Whether it’s the criminal justice system or the poverty trap, Baillie Aaron and Darren Robson, founders of Spark Inside and Ministry of Entrepreneurship (MOE Foundation) respectively, believe coaching can offer a very real way out for young people. Andy Shipley finds out how.
Baillie and Darren’s work springs from their observation that young people in challenging settings often have a wealth of inner resources, which have enabled them to survive their circumstances. Like all young people they also harbour aspirations and ambitions. With coaching support they can apply those inner resources towards achieving their dreams.
Darren's belief is founded upon his own direct experience of growing up on a Kent housing estate. He became aware that whilst around him young people were experiencing unstable lives with drug and alcohol problems, his own up-bringing, without great financial means but in a stable home, provided a framework of 4 core values; Love, Beauty, Optimism and Confidence (especially to try new things). Instilled and upheld by his Mum, Darren attributes his success and that of his siblings to these four values. It is this, Darren believes, that enabled him to overcome a disappointing school career, to go on to achieve a first class honours degree at university and a Masters degree from Cranfield Business School.
Darren has been a core part of the AC's leadership team since 2003 and is on its Global Board – in addition to running his own successful business consultancy and the Ministry of Entrepreneurship – MOE Foundation charity. It is the combination of the transformational power of coaching and his late Mum's values that Darren seeks to offer disadvantaged young people and led to establishing MOE in 2012 to provide coaching to those who couldn't otherwise afford it, and expose them to leading edge training, development and support. Darren's mission, in his own words, is "to democratise coaching".
Spark Inside (SI), also founded in 2012, is the creation of Baillie Aaron and shares a similar vision, offering life coaching to young people in the criminal justice system to encourage them to proactively create fulfilling and productive futures. Baillie was inspired to start Spark Inside through her previous work teaching entrepreneurship in US prisons. While working with young people , the aspirations and innate potential of her students – for example as IT professionals, artists or entrepreneurs – was immediately apparent to Baillie, and the waste of talent she witnessed profoundly affected her: young people often unable to recognise and pursue their own potential, and receiving little or no support to do so. Baillie believed that by supporting young people with criminal records to focus on achieving their dream goal, they would apply their talents to that purpose and be less likely to get drawn back into crime. She also hypothesised that by striving for a truly meaningful ambition young people would be more likely to seek support services such as health care and housing as they may come to understand them as a necessary part of creating the stable foundation to building their dream. On her arrival in the UK in 2010, Baillie discovered life coaching, which she felt offered an innovative and effective approach to help young people uncover their talents and realise their potential. With Spark Inside (SI) Baillie made her vision a reality and is now making a positive intervention in the British criminal justice system.
Whilst passion and vision can achieve a lot, to make a real difference all visions need the support of powerful champions, collaborators and donors. What is striking is the nature and scale of the support that MOE and SI have already attracted. For Spark Inside, this has taken a number of forms. The most significant factor in bringing coaching to young people in the criminal justice system, is gaining access to them. Gaining the support of several Prison governors, who see the benefits of SI’s programme for the young people in their charge, has been vital. Another major challenge has been navigating the internal architecture of the Ministry of Justice, to obtain the necessary authority and to access departmental funding. SI has found champions at all levels from youth workers and prison officers, to senior civil servants and MPs, all willing to assist in navigating the system. Another impressive testament to the SI vision is the volume and quality of coaches offering their services, despite the challenging nature of the coaching environment.
The delivery of a low cost, but high quality programme is central to MOE’s mission of offering trainees an experience equivalent to any commercial coach-training organisation. To this end MOE has partnered with Carol Wilson's Performance Coach Training organisation, and secured strong corporate partners, such as a leading City of London law firm and an international financial institution, all of which donate high-quality training venues, facilities and refreshments. Collaboration with 15 charitable partners, such as Kids Company, Centre Point, Action for Children and Spark Inside ensures that young people in difficult circumstances are given access to MOE's programmes. Additionally, the programmes enjoy strong support from established coaches and trainers who donate their time. All of this ensures MOE's trainees have the best chance and necessary tools to develop the skills and approach leading to the AC Coaching Certificate.
