Growth in a downturn: a big ask, but the right question.

January 27th 2012

Where has the month gone? I am scared by the speed by which our lives pass; it seems we have so little time to make any real, lasting difference. As a result, I have spent most of January talking to people and confirming our plans to really grow the organisation. The Government suggests that we have two alcohol free days a week free.  No chance this month. Neither did I get a chance to attend any of the Samba classes that have been happening across LEYF in preparation for our annual New Year Party this evening, when over 200 of our staff are due to party on late into the night (although I will be gone by 10 ish!).

Outside of LEYF, the world remains a rather unsettled place. The economy is not recovering, the Eurozone is a disaster, child poverty continues to grow as does unemployment among the young. There is an edgy feel about.  The politicians talk about creative capitalism or moral capitalism.  Young people apparently consider the whole thing ‘Peak’. So we have a choice: we sit tight and ride the storm, keep calm and do nothing, whinge, run for the hills or see things like the Chinese do, that every crisis is just as much an opportunity. Interestingly, we have just entered the year of the Dragon: a time for wisdom, strength, benevolence and good fortune.

Back at LEYF, we have decided we can expand our pioneering approach across London. It’s a simple enough model: community nurseries with a range of fees, alongside apprenticeships all wrapped within a multi-generational approach. This ambition is only possible because I trust that LEYF staff will come with me.  We may lose a few people along the way, but that may be right for both them and us; working for a small organisation is not quite the same as a big group or a network of internal franchisees.

Why do it? Why risk upsetting the apple cart? Because we have a duty to share what we do well for small children. Child poverty continues to rise to the detriment of the child, the family and society as a whole. Many people are lost and lonely, so why should we not roll out our way of doing things to benefit many more people?  The bankers and many other private businesses are growing despite often appalling records; they appear to show neither remorse nor a duty of care to their customers. So if we can do something that brings a social good, it is only right that we make the effort to do more of what we already do well.

The risks are immense. Can we keep the quality? Will staff remain motivated? Can we create the right support structure? Will parents abandon us? The signs are that none of this will happen anymore than it would happen in a smaller organisation. The success is having sharp, intelligent, knowledgeable, skilled and entrepreneurial leaders across the organisation, individuals who also come with a natural and clear sense of social duty, coupled with the ability to connect with the community.

It’s probably a big ask, but when 650,000 children across London live in poverty, it’s probably the right question.

As Goethe says:

Seize this very minute; what you can do, or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”