Your Dreams and The Pot

26 Sep

This time last week I was involved in a Sports Day with the kids at the Retrak centres in Kampala, Uganda.


They enjoyed playing football, pig in the middle, flying kites, volleyball, etc. I had forgotten how much fun it was to just throw a ball and run around.


What I really liked about all of the ‘play’ sessions and activities that the staff put together for centre kids and street kids, is that there was always a more of a relaxed sit-down learning session. This time last week I learned about ‘the pot’.


We all got into a massive circle and we were presented with a traditional clay pot. We were then given a piece of paper each where volunteers, staff and children had to write their dream on. We then started singing and dancing and passing the clay pot round. We dropped, one by one our folded piece of paper/our dream into the pot.


After we had all put our dreams in, we carried on dancing, singing and passing the pot to each other, until a member of staff dropped it and the pot shattered into pieces on the floor.


I was so upset. I was upset that the gorgeous pot had broken. I was upset for the kids that looked upset. I was upset for the member of staff that had dropped it. I felt a sense of impotence and confusion that is quite hard to explain. I was surprised at my feelings and upset at the sadness the kids were feeling when asked to describe their emotions.

broken pot

Little did I know that this had all been planned. Why be upset about the pot? Why focus your energy and emotions on that? What matters are our dreams and our dreams were there, they were fine, they were unbroken. It was an excellent lesson on resilience and not losing focus of what is important and what really counts. The sense of relief and happiness after their explanation was palpable. There was hope and determination in understanding that no matter what is happening around you, no matter whatever might be shattering or falling to pieces, if what you want to reach is clear to you and you are focused and committed, you will get there and achieve your dreams.


group with pot

When Learning is Life

25 Sep

This time last week I was in a classroom. Today, I was in a classroom.

This time last week I was helping Pete Monaghan (profession, Mediator) delivering a session on Conflict Resolution to the staff at Retrak in Kampala.


Today I was attending an excellent in-house session on Managing Change and Stakeholder Management.

This time last week there were no PowerPoint slides. Today there was an interactive white board as well as fancy folders to put all of our handouts.

Although this time last week there were also many tears as one of the volunteers donated 1 whiteboard for each of the centres. The teachers were delighted!

This time last week I worried that the Retrak staff would not appreciate the session. Who are we to tell them how to manage conflict? They are often clashing with local authorities, families, breaking up kids that are fighting, tensions running high due to the stressful nature of their jobs and the heartbreaking situations they are dealing with…

The reality? They are humble, they are keen to learn, they participate in a way I have never seen in a classroom before. They remembered sessions from ConnectingHR 2016 and 2017. They told us that their objective was to show us, this time next year, that they will be better professionals thanks to the learning that the team delivered. They have a strong mission and very clear ways of achieving it, they put passion and energy in everything they do. Given the circumstances, they also have fun, they smile, they play. They look after each other and children at the centres. They have all of the characteristics of an exceptionally high achieving team and they don’t probably even realise.


We should be more like them and we should be more like Edward.


I was mind blown during the week at finding out how desperate the children are to go to school, to learn, to get a good education. They often run away from their families and head to Kampala hoping they’ll earn enough to be able to go to school. They are smart, they want to work hard to achieve their dreams. Their faces when they saw the amount of books that one of my generous friends had donated to them, said it all. They are curious, they love Science and English and they want to be doctors, teachers, nurses, lawyers, politicians. They want to make a difference and they want to change the world. The beauty is that the wonderful Retrak staff we trained truly believe that, if they want to, they can all be Presidents one day and that’s why it’s unbelievable to watch them empower these children and change their lives.


Don’t be a D**k

25 Sep
It’s been hard to come back to reality and feel that I am not making a substantial difference to lots of people everyday. I was in awe of all the workers there, from the outreach team, talking to the kids on the streets and trying to gain enough trust for them to follow them to the Retrak centre. The nurses that deal with kids with nasty open wounds to potentially having contracted malaria/typhoid. The social workers that try and get to the bottom of any child abuse and explain to them what a ‘bad touch’ is and that ‘no means no’. The list goes on, they were all fabulous and working hard towards Retrak’s mission of ‘No Child Forced to Live on the Street’.
However today I witnessed something that both upset me and gave me some hope and purpose. My colleague Jonathan was walking on the street to the office when he witnessed someone verbally attacking and abusing a homeless woman on Peter Street. The individual was throwing her belongings in the middle of the road and asking her to move on from that pavement. Instead of walking off, Jonathan decided to get involved and urged the individual to stop his aggressiveness and leave. The person was so out of order that the police had to be called out and my colleague waited until they arrived.


