Today, May 1st, is the 5th anniversary of my first day with Cyrenians. If anything described these last five years it is Kudzidza hakuperi – or, to use a more Scottish colloquialism, every day is a school day! I came to this job having been a leader but never having been a CEO; having been involved with lots of charities but never been employed by one; having done fundraising but never from Corporate donations; having worked with many people in tough realities but very few who were homeless – as this list grows I am beginning to wonder how I got the job in the first place!
But I am so glad I have. I have learnt so much, not just about the realities of being in the role I have but about life itself. At the heart of human conditions lies a deep desire for meaning and purpose. The need for us each to feel we belong and we matter, that we are loved and others will receive our love is fundamental to our flourishing. I have seen this truth living at the core of Cyrenians values-led, relationship based way of working and it makes my heart sing.
For 5 years I was the politician responsible for the education of 55, 000 children and young people in Scotland’s capital city. For 3 of those 6 years I spoke on behalf of all local authorities on education matters. More than anything else those years taught me the significant of inner wellbeing in making the best of the opportunities schools offer and the need for schools to create as individual pathways was possible for each young person. The second part is really hard for schools at the best of times and even more difficult given the impact of the continued budget cuts over several years. The first depends a great deal on what happens outside school as well as the ethos school create for the 15% of the week children and young people are with them.
Working out how best to create the spaces in the relationships we create to the nurture inner wellbeing of those we journey in a respectful, compassionate way with an ethos of equality and dignity has been probably the biggest thing I have learnt in the last five years. Grappling with how to be with people who come to us because of their tough reality but not let it define their humanity or lead to a ‘we are here to fix you’ culture has been fundamental to my learning. Because if we get this part right then the transformation we hope for in those we journey with will happen; a transformation defined by them and not us or anyone else.
When I was responsible for education I fought the use of exam results being used a false proxy for success; especially when they were gathered in league table and value judgements built on a failure paradigm were used to create weaponised and ideologically-driven headlines. In the last 5 years I have learnt just how we are in the same battle ground of false proxies for success which are used to underpin narratives about those who face tough realities which are designed mostly to keep them there. It is a challenge I intend to continue to meet head on.
I fundamentally believe these last five years have changed me in both my understanding of my inner self and of my engagement and relationship with the world about me. It has been a life enhancing gift to work with such amazing and committed colleagues, volunteers and those we journey with. I am very grateful for all the support, wisdom, insight and challenge I have received from each over the last 5 years. The challenges remain huge – both the more obvious ones like funding and increasing demand for our services and the deeper ones about how we nurture our humanity through being valued – led and relationship based in all we do. But I am sure if I keep reminding myself of Kudzidza hakuperi – always understanding there is more to learn – then there will be solutions to be found to these challenges and my Cyrenians journey will continue for a fair while yet.