What I’ve learned as Khulisa’s CEO

With very mixed emotions, I made the decision to resign from Khulisa before Christmas after nearly 4 years as CEO. I’m moving on to pursue another passion – fair finance – and will be working to expand a new ethical finance company globally.

The decision to leave Khulisa was not an easy one; I am deeply proud of Khulisa’s achievements and have been humbled to lead such a passionate team delivering well-evidenced and impactful programmes. In my last week as CEO, I reflect on my experiences leading a growing and ambitious charity:

Social & Emotional Well-being

I have learned that the evidence in support of Social and Emotional Wellbeing, and its role enabling positive life outcomes, is truly irrefutable. It does so much more than reduce the challenges people and society may face – like mental ill health and crime – it helps people and communities to thrive; improving lifelong learning, satisfaction, health and relationships. The social return on investment is extraordinary – every £1 invested in social and emotional learning saves society £5 over 3 years. (PHE, 2018).

Given all that we know about Social and Emotional learning, why isn’t it a core part of the curriculum and services for the people who most need it? Why isn’t it widely available in schools, the secure estate and care system?

For all these reasons, Khulisa has worked to become a sector-leading expert in Social and Emotional Wellbeing and continues to evidence its role in preventing social exclusion and offending. We are expanding our well-being programmes across England and working to ensure that Social and Emotional well-being is recognised as a cornerstone of education and rehabilitation with policy-makers.

Growth

As an organisation that has nearly doubled in reach over the last 4 years, I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on what can appear as a zero-sum game: reaching and supporting more people vs. the depth and quality of support.

Like many other leaders in the not-for-profit sector, I’m exercised by not falling victim to false cause by pursuing growth for growth’s sake. I’m heartened by the sector’s more philosophical approach to impact and reflecting on what ‘meaningful impact’ (and growth) actually means for the people we serve and their changing needs. I’ve learned that small can indeed be beautiful and have developed a deep appreciation of the rich eco-system of organisations in the youth/criminal justice space who may be working effectively in one neighbourhood or nationally.

Whilst I fully expect to see Khulisa expand as an organisation over the next 4 years, I’m pleased to see the organisation grow thoughtfully; developing deeper roots and partnerships in the communities we serve alongside some more systemic ways of working including offering professional training and a clear research and policy agenda.

Public opinion

One of the first books I read when I started running Khulisa was ‘Criminal – The truth about why people do bad things’ by Tom Gash. In it, he helpfully outlines the contradictory narratives about crime – crime as a ‘moral failing’ (where we must respond with tough punishment) vs. the ‘systemic failing of society’ (where crime will reduce when the ‘system’ works more effectively). Wherever you fall on this spectrum, we can all be united in one common truth – the prison system is not working effectively measured against any of the metrics we have (violence in custody, well-being, reoffending rates, public spending, etc.) and of course what this all means for harm against individuals and communities.

With the missed opportunity of reform via the Prison and Courts Bill now firmly behind us, how can we meaningfully shift what society thinks about the purpose of prisons, how they are run and the people in them?

My personal view is that we are sadly no-where near bridging the great divide in public opinion that Tom Gash described. The great challenge and opportunity for the not-for-profit sector and other campaigners is to find a unifying approach that speaks to both safety and social justice. I will be certainly be a life-long champion and advocate for this.

Finally, but all-importantly, I’d like to give my heartfelt thanks to our dedicated team, facilitators, trustees, donors and growing family of champions, advocates and advisers. I am eternally grateful for your energy, wisdom and passion as we’ve worked together to empower the most vulnerable young people to break the cycle of social exclusion and crime.

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