Blog – The Phoenix Rises – adapting to 2020

When I arrived back from my three week holiday at the beginning of March I had a strong feeling that the business I would be leading over the next few months was going to be a very different business to the one I left. 

There was talk of schools closing, distancing measures being put in place, travel restrictions, a deadly virus sweeping across the world.  In many ways it felt like we were in a suspended reality.  Being the eternal optimist that I am, it was incredibly grounding to have discussions with the Solutions for the Planet Board about the dark realities of the situation, how it would dramatically affect the way we not only run the business but transform the way we live our lives.  In all honesty, it looked fairly bleak at the time.  Then, along came ‘lockdown’ – for those of us with relatives and friends far away (or even living separately nearby) this meant the hard reality of considerable time without seeing them, and places that were part of our routines, be they leisure centres, cafés, hairdressers, supermarkets or friends’ homes, were closed or off limits.

On the 18 March 2020, the week the schools closed their doors to all but key worker children, the Big Ideas Competition 2020 received 153 Big Ideas submissions.  Big Ideas full of Hope, Passion, Determination, Excitement, Resilience and Positive Action.  We at Solutions for the Planet knew that we must find a way to get the submissions reviewed and provide feedback to every single one of the teams.  We didn’t know what would come next.  We pivoted the way we traditionally run our shortlisting events, and after delivering a crash course in using Microsoft Teams to over 25 judges, we had a week of intensive virtual shortlisting events.

I am so incredibly grateful to every one of those judges, who ranged from representatives from our business partners, to university students and entrepreneurs, to members of councils and Directors of companies.  There was so much re-adjustment happening for everyone in the country during that shortlisting week.  It was the first week most people were adjusting to working from home, and yet we all came together and read every single one of those 153 Big Ideas, in three days.  The S4TP team then set about the huge task of collating all the judges’ feedback and writing feedback for every single team, whether shortlisted or not.  When we, as a team, reflected on those two weeks we were all incredibly grateful to have such a strong sense of purpose: with so much uncertainty around us there was one thing we knew for sure, and that was that these Big Ideas and the teams who’d submitted them deserved our attention.

Whilst all this was going on, I was having challenging conversations with the Solutions for the Planet Board.  How do we move forward? How do we continue to deliver with the schools closed? How will we engage with teachers and students when they are all social distancing?   How do we continue to involve our business partners as they are also all processing the huge logistical and personnel challenges that a lockdown brings?  The crux of it was can being Solutions for the Planet survive this?

In the end, we consulted our school and business partners with regards to this year’s Competition.  In all honesty, this was the point that I was literally on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what the feedback would be, and what option they would opt for: “Let’s run a Virtual Big Ideas Competition” or “Let’s end the programme for this year”, with all the consequences that would follow that.  And, if they chose the first option, as we hoped they would, would we get buy in from students, and would we be able to deliver?

In the first week we had ten schools sign up, and once we reached fifteen schools signed up we knew that we were ‘on’, that we had enough to warrant continuing.  We started developing a series of challenges to give the students more structure to the development of their Big Ideas, knowing that many of them would be doing this work at home and not with their whole team or face-to-face guidance from their teachers and mentors.  We put a lot of time into developing options for each of the challenges, that would appeal to different learning styles.  Seventeen schools signed up.  We developed addendums to our safeguarding policies for online working and decided to invest time and money in our website to develop an online platform that we would use to communicate with our students, and where they could communicate with each other.  Nineteen schools signed up. We then sent out parental permission forms, knowing that every student taking part would need both permission and support from their parents/carers as the Competition progressed.  Another nervous moment… would any permission forms be returned? Yes, as it turns out – 175 of them!

We are now two days into the launch of the Virtual Big Ideas Competition 2020.  We have 20 schools taking part; 56 teams with different Big Ideas; 175 students given permission to take part from home and a whopping 100 of them registering themselves on our brand new Competition platform on the very first day.  This shows such incredible commitment to taking their Big Ideas forward and joining us on this new adventure in the Virtual Big Ideas Competition 2020.

There have been times when it has felt like the world is going up in flames, despite some of the positive environmental impacts of the lock-down.  We all have a long way to go, we know there many more challenges ahead, but we will rise from the ashes more connected, more compassionate and more confident in our ability to overcome obstacles.  Two quotes from our young people continue to bring me back to focus throughout this time.  I hope they help you too.

“Be confident and don’t give up even though some things go wrong, because plans never go off without a hitch, so just have fun and be confident.”

“Really, in life, it’s a short life, you don’t have long to live, you’ve got to get on with things, make the most of opportunities, be the best you can be and leave your mark on this world.”

Written by Jen Baughan
CEO, Solutions for the Planet

Artwork credit: Cai Burton

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd