Good Profile – Tom Rippin (On Purpose)

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What do you do for a living nowadays?

I am the CEO and Founder of On Purpose, a social enterprise that is a leadership programme for professionals seeking to transition into the social enterprise space at a relatively early point in their career. We believe that the way capitalism works is changing and that equipping as many as possible of the very best talent to work on new models of how society works is a critical mission.

What that means in practice is that I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to develop people, helping them get used to working in new ways and/or organizations, modeling behaviours and exposing them to others who model useful behaviours and a lot of networking and network sharing. Beyond that, I also have to run the nuts and bolts of the organization and the actual programme (now together with my colleague Kate Richardson).

The programme runs for one year, full time and we recruit high-calibre professionals (from any sector) who have at least several years’ work experience. During the programme these “Associates” do four things:

  • Work for six months each in two organizations that are combining social (or environmental) and commercial ways of working (for which the Associates are paid a living allowance)
  • Attend half a day a week of training covering the most important topics from both the social enterprise and commercial worlds
  • Meet once a fortnight with a mentor who helps them add as much value to the organization they are working for as possible
  • Talk to a coach once a quarter about their personal goals, their career and how they are transitioning into social enterprise

After the programme the Associates go on to work in one of the organizations they were placed in, they find a job elsewhere in the social enterprise space or they might return to the more traditional corporate/public or non-profit sectors, where they can apply social enterprise principles they learnt about.

We are a non-profit organization that does, however, generate all its revenues from trading. I started it up three years ago and now run it with on colleague (and with the help of a lot of in-kind support from many professionals in and around the social enterprise space). In the early days we spent a lot of time trying to raise additional charitable grants but, due to the space we work in (capacity building across a multitude of sectors) this proved very difficult. At a certain point, we took a decision not to pursue grant funding, but rather to focus on generating our own income. This actually ended up being a huge relief and a much more empowered way of working.

Before On Purpose I worked at (RED) where I ran the European team for a while, at Comic Relief and well-known UK charity and I was a management consultant with McKinsey & Company for five years.

Is “doing good” a key reason why you chose this job?

I have always been drawn to jobs that are not simply about making money – I just don’t get that excited about work that I don’t personally see as contributing to a wider goal (once you get past a point of being able to earn a reasonable salary, of course). In my current job, I think there are several levels at which I hope I am able to contribute to “doing good”:

  • I think that capitalism is changing and that social enterprise (or more broadly the idea of using commercial dynamics for social good) has a lot to say about what comes next.
  • At a second level, social enterprise is an exciting but still quite embryonic field; it feels like many things are not yet set in stone and there is real scope for influencing how the space will develop – in our case that is about making the social enterprise movement aware of the importance of talent
  • Working at this capacity building level, I hope to be able to influence many social enterprises, which is why I am working in what often gets called an intermediary organization. The direct impact you have is sometimes less tangible than in “front-line” organizations, but I see the work as more varied and as having the potential for greater ultimate impact
  • I also enjoy working with capable and motivated young professionals, meeting with them for coffee and discussing their projects, brainstorming ideas, thinking of network connections, challenging their assumptions and ultimately helping them to grow and develop and become future leaders in this very exciting space.

What do you love most about your job?

Having the privilege to work and stay in touch with the Associates who go through our programme. They are fantastic people who care deeply about social issues and want to find effective and hard-headed ways of addressing them. They are also just a set of fun and interesting people to engage with.

We have also built with On Purpose a very exciting network of organizations and individuals who contribute to the programme from across all sectors; be they placement organizations, trainers, mentors or coaches. This kind of intersection space makes for interesting conversations, fertile ground for new ideas and the potential for real action!

Some of the best experiences have therefore been a mixture of our away weekends with the Associates (often combining time for reflection with outdoor work) and events and meetings where our opinion is increasingly being sought by policy makers, writers and others who are shaping the future of the social enterprise space in the UK.

What would you wish were different about your job?

The main thing at the moment is that there is too much of it [the job]. Whilst the work is enjoyable, rewarding and challenging, we are a small team and just keeping on top of all the day to day is challenging. Soon we hope to have grown enough to be able to hire more staff, which will make a big difference.