This incident reminded me and really brought to life a conversation I had with one of the volunteers Sandhya Sharma. We were talking about coming back to reality, chasing business objectives and not feeling a sense of purpose. She told me that if only we looked after 10 people around us, then the world would instantly be a better place. This is obviously very true and we should all work harder to display more kindness to one another. Or to put it more plainly, just Don’t be a D**k to people! 

You don’t have to raise masses of money or donate if you can’t, you don’t have to give up your job and volunteer for no money. Just be nice. Be nice to those around you. The ripple effect that follows would surprise us all.



This time last week

24 Sep

This time last week I was in Uganda thanks to Retrak and #connectingHRafrica.


I had been looking forward to this moment for the last two years and I had massive FOMO in 2016 and 2017. When I was on the plane there I felt incredibly grateful for all the donations and support I had received over the past few months. My People Director and manager had actively encouraged me to apply and fundraising had not been as hard as I thought it was going to be. Kudos to my very generous friends, family and colleagues. I did it, I was on the plane, I knew what to expect as many people I knew had been on the trip in the previous years, but nothing had quite prepared me for how intense the experience was going to be.
We arrived on Saturday to Jevine Hotel and through dinner I got to find out more about the team that was with me. 10 HR professionals from across the UK, all excited to be making a difference. We were all together on the Sunday visiting Bulamu centre. This is one of Retrak’s centres for girls. Staff and girls gave us a warm welcome, although within the first hour I was brought to tears. First thing we did was an exercise amongst our volunteers: we were split into 3 groups. One group had to tie a balloon on them, one group were told to stay close to the person with the balloon and one group was told to try and pop the balloon. I had happily tied a red balloon to my neck and when group 3 started attacking me, I was left in disbelief that anyone would want to pop my balloon. I just stood there and allowed it to happen. Katrina also had a balloon and within seconds had ran away from the situation predicting that it was going to be bad news and that she had to protect herself and her balloon. It left us thinking that we both had a very different upbringing that left me trusting all people and possibly allowed me to become a bit naive. Katrina, on the other hand was always on the look out for danger and protection in unknown situations. This exercise made us realise what vulnerable children go through, how they are left confused and upset and how people near them are either not protecting them or not doing anything to stop the abusers. It was a simple, but very powerful first exercise. We then started meeting the girls, who one by one introduced themselves to us and shared their dreams and favourite subjects with us. I had to keep reminding myself that all of those girls, from the age of 6 had been subjected to sexual abuse. it was hard to comprehend as they looked and are children. When a 15 year old stood up and wasn’t able to say a word to us, that reminded me of what kind of traumas they are working with. She just stood there with tears in her eyes, looking absolutely petrified. Meeting the psychologists there and finding out about the group therapy and single sessions they do, gives you hope that some of them will move on from what they have suffered and will be able to lead a better life and achieve their dreams.
Next we played with them and whilst at first I was a bit scared of how I would be around a large number of children, spending only few minutes with them reminded me of how much fun it was to be a child and play. And I was pretty good at doing that. On my own or with other children. Some of these girls don’t know how to throw a ball and tell me that they simply don’t know how to play. To see their transformations in only a few hours and how much they were enjoying themselves and running around with kites, was one of the most rewarding things that have happened in my life. They were finally kids again.



They were having fun and grateful to be able to play in a safe environment with adults. The girls were also very keen to dance with me, so I suitably embarrassed myself, creating lots of hilarity amongst them. It was just a brilliant day that left me ecstatic about the impact we made in only a few hours, but deeply angry and upset at adults. How could anyone do that to children? How is this possible? In Kampala, in Uganda, in Milan, in Italy, in Manchester, in England, anywhere in the world… How does child abuse happen? Why? What type of monster would do that?

