Matt Simons, ThoughtWorks: A system strategy for social change

Matt is Director of Social and Economic Justice at ThoughtWorks, and has been at the centre of the organisation’s efforts to support 1MM as we scale our offer. True to his values, Matt has also signed up to mentor a local young person.

Please can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I have been working in the IT consulting industry for about 25 years and I have helped ThoughtWorks figure out how to strike the balance between doing great things for our clients, and making the right impact on society and the world. So I get pretty passionate about both of those things.

I spend my days leading teams who are delivering for our clients who are mostly big companies in big parts of government across the UK. In my personal life, I am a father of two – originally from the US but I’ve lived all over the world and relocated to Manchester about three years ago.

What would you say is the ethos of your company?

The ethos of ThoughtWorks is creating a culture where extremely bright and passionate, driven people can come together to collaborate and achieve great things. Rather than competing to advance their careers or interests. The trick that we’ve cracked is to take the individual out of it and work together with peers and colleagues to do something really special as a collective.

Why did you want you want/your company want to get involved with 1MM?

We are system thinkers, and one of the things we like about 1MM is that it’s a system strategy. It’s building a platform and a capacity that will scale to hundreds of thousands, and hopefully a million, users. We thought, we could be a few hundred mentors or we could help build a system and make better use of our talent, capability and privilege to contribute and have a wider systemic impact.

As an individual, and being relatively new to this part of the world, I decided to mentor to learn more about what life is like outside of the privileged bubble where I exist, where everyone is largely the same. I wanted to learn and see what it’s like to be, I don’t know, a Muslim girl growing up in Whalley Range. I thought, “how could I understand what the issues are facing society today, if I don’t look outside of my little bubble?” Well, mentoring is the way to do that.

What challenges do you see facing young people/our future workforce?

Social cohesion is on the decline and rising inequality is isolating people. Economic struggle has come to define the borders and boundaries of our communities and that means that a lot of our network is developed in and around your school and places of worship, or just where you live. Your networks shape the world and the opportunities that you have access to, and even what you think about. As we have more of this hardening of social and economic struggle, social mobility becomes a real challenge.

Many people are perfectly qualified for really interesting careers – in my industry in tech, but it’s true for any career – and if they don’t have someone who gives them a window into that industry they probably wouldn’t think about it. And in tech, the most talented aren’t the ones who are most qualified, they’re the ones who have a passion and desire to keep learning and problem solving. And if we’re not drawing in people from all backgrounds we’re massively missing out on the talent that will help technology get better in the future.

Have there been any positive outcomes for your business as a result of your involvement with 1MM?

Absolutely. Over 100 people contributed time to the 1MM platform that we helped build, most of it voluntary. A lot of people come to ThoughtWorks to use their talents for a cause that they believe in. and the fact that over 100 helped on this project is a win-win because it generated a lot of positivity, engagement and reward for people. I think it became a way for people to work together on something that they cared about.

We’ve also been able to deepen our relationship with NESTA, a funder. We like NESTA, we’ve done quite a bit of work with them on their innovation portfolio over the years. So to have another touch point with them was very welcome.

Is there anything you’re hoping to get out of mentoring?

Strangely, this young woman is just a couple of years older than my daughter so it’s good to get a view of what it’s going to be like with my daughter when she’s 15. So I’m looking forward to getting to know a 15-year-old. In my day to day life, apart from my kids, you just don’t get to interact with young people very often. And they bring such a different way of looking at things. I can’t wait to broaden my view by speaking with her

Have you personally learnt anything through your involvement with 1MM?

I’ve really learned about what a difference just a few key people can make, actually.

What would you say to someone who is considering partnering with 1MM?

I think you won’t find a more committed, determined group of leaders in this space anywhere in the country. You know, there’s lots of problems yet to be solved, but I have a lot faith that 1MM will find a way.