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Earlier this year I started work on a pioneering project called Collectively, which brought together a network of businesses including M&S and Unilever, innovators, activists, facilitators and change makers to explore issues of inequality, and create an action plan to address them. 

It was my job to lead and support a group of 20 passionate people from M&S within the collective, who had opted to work on a project outside of their day jobs. With the support of the Collectively network, the team developed new connections, learnt new skills, explored solutions and built pilots to test their ideas for positive social change.

As part of our Plan A 2025 commitments to help build a sustainable future, we highlighted that we would help transform lives and communities, addressing inequalities to create a better world for everyone. The Collectively programme brought an opportunity to help make a collaborative difference and to actively tackle some of the problems we are passionate about. 

In June we kicked off the programme with the inspiration phase, bringing together 100 people from corporates to activists who we have described as ‘intrapreneurs’ – employees inspiring change and new thinking from within organisations. We invited them to challenge each other to broaden their understanding, and to identify opportunities for action in order to tackle the many strands of inequality, including gender, ethical products and mental health. From here the ideas flourished and groups formed around issues that mattered to them.

We empowered our network to engage with those they were looking to help, to understand the problem, and to develop a solution that met a need. We next moved into the ideation and action phase with a fast paced retreat focusing on prototyping ideas. The group were challenged to design a simple, viable prototype ready to test. Through this method of design, develop and test, the ideas grew into real business cases for action.

Collaboration is key to the group projects, and our passionate community has been leading the way in combining their skill sets and applying them to new ways of thinking. The outcome is that we have powerful concepts that have been tried and tested. 

Projects range from improving mental wellbeing in the workplace, thanking our customers for buying sustainable products, micro volunteering on skills specific projects and bridging the generation gap with an intergenerational programme to share skills and ideate. Yesterday the ideas were presented to global business and campaign leaders, in the hope that they would play a part in these collective solutions. 

Together we have built a new network of change makers that are ready to take action. I am hopeful that yesterday’s showcase will inspire corporates and leaders to support, invest and champion the projects, and the future leaders as they bring the new thinking and meaningful change our communities need if we are to tackle inequality.