What were some of the most important experiences that you’ve had that led you to where you are today?

Apart from a set of personal values that have been shaped by my upbringing, I would point to a series of events and decisions that have shaped where I have ended up:

After completing a PhD in cancer research and having decided that I wasn’t going to become an academic, I was hoping to work in international development. It was a conversation with a friend, whose brother had done an accountancy degree and then ended up in interesting international development jobs, that made me realize that acquiring some private sector skills first would be a good idea.

I ended up at McKinsey partly because they liked recruiting PhD students and partly because I knew I could work on some non-profit and public sector clients. During McKinsey, I became aware of the power of social enterprise (and the limitations of more traditional grant-funded models). I also found out about the burgeoning social enterprise movement in the UK and realized that, as I had never lived for any significant amount of time in a developing country, that working on social enterprise in the UK would be a better fit for me and my skill set than continuing with the international development idea.

That is what got me interested in social enterprise. Becoming a social entrepreneur was another matter. At the point of leaving McKinsey I would never have thought I’d be starting up an organization within 2-3 years. However, as I moved from McKinsey to Comic Relief to (RED), I got used to smaller and smaller organizations and also got to know more and more entrepreneurs (in the social and commercial world). Eventually, I got to a stage where I started thinking of it as something that I might actually be able to make happen.

How did you get this job?

The idea for On Purpose came during a conversation about the social enterprise space whilst I was helping someone write a business plan for their own startup in a related area and the seed had been growing steadily ever after. In the end it got to a point where if felt like if I didn’t try it now, I’d always end up wondering “what if?”.

The main obvious trade-off and sacrifice is around financial reward. I was lucky enough to have enough savings to be able not to pay myself in the first startup phase of On Purpose. I also earn less than I used to in my previous jobs and will likely continue to do so. When I left consulting, my worry was not about taking a pay-cut in my next job, it was that I might never be paid again what I was earning at the time, if I stayed in the social enterprise world.

I have learnt since that my fear was not justified, partly because there are well-paid jobs in this space, but more importantly because it is as much the consultancy salaries as the social enterprise ones that are out of touch with reality (from both sides of the same coin).

More subtly, I was also aware of losing the community and strong sense of identity of the company I was leaving. Part of building On Purpose is to foster amongst all those involved a similar sense of pride and belonging coupled to a wider purpose.

If you had to make trade-offs, do you think they were justified or should it be different for others in the same situation going forward?

I hope that financial rewards across sectors will become more equal over time, but I suspect it will take years if not decades to get there. Because there are rarely financial “upsides” to working in a social enterprise (few of them are designed ever to be sold in a way that makes money for the owners), being able to pay reasonable salaries is, however, an area that mustn’t be ignored. Helping the very best to work in social enterprise and making social enterprises aware of such people’s value will, I hope, contribute to this.

If you had to do it all over again, knowing what you know today, what past choices would you have made differently with regards to your career?

I might have tried to go to McKinsey sooner and then take that great learning to do something entrepreneurial earlier on. I am regularly amazed at the innovation and confidence of many young (social) entrepreneurs who I get to meet through social enterprise competitions and training programmes. It often leaves me pondering what I did as a student!

If you did not have this job and time/money were not a constraint, what would you ideally like to do?

I often think that I’d love to write a novel – I fear though that too few people would love reading it.

Finally, what advice would you have for others in the Good Generation who are interested in your job or career path?

If you’re interested in finding a job in social enterprise, do have a look at our website, the programme might be for you. More broadly, I think that a huge amount can be achieved through networking, which doesn’t mean making connections on LinkedIn, but rather finding social enterprise events to attend, entering competitions, doing some voluntary work in the evenings or weekend and many more things. Especially whilst social enterprise is such an nascent space, there are few established routes into a social enterprise jobs, but it will always involve finding interesting people and demonstrating to them that you have something interesting and useful to bring to their organization.


*Have your own story to tell? Know someone who would be great to be profiled? Please sign-up or leave a note here!

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One thought on “Good Profile – Tom Rippin (On Purpose)

  1. […] Tom Rippin – GOOD Profile on OnPurpose UK’s founder and CEO. […]

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