Andrea Cooper was tailor-made for the job she took up at the beginning of this year: Chief Executive of UpRising, a YF’s leadership programme designed to open up pathways to power of marginalised 19 to 25-year-olds. Launched in 2008 the project was already operating in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Bedford. Some 450 recruits have already passed through its nine month programme consisting of a residential retreat, monthly learning sessions, behind the scene visits to public and private institutions, one to one mentoring, and the organisation and delivery of a social action campaign that improves a local community.
Andrea’s initial challenge was to move the charity from under the protection of the Young Foundation umbrella to a standalone organisation, which was completed in April.
She is now engaged in extending the programme to other cities and widening its resource base.
There are several fronts on which she fits her new job. First she has created and run large programmes in the private, voluntary and public sectors. Second, she knows how important leadership programmes can be. She went on one, on similar lines to UpRising’s, which transformed her life by boosting her self confidence, raising her aspirations, and teaching her the importance of having a vision to aim at.
A third front is the lessons she has learned at home and in work. Brought up in Liverpool, she was supported by a large and warm extended family. Her father was one in five, her mother one in six. Her mother, a hospital receptionist, was an unassuming community activist in her neighbourhood. “My childhood was a wonderful introduction to life in a genuine community – a glimpse of nirvana.”
At her Liverpool high school she had her first taste of leadership on being made head girl. An early mistake was to launch a campaign to refurbish the common room. “I tried to do it all by myself, when it would have been better to have involved my fellow pupils from the start.”
She read economics and accounting at Sheffield University, where she demonstrated her entrepreneurial skills. With five other students she set up an advertising agency, that linked local companies to the students through a directory involving gift vouchers and student newspapers. It made £150,000 for the six over three years.
Winning an internship with Procter & Gamble in her second year, led on to her gaining a place on the company’s much admired graduate training scheme. One early lesson there was the importance of corporate culture. The company, which was begun by two Quaker brothers in America in 1837, had no written rules but a deeply embedded ethic of ‘doing the right thing’. She is full of praise for the management skills she learned there: business planning, team building, goal setting, managing a budget, and marketing. Towards the end of her five years there, she was the graduate training manager. One innovation she introduced was getting the company more involved in the communities where they were based, including skills courses for young people and lessons in how to run campaigns to improve community facilities.
Her colleagues were shocked by her leaving. Most worked in the firm for life. She wanted ‘a more meaningful job with more value’ and joined Common Purpose, as its northwest regional director. The main aim of the charity is to promote a more active civil society. There were two programmes in the northwest, Manchester and Liverpool, when she started. They brought together community leaders – chief executives from local firms and local government, chief constables, NHS chiefs and university vice chancellors – to see what they could learn from each other and how they could work together to improve their communities. By the time she left 4.5 years later, she had started two more groups in the north west, then moved south, where she produced a new prototype programme for London, which 11 other UK cities adopted and eight more cities overseas.
Her final stepping stone before reaching UpRising was with the BBC. Her first post there was business manager of the Digital Switchover Helpline scheme. It was a government policy, run by the BBC, to ensure no home was left unconnected by the switch from analogue to digital television. Several million people – pensioners, disabled, refugees— wrongly believed digital switchover was an option not a fait accompli. Each of these people received three letters, before a visit to connect their television to a digital signal. Locally trusted people – postmen, lady hairdressers – were recruited to amke sure this group of 7.9 million vulnerable people got the help they were entitled to. There were some 1000 sub contractors along with 15 stake holders – ministers, BBC, Ofcom, Digital UK, regional television companies – whose boards needed constant updates on how the work was progressing. Despite the extended structure, the £600 million programme was completed on time and under budget. Her second challenge at the BBC, was one of the managers of the £800 million relocation of 6,000 BBC employees from White City and other London sites to the New Broadcasting House headquarters in central London comprising four buildings.
Her strengths are numerous. She is positive, passionate and rightly proud of her previous work. She can draw on over a dozen years of managing a wide range of projects. In her words she now has “a motivated and talented team, with an engaged board and chair”. The issue they are tackling – marginalised young people and the decline of social mobility – could not be more urgent. But UpRising is already demonstrating reform is feasible. A 5 year survey of the first 450 alumnae suggest the programme is having positive results.
May be the future is not as grim as the media portrays.