21 Jul 2021

How businesses can help build a more resilient generation

By David Harrison, founder of the Harrison Centre for Social Mobility and chairman of True Potential, and Lord John Bird, founder of the Big Issue. 


The impacts of COVID-19 have split the country by age, deepening the economic and health disparities that were already present in our society.


While older generations have borne the brunt of COVID’s health effects, they were better prepared to weather the economic storm. On the other hand, younger generations, who have largely been shielded from the effects of the virus on health, face an uncertain economic outlook with potentially long-lasting changes in the jobs market and an enormous amount of personal debt.


But the pandemic didn’t create these conditions, it simply brought change forwards and magnified how financial exclusion has impacted young people since the financial crash. Personal financial education is largely absent in schools and a decline in property ownership and savings means younger generations are ill prepared to weather economic headwinds.


The current state of affairs is a reflection of our collective failure to equip younger generations with the tools they need to be anti-fragile – in other words, to gain an advantage as conditions around them change. A collective shift in approach and new thinking across all facets of our society will now be essential to improve the outcomes of our younger generations.


Politicians can help drive this shift in approach. The Future Generations Bill currently being passed in the Lords has been written to catalyse change, requiring public bodies to act in a manner which ensures that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As we deal with the huge debt burden, the bill will ensure measures to reduce it will not disproportionately come at the expense of our obligations to support our future generations – many of whom have made great sacrifices to protect the vulnerable in our society.


But businesses have a vital part to play too – governments can’t and in many cases shouldn’t plug all the gaps that exist in the economy. That’s why the Bill also requires companies to consider the impact of their activities on the UK’s wellbeing – whether that be cultural, social or economic. Businesses and social enterprises not only have a vested interest in protecting the future prospects of our younger generations, but also the tools to make meaningful contributions that can affect real change. True Potential in partnership with the Open University and the Harrison Centre for Social Mobility, is a good example of this. Together they provide free online practical financial education courses, taken by over 500,000 people in the UK, while also creating practical job opportunities.


Politicians can provide the direction we need, but when businesses and social enterprises like True Potential and The Big Issue work together, more can be done to provide practical tools, not just government handouts, to young people. Give someone a fish and they eat for a day; teach them how to fish and they eat for life.


It’s about complementing our respective approaches to young people. Businesses understand which skills and tools young people need for the jobs of the future, whilst social enterprises can help to reach those most in need of them.


We’ve both come from backgrounds where opportunity in life was not assured. We found success through different kinds of entrepreneurship, so we understand the harm caused by financial exclusion. In spite of the different entrepreneurial paths we have taken, we both find ourselves with similar initiatives geared towards providing practical tools and knowledge that the government cannot. Big Issue Invest provides access to savings for thousands of excluded people and funds thousands of social enterprises in the process. True Potential has led the charge to democratise finance through education and practical tools such as the impulseSave app, that has helped those previously excluded from investing get on the ladder by opening accounts and investing with as little as a pound. Hundreds of millions of pounds, mostly in amounts under £50, have been invested using impulseSave to date.


Businesses and social enterprises can, and should, do more to play their part. Between us, we have the expertise, resources and presence across this country to tackle financial exclusion by offering a different approach to education and practical experience. For instance, the Harrison Centre for Social Mobility and Big Issue recently teamed up to create a pathway to work for disadvantaged young people who had fallen out of mainstream education. Students took part in the Harrison Prize practical workshops, designed to encourage them to apply technology to an array of different tech problems, with all participants being given the opportunity to gain real-life paid work experience at True Potential.


It’s an approach that works. Over 90 per cent of students attending the Harrison Centre progress into jobs or further education once they leave.


The government has spent huge amounts of money alleviating this crisis, but now the key is preventing another one for our younger people in the years ahead. Safeguarding future generations by equipping them with the right tools to be anti-fragile is undoubtedly in the interest of politicians, businesses and civil society – we all have an interest in achieving it.


This article was first published at https://capx.co/how-businesses-can-help-build-a-more-resilient-generation/