Taking the road less travelled

With an undergraduate degree in Sociology and Politics under my belt, I came to Sussex in 2015 to study for an MA in Gender, Violence and Conflict.

There were a few raised eyebrows amongst my friends and fellow Global Studies students when I told them I’d be spending the next year working on the Catalyst Programme at the Sussex Innovation Centre.

Most people hadn’t heard of the Innovation Centre, let alone understood what we do here. Those who had were perhaps a little sceptical about why someone like me, and with my background, would be interested in working in a business environment.

Until I stumbled across an advert for Catalyst around a year ago, I was somewhere between these two camps myself.

Catalyst Team 2016-17 - Owen bottom left

With the largely international focus of my degree, I’d always had one eye on a future career where I felt I could make the world a better place, to use a cliché with which I’m sure we’re all too familiar.

This is an aspiration I still hold, but the general struggle for resources in the not-for-profit sector renders the skills of a willing yet relatively inexperienced recent graduate a difficult sell. In searching for a career where you can ‘make a difference’, the requirement that you be ready to do so from day one is all the more acute. I wanted to work for a charity or an NGO, but I knew nothing about the day-to-day, uncertain world these groups operate in – fundraising, marketing, website design, project management, the list goes on.

During the course of my masters I’d also conducted research for the Sussex Students’ Union into the issue of student community engagement in the wider Brighton community. I became fascinated by the positive impact – or otherwise – that students where having within the city from which they are, in a sense, increasingly isolated.

When I saw the advert for the Catalyst scheme, I was intrigued; a unique opportunity to spend a year working with a wide range of start-ups, growing businesses and social enterprises. As well as affording me a chance to hone my skills on a number of projects, working with Catalyst presented an exciting opportunity to leave an impact of my own, at a local level.

Since joining the programme in October, I’ve worked with a range of clients. I’ve worked for a company named Studybugs, a team of developers using their school absence reporting to app to assist the NHS with research into asthma treatment; conducted research for Insight Agents, a small brand language consultancy helping companies and organisations reduce jargon and make their language more accessible; and have conducted research for a Sussex academic looking to revolutionise the renewable energy sector. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Not every project has a social goal, but the growth you help local businesses to achieve is immensely satisfying.

I still harbour aspirations of working in the not-for-profit sector, particularly pursuing my academic interests in inequality and violence, but after just 5 months of working at a local level, I’m aware of the positive impact I can have wherever I work.

The skills you need to enact change through your work are often there all along – what’s required is the opportunity to enhance and refine these in an exciting, fast-paced environment. In that sense, my experience so far with Catalyst has proven invaluable.

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