Monday and the slum walk helped me understand. You hear about slums. You know it’s going to be bad, you know a lot of people are crammed in small spaces and you know it’s going to not be hygienic, however, nothing can prepare you to experience it first hand. It was dirty, it was grim, it felt dangerous and unsafe, but also at the same time it felt bizarrely homely. There was so many kids and toddlers around and you couldn’t have known how far away from their hut or families they were. There were babies looked after by 5 year olds, there was poverty like I have never quite seen before. Small houses with 15 people in them, kids looking for scrap, women cooking, unbearable smells, brothels with children in them, children and young people sniffing jet/aviation fuel, adults working in terrible conditions. Despite the shock of seeing what I saw and being escorted by two armed policemen, I couldn’t stop smiling and interacting with the very amused kids of the slum that followed us round. It was clear that they didn’t see a ‘muzungu’ (white person) everyday. They chanted ‘muzungu’ and quickly the word spread and we had many children and people around us. They know no different, that is their reality and they are still smiling. No point in getting upset or feeling sorry and as we all know, smiles are infectious. Once we left the slums I understood why children can be abused and are abused, when adults and families are living in those conditions. This is what I imagined Manchester to be like after reading ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’ by Engels. When he described the dirt and misery in Ancoats during the Industrial Revolution and how children, if they didn’t die were used in factories at a very young age. We are talking about survival, poverty and no other option but to be trying to survive yourself. So much so that sometimes kids are forced, but also have no choice but to volunteer in activities such as prostitution to help their families or single mums. We met Sonia in the afternoon, in a football pitch. She was an incredible girl, about to turn 18 and thanks to apprenticeship programmes offered by Retrak she was able to start hair dressing, get the tools to do so and stop prostituting to help her mum out. She now has a stable job, speaks amazing English and captains and coaches a girls’ football team. She was a great leader that luckily was able to change her situation and work with the charity to now support other kids and talk to them about the benefits of apprenticeships.



Monday last week was a whirlwind of emotions. From the upset of Sunday to the realisation of how much work there is to do for the charity, how the reality of the situation actually is and the amazing work of the apprenticeship programmes that really help families make a sustainable change. it was truly inspiring and eye opening and I have felt very blessed to be able to witness the situation with my own eyes and come to my own conclusions. It was definitely a powerful start to the trip.


30 May

In September I will be traveling to Kampala in Uganda with Retrak and #ConnectingHR.

Retrak is a charity, based in the North West of England, whose vision is for ‘no child to be forced to live on the street’. When a friend of mine set up this scheme mainly aimed at HR/Recruitment/L&D Professionals to raise funds for Retrak and actually go out to work with the kids and the local volunteers who help them, I just felt I had to be involved. I’ve been looking at doing this for the last couple of years, but 2018 is THE year and I am determined to make this happen and make as much as a difference as I can.

More details about what we do out there can be found in Ian Pettigrew’s blog about last year’s trip:

We will be providing management and team training for local volunteers whilst also spending time with street kids to help to show them that someone does care. I will pay for all of the travelling costs (of course!), but I have also committed to raise at least £2,000.00 which will go direct to the charity.

Just the thought of small children living on their own, on the streets, in absolute poverty, open to the dangers of crime, abuse, hunger and neglect upsets me and I know I will find this one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but it’s time to see what I can do to help – if only in a small way.

Retrak builds real trust, so that children who are often frightened and traumatised choose to come to them for food, shelter, safety, counselling, life skills in a safe place where they can be children. There is also education activity to try to prevent children getting into this situation in the first place.

Please help me to take part in this challenge and help Retrak make a difference by donating here: africa

Identifying your Blind Spots: psychological influences on decision making

10 Nov

Dr Chia-Jung Tsay from UCL School of Management is also a trained musician. Her research tried to find out if we rely on visual over sound. As experts and leaders we might be unaware of how we make decisions regarding hiring, promotions, etc. You don’t believe this? Take a test here on unconscious bias.


Chia-Jung Tsay looked at the impact of visual information in individual performance, leadership and group performance. We are all vulnerable to psychological inclinations of this kind.

