my own thinking as a result of spending time with leaders from such diverse backgrounds. I wanted to build on the positives of the experience. I wanted to make a change in my life. The course led to both freelance and Trustee work in the third sector. I am now actively looking to invest myself fully in the third sector for the 'second half' of my career."

Duncan's journey (Graduated in 2014)

After graduating from Meridian, Stewart kept in touch through our alumni network, and was approached by Marie about a new programme that she thought Duncan might be interested in.

"Marie mentioned the 33fifty programme (a leadership programme for young Commonwealth leaders aged between 18 and 25) to Stewart and asked if I would be interested in applying. It sounded amazing and I was fortunate enough to be able to go on the programme. It was a life changing experience and I am already looking to go on another Common Purpose course - Navigator, for emerging leaders.

"33fifty focused a lot on Cultural Intelligence and my illness helped me to deal with that and gave more of an understanding about it. I have stayed involved with the other 33fifty participants with a plan to meet one day soon. We stay connected and share what projects we are doing - everyone pitches in and supports.

"The networking skills I gained on 33fifty helped with setting up my own social enterprise. I left college in 2013 and wasn't sure what to do - university wasn't for me yet and I felt let down by the careers service. I had a gap year and decided to set up my own social enterprise - 'Network Young'. It's all about getting 14-16 year olds the opportunity to network with and get advice from leaders give young people the careers/skills/advice I lacked.

"I have trialled Network Young in selected schools within Greater Manchester and with the business backing I have, and support from organisations like Forever Manchester and UnLtd, I am now looking at rolling the programme out across many more schools throughout Greater Manchester and beyond."

Thinking differently with Common Purpose


"I met people from all round the world and it was interesting to see the different approaches people took to challenges - there are so many different ways of thinking."


"I am more of a domestic individual. I have lived in Manchester for nearly all of my working life, but the course really helped me understand 'the place'. I got to see it from all sides. Originally being Scottish, devolution is a key issue for me and a current issue in the North of England. Through participating in Meridian I gained the skills to be able to see the whole argument from each side. I was able to become engaged and be more informed on the topic. I was able to get out of 'my corporate bubble'.

"Common Purpose really is about looking at the world from someone else's window. Meeting people from the emergency services on the course had a direct effect on me - I was able to sit back and listen - to absorb and change many of my own views in life."
Continuing the journey together


"I always knew the course would be the beginning and not the end. Meridian started my journey and helped me develop conversations with people in the charity sector. The alumni events Common Purpose run are outstanding. Duncan and I attended an event together which was really interesting - it's nice to be in a small group and watch your children emerge alongside you. Now I get called 'Duncan's dad' in the network I have in Manchester. I feel like I am handing the baton on."

You can find out more about Duncan's social enterprise on the Network Young website.