Posted: 7 July 2015

A critical eye: how the next generation is helping shape the role of business

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National Grid is joining forces with young people to bring new energy to the business world.

As current holders of the Business in the Community’s Responsible Business of the Year Award, National Grid invited Elizabeth Olofe, a young volunteer with charity City Year UK, to join this year’s judging panel. As the first ever young person to join the judging panel, Elizabeth looks back on her experience of both the panel and her volunteering, and explains how it has changed her perspective on life.

Last month, I sat beside Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid, Vincent de Rivaz, CEO of EDF Energy and Ruth Grant, Partner of Hogan Lovells. The four of us were the judging panel for this year’s Responsible Business of the Year Award. Until a month or two before, I’d never heard of the accolade. I’ve been volunteering for City Year UK for 11 months now, a charity that National Grid supports, and when the company wanted a young person on the panel and asked if I’d be interested, I jumped at the opportunity.

When I received the Responsible Business of the Year entries, I was fascinated by just how much some businesses give back to the community, something I’d not appreciated before. Many large corporates are vying to be known as responsible organisations, and that’s a breath of fresh air after all the negative news you see about the corporate world in the media.

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Elizabeth Olofe, volunteer with City Year UK.

Faces behind the corporate front

Although I was the youngest in the room and don’t have a business background, I was never made to feel like my opinion didn’t count. Big business people, whom I thought wouldn’t want to hear my point of view, were impressed by my questions and took the time to listen to what I had to say.

I also saw the human side of all the businesses; the faces behind the corporate front and their genuine desire to make the world a better place with their technology and resources. That resonated greatly with me, as I want to do what I can to make an impact, no matter how small. After all, it’s small drops of water that make an ocean.

That’s why I volunteered for City Year UK after graduating from university. I knew I wanted to help people and judging by their website, City Year UK seemed the best place for me to do that. They support disadvantaged pupils – in whatever form that may take – to achieve their best by recruiting 18-25 year olds from diverse backgrounds to spend a year working as role models, mentors and tutors in deprived inner-city schools.

Pearls of wisdom

What I didn’t know, however, was how much I would get out of the year and how much help I would receive. City Year UK gives all their volunteers (known as corps members) the opportunity to be paired with a mentor. My mentor has been so helpful and although she is not in the field I am interested in, a member of her family is, and they both helped to improve my CV. My mentor has imparted many pearls of wisdom which I am grateful for.

At the start of my City Year, our training and careers days (which happen every Friday) provided us with lots of information on schools and the curriculum. Later, they moved on to self-development and how City Year UK could help us; with things like networking events, opportunities to work on public speaking (something that I used to dread) and to develop leadership skills and understand our leadership style. There have been some great sessions. Through this and actually being in a school environment for four days a week, I kindled a passion to teach and be part of decision-making in the education system.

Be the change

I lead a choir club in the school I volunteer at, and some of the children display challenging behaviour at times. There was one boy in particular whom I was concerned to see on the list as he did not respond very well to me. However, a few weeks into choir he started clearly trying his hardest to follow instructions and would even run to hug me in the playground and ask if there would be choir club next week. My heart warmed and this confirmed my belief that doing what you enjoy really brings out the best in you.

At City Year UK, you learn that you can be the change you wish to see in the world. The space outside of your comfort zone is where greatness is made. The Responsible Business of the Year Award is another example of this. It’s good to see businesses are following a similar ethos, using what they have to solve problems of unemployment, homelessness, education, health, and so many more challenges we face as a society. I look forward to a time when all businesses take pride in being responsible.

Gas innovation in full flow
“I am excited to witness a time when all businesses take pride in being responsible and to see how widespread their impact will become.”

Elizabeth Olofe, City Year UK