By holding true to their visions and building strong networks of influential collaborators and champions, within just a couple of years both Darren and Baillie have made a significant impact. In these 2 years MOE has developed 2 programmes in the UK, the Young Entrepreneurs and Leaders Coaching Programme and Dream Factory (Entrepreneur Boot Camp), to help young people take action in changing their own circumstances. In addition MOE runs a programme in Tanzania supporting communities to build sustainable routes out of poverty. Remarkably, for its second year of operation, MOE has been an entirely financially self-sufficient enterprise, further highlighting the potential of charities to take a commercially focused approach to making a difference.
Since it's doors opened in September 2012, 160 participants have completed MOE’s coaching programme. Of these, 30 have remained on a coaching trajectory, some of whom will return to the programme as coaches, mentors and trainers themselves.
There are numerous inspiring stories of how young people have taken their MOE coaching learning and applied it: for example Nathan, who on graduating from the programme, went on to establish a Manchester based charity for young people with drug and alcohol problems.
Dream factory immerses young entrepreneurs in a hothouse environment, exposing them to the scrutiny of successful entrepreneurs, who provide input and feedback on the viability of the participants’ ideas. To date, 12 young entrepreneurs have passed through its doors, 3 of whom have gone on to launch new businesses. One remarkable story is that of Natalia, who approached MOE wanting to move away from her poorly paid job and create a business around her talent for drawing. Natalia now travels the world with her own team, speed drawing for conferences, and building on this success has recently established an organisation to teach others these skills.
Spark Inside has completed its first pilot programme, coaching 8 boys at 2 Young Offenders Institutions ‘through the gates’ of custody and on into the community. The full evaluation of the programme by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology found that, to date:
One inspiring story is of a participant who, while serving his third prison sentence, developed the ambition through the coaching process to secure employment post-release. After he was released, he approached every restaurant on his local high street, until he secured a job as a waiter. Another participant displayed a talent for construction work. Coaching helped him recognise this and gave him the confidence to pursue and secure an apprenticeship. as well as helping him understand that he had the power to change his own life.One thing leads to another. The participant's Youth Offending Team workers, initially perplexed by his transformation, learned about the SI coaching programme, recognised coaching's potential to empower young people in the criminal justice system and invited SI to run a similar programme with girls.
Challenges still remain for both organisations of course. Not all participants embrace the coaching process, and some struggle to realise they can take responsibility for the direction their lives take. That said, the fall out rate from MOE's programmes is only 5%-10%, which considering the unstable nature of some trainees’ lives is remarkable.
The nature of the criminal justice system presents Spark Inside's coaches with complex, challenging and unpredictable conditions within which to build an effective coaching relationship. In addition, the system itself is undergoing substantial reform, affecting Spark Inside’s plans to scale up its programme.
The wealth of support that has enabled MOE and Spark Inside to achieve so much in such a short time since their inception, I believe reveals the degree to which the transformational power of coaching is increasingly appreciated within business, government and the voluntary sectors. The powerfully compelling nature of their visions will, I'm sure, enable Darren and Baillie to continue to benefit from this growing cross-sector understanding, and enable them to go on to achieve ambitious goals: Spark Inside is expanding its coaching programme to support nearly 200 high-risk young adults in prison this year. MOE already has new hubs in the pipeline. The first of these will open in Guernsey this summer, with another in Manchester in the autumn. The coaching programme continues apace, with a target of 500 young people graduating by the end of 2015. To date the team at MOE have gifted over £460,000 worth of development to 160 young people; their aim is to make that £1Million by the end of 2015. Once achieved the team then shift their focus on supporting the development of 1 Million people by 2020 through the use of a digital learning platform.
It is clear that at this time of diminishing public funds and services, the need for social change towards increased collective and personal resilience was never greater. One of Darren's mantra's, "make a difference in a moement", comes to mind. By deploying coaching as a powerful tool for social change, MOE and Spark Inside's are proving the case and making a real and lasting difference to young people’s lives and their capacity to realise their contribution to society.