Journeys of Impact and the Animas Vision: A Q&A With Head of Social Impact Emma Koubayssi

6th November 2020

Having recently hired our new Head of Social Impact Emma Koubayssi, our Head of Content Sam Chambers sat down with Emma to find out more about her background around social impact work, how she is enjoying her time with Animas so far, what she is currently working on as well as her big vision for 2021.

Sam: Hey, Emma, thank you for joining me on this interview. You've been at Animas a month now and it's been great having you on the team. I'd love to hear a little bit more about you, your experience, what you've been up to, and your vision really for the future.

Perhaps start off by telling us about yourself, your background, and how you got into social impact.

Emma: Yes, of course, my background is really varied Sam and I got into social impact a little over 10 years ago. I started working at one of the UK’s top social impact agencies specialising in communications, where we did a lot of work for the government and nonprofits rolling out behaviour change campaigns across the UK.

I was initially based in Scotland working on the Scottish Government’s flagship ‘Determined to Succeed' strategy for enterprise in education. The focus was to create a culture of enterprise and entrepreneurialism within schools, embedding experiential learning.

It was very early on in my career but I was given the opportunity to step up and manage all elements of the project delivery. I transformed a double decker bus into a radio studio, designing an interactive roadshow which visited secondary schools across the country. Using radio broadcasting and podcasting to develop young people’s confidence, self-efficacy, interpersonal and team building skills we created a learning experience which was relevant to life beyond the classroom. The programme even received positive recognition for its approach across Europe, the US and Australia.

I drove forward all touchpoints of the project, whether it was briefing the Minister of Lifelong Learning at the launch, or hosting some insight workshops, to helping source and create the curriculum packs and liaising with teachers, I was there doing everything and it was great.

That was my first taste of doing something which really aligned with my values and I was hooked. Nothing has ever reached that pinnacle again, in terms of stress or enjoyment levels. The curve was so steep, but it was incredible.

The organisation I was working for then invited me to London and I started focusing on projects for the Department of Health, the Department for Education and also the National Lottery Good Causes.

I was involved in lots of programmes including the government’s ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda and its Sure Start Children's Centres which provided advice on family health, parenting, money, training and employment.

I also supported Jamie Oliver, the chef, who led a big social impact campaign, many years ago, to raise the nutritional standards of school meals. It was great to be part of a project that had a strong mission at its core and witnessing someone using their platform to create change was really inspiring.

After my stint in London, I went to Australia and focused on some corporate social responsibility projects. Supporting McCain with their school veggie patch initiative, educating kids on the origins and the benefits of vegetables and Nestle's global impact program, Healthy Kids, which was about portion control, nutrition, cooking skills, hydration and physical activity.

I was also part of a national campaign educating Australians on how to make informed choices about fast food. So, that's been my journey and where my career has included a social impact lens.

Sam: Thank you for sharing. What a journey you’ve been on across three different countries, all these different projects, it sounds like you've been involved in so much impactful work. And so, touching on that, what is it that you love about doing this work?

Emma: I guess for me it's about making a difference. I have a good understanding of what drives and motivates me. One of my values is to be a catalyst and sparking change is something that I've always found hugely rewarding.

I also enjoyed the face time when I have gone out and met young people, children, families, health professionals or teachers. I used to love going into schools and colleges. One project I led on was the Big College Health Check where I visited practically every Further Education college across England. I also spent a little time supporting a project called Aim Higher which was all about helping young people think about alternative paths for their futures.

The people aspect is really important and inspiring in the work that I do. When I headed up the content for TEDxSydney, I worked with some incredible people sharing their stories to create an impact in the world.

I am also very goal orientated and motivated by the results both quantitative and qualitative, so the stories that come out of it as well. You can look at the hard numbers on paper, but actually, when you hear that story of how something you've done has really changed someone's life, that's so rewarding to know that you've been part of it.

Sam: Great stuff! And of all the many different projects you've been involved in, what would you say has been your favourite social impact project?

Emma: I think the bus in Scotland will always have a special place in my heart. It’s like a first love in some way, you never love as much as your first love and it was a bit like that with the bus.

But another project I hold dear, was a project I did a couple of years ago for ‘period poverty’. This time it was activist work, building on my campaigning and project management experience.

In my last organisation the people I worked for were super creative and decided to put the team's talents to good use after reading some shocking statistics around women and girls not being able to afford period products. We were really jolted into action because we weren't even aware this was a problem.

So the ‘Bloody Big Brunch’ was born, a roving roadshow, which toured the UK selling “Bloody Marys” with only one string attached, they could only be bought in exchange for period products, all of which were donated to local charities and projects.

Our aim was to break down the barriers and stigma around periods, widen the flow of conversation, capture the attention of new audiences and strengthen the pressure on community leaders to provoke change.

Emma: We created something that had real talkability and humour. That in itself opened up a new dialogue where it became more “normal” and frequent for people to start openly sharing stories around periods, something traditionally considered off-limits.