Initial findings:

  • Reported reliance on sound
  • Non-conscious dependence on vision
  • Sound discarded as noise

Why do we select certain visual winners over others? You tend to look at who was the most confident. If you are then the perception is that you are more qualified. Who was the most passionate? ‘Passion’ tends to be the most important factors in Chia-Jung’s research. The visual passion is so evocative, that we might hire a candidate because of that and not because of what they said.

Chia Jung’s research looked at music or pitch competitions and when people were shown the silent visual video they were able to identify the right winner. Visual was more important than the sound/content of the music or pitch competitions.

In summary:

Experts are trained and societal institutions are constructed to identify, develop, and reward the highest levels of achievement. We trust that professionals can judge performance through their specialized knowledge. Yet, experts are just as vulnerable as novices to the dominance of visual information (vision heuristic) and the influence of beliefs about the source of achievement on the perception and judgment of talent (naturalness bias). Given their effect on professional evaluation and decision-making, such biases can affect how organizations select and recruit top talent.


Using Insights from Behavioural Science to Improve Business Performance

9 Nov

Hilary Scarlett is an international speaker, consultant and author explaining that the purpose of the session is to look at insights from behavioural science and neuroscience into what helps us perform at our best and what gets in the way.

Our brains are not designed for the 21st century workplace. Our brains have not changed that much, but work has. One part of the brain that has evolved is the part of the brain deals with emotional control. Our brain wants us to survive. Minimise threat and maximise reward. If we have the following 6 factors, people will perform better…

  1. Self-esteem
  2. Purpose
  3. Autonomy
  4. Certainty
  5. Equity – all about fair treatment and trasparency
  6. Social Connection – we would not make it if we didn’t have someone looking after that.

Autonomy and Choice: Need to have a sense of control. In one elderly home people that were allowed to look after the plants, choose how to have their room, etc. were happier and more likely to be alive than an elderly home that had things dictated to the residents.

Certainty is hugely important to the brain. You speculate about change and lose a great amount of energy if you don’t have it.

Now onto how SABMiller has done this year based on neuroscience findings. Samantha Rockey on stage. SABMiller wasthe second largest brewer in the world and over the last year they have been involved in the biggest acquisition in UK history. From 11th November 2015 until recently the organisation was effectively ‘under threat’. When organisation are acquired two things happen: you don’t have control over your destination. The second thing is that your whole understanding of the world starts to shift and it starts feeling a bit like the American Elections this morning. How do you draw on the skills from behavioural science to navigate a very confusing time for a lot of colleagues? That was the leadership challenge that SABMiller faced. You have to recognise the huge learning opportunity that comes from it.

What is keeping you awake at night? Personally ‘Brexit’ and the exchange rate do make me worry. It is true that I have no control over this, but you do end up thinking about it. Our brains crave certainty and understanding and sometimes it isn’t possible. ‘Hoping that something won’t happen’ isn’t enough. How does strength based development help? You tend to see a reduction of stress and a general uplift. Employees are empowered to find their own way for development. SABMiller helped them identify what their strengths were.

SABMiller also created ‘hope’ for the future and putting small achievable goals in place. You need to acknowledge uncertainty. Sometimes you need to give bad news and once people understand the news, then they can plan around them. Line managers are terrified of colleagues bursting into tears, however adult to adult conversations rarely result in that. You need to have that honest talk. Help leaders deliver the news as they are. When you treat people as grownups, you shift the conversation to a much more productive space.

When people go through an acquisition you do find a rise of cortisol, so physiologically you will be going through a lot of stress. SABMiller was conscious of this and they encouraged people to manage this through sleep, nutrition, exercise, focus and growth mind set. This should be part and parcel of what organisations do anyway in order to build resilience ahead of tough times.

People are told to leave emotions at the door, before stepping in the office and that is unreasonable. Bring the emotions back into the workplace. What are you thinking? and What are you feeling? Those two questions open up some deep conversations. People experience change cycles in different ways and at different times. There was a huge relief in asking those questions and having those conversations. Give the licence to use emotional language at work. Move from data to feelings.

The clear and powerful nuggets that we can take from this session are that:

  • Preparing for resilience is the new competitive edge and requires continuous focus.
  • Leadership development is a key lever in building resilient organisations.
  • Small behaviour shifts can support large scale transformation and change.