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Social mobility – do businesses really get it?

When the CBI asked me to contribute to the Great Business Debate with my thoughts on business’ contribution to social mobility, a part of me was genuinely flattered.

Then I thought ‘*@##*!’ will they really get it? Would the CBI audience really understand the trust young people are investing in them to secure their futures and the increasing influence this audience has on the public perception of business?

Social mobility’ is one of those terms that sound great in a party manifesto, but will get you a weird look from strangers on a train when dropped into conversation. But from the seats of those delivering social mobility, it really does mean something – in reports, elaborate power point presentations, and when the work of our respective organisations comes up over a glass of red at circuit events. Through the many people and businesses I meet, from CEOs to CSR professionals, I’m convinced that business really does want to do the best it possibly can to cultivate young talent.

Amongst young people today the conversation is about ‘what difference can you or your business make to me?’ Young people do talk of ‘social mobility’ and have been doing so for far longer than we credit. As an 80’s council estate kid we discussed it – we planned to build our futures around our skills and our passions.

Looking back at my own transition from council estate to entrepreneur, I began to realise why so few on the estate reached the heights they legitimately expected. Words like ‘support’, ‘contacts’, ‘break’, and a ‘shot’ come up as often as ‘KPI’s’ in another world I live in. Interestingly, the stories of successful people are cited, and the key moment – when a person or business gave them a shot. I often ask CEO’s and other businesspeople and-unsurprisingly-all fondly recall that moment, person or business – their shot.

It was the passion that I saw in young people over the course of a lifetime that drove us to create Slenky. As a tech platform Slenky connects these 2 distant audiences and their shared objective of Social Mobility, with the ‘shot’ (opportunity) the connecting piece. Meanwhile, through authentic content, we enable both to share the stories of just how businesses on slenky are impacting lives.

“Social mobility is one of those terms that sound great in a party manifesto, but will get you a weird look from strangers on a train when dropped into conversation.”

It’s been an exciting first phase, with pioneering ‘shots’ from businesses such as Sony, Sky, and BlackBerry. Wembley Stadium helped slenky launch, Virgin Atlantic sought Pilots and Engineers in very new communities, Pinewood gave young film-makers a premiere and Microsoft offered a tech collaboration to enable slenky to connect more businesses and young people. It’s from these real, practical, accessible and dynamic activities that mobility begins.

The evidence so far is that business believes in social mobility and some are building a new credibility and trust based on their efforts; benefitting both culturally and commercially.

It’s important that a generation that has been challenged by economic conditions try to trust on this one. If they do, they’ll find many businesses-and some very influential people– are trying to find ways to make social mobility something real and relatable.

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