I got to meet so many brilliant, interesting, passionate people and the campaign was acknowledged in the Houses of Parliament as playing a role in bringing in new legislation which is now happening in Scotland.

And that's the impact right there. It's changing the law, it’s changing how we perceive periods, how we speak about them, it’s removing the shame, it’s changing the narrative. I was really proud to have played a role in that powerful conversation.

Sam: That's brilliant, and it sounds like a super interesting, fun and engaging project to be part of as well. And so, how do you define social impact Emma?

Emma: That's such a good question.

Social impact is a way of looking into the world. It shapes how we talk to people, how we show up, the steps we make and the action we take. It’s a way of being.

I also believe there is no one size fits all definition. It’s infinite and ever changing and there are lots of ways we can create an impact.

It can be positive change at an individual, community, societal or systemic level. It can be using your platform, network, skills or voice to tackle an area you feel passionately about.

At Animas, it will be how we apply coaching or training, facilitation, mentoring as an intervention to address a pressing social issue. I’d like us to widen accessibility to coaching, using our collective power put people and planet first, harnessing our collective wisdom to work towards a sustainable and measurable impact for good.

We will be creating dialogues, supporting our clients and communities to step into the unknown, to be open to possibilities and build lasting positive social change. Whether that be addressing the climate crisis, widening opportunities to coaching or supporting young offenders, we have the freedom and network to expand into new spaces with this.

As part of this, we will continue to ask ‘what does social impact mean for us at Animas? How do we define it? How will that definition evolve? How can our community be part of this process?

I think it's an exciting moment for us as a school, for us as individual coaches and us as a community.

Sam: Great. And how has your first month at Animas been, I'm sure it has zipped by?

Emma: Busy, I would say. I was familiar with the team as I was fortunate enough to do my training directly with Rob, Nick and Marcus, when I studied with Animas a few years ago. So it was a soft landing in terms of feeling that I knew the culture and some familiar faces.

I also knew that the Animas community was hyper-engaged around this subject and even though I haven't put much out publicly yet, just knowing there's a real appetite there from a social impact perspective is brilliant.

My first few weeks were spent devouring what has already happened in Animas, so what has gone before in terms of social impact. Then aligning internally on my plans and what we want to take forward in the short term. I also had a lot of conversations around where we might want to start building potential relationships in terms of our social impact projects.

I think the job itself is going to be quite interesting because it’s about getting our own initiatives up and running whilst empowering our community to set up and launch their own, as well as exposing new networks to what we stand for at Animas.

The last few weeks have flown by, but I feel like we're where we need to be and I'm looking forward to more conversations and unveiling some of our plans.

Sam: That’s awesome to hear. And based on the stuff you're currently focusing on, what can we expect from you in the coming weeks or months around the social impact work?

Emma: The first thing we're doing is launching the Impact Hub. A dedicated space to channel all of our social impact news, knowledge and conversations.

It will also be a place for connection. Connecting projects, connecting minds. For example if someone is involved with a project in London and a group would like to replicate that in Berlin or Scotland, we’ll help facilitate those introductions and connections.

We are also going to be launching a six month programme to support 10-12 individuals to create their own impact project. More news on that will be announced in the coming weeks. Finally, we will be setting up our own Impact Initiatives to inform our own model for social impact coaching.

We’ve also got plans to create an Impact Board, develop our own training and where we can and where our vision aligns and it meets our impact criteria, we will be supporting the community on an ad hoc basis with their own project development.

Sam: Lots of exciting stuff coming. We've talked a little bit on how your first few weeks have been what you're working on now. I'd love to know what are your big vision plans for the future around this work? What's the impact you'd like to make?

Emma: Thanks for asking that Sam. I’d like us to create a worldwide culture of social impact coaching, where coaching is a key intervention and is widely recognised and respected as a positive force for social change, social action and social impact.

There’s a job to be done in terms of reshaping how coaching is perceived and what it appears capable of. Research will also be a focus for us, we will partner with universities and innovation centres to create our own paradigm, code of ethics and measurement framework.

I see us having a core team and then satellite teams across the world, running global impact coaching programmes. I'd love to have a matchmaking service, so an impact app connecting our coaches with relevant projects and work opportunities. I'd also like us to be leaders in social impact co-innovation.

I actually reviewed a project today, which combined a really interesting mash up of skills and sectors with coaching to bring about a magnitude of social change, and it would be great to see more of that coming through.

Coaching in education is a passion area for me and embedding coaching into a global curriculum would be a big win.

We also have lofty plans for a Think Tank or Impact Tank and once we have laid our foundations, accumulated our learnings we will be working towards the creation of an International Centre for Social Impact Coaching.

Sam: And finally, for anyone that’s reading or listening to this from the Animas community or beyond is there any advice you’d like to share about the social impact work for those that want to get involved with projects like this?

Emma: I think for me everyone has the potential to create positive social change and an impact within their community and the world at large.

What’s happened with the pandemic is that it’s magnified so many things that are wrong, and so many things that are taken for granted in our lives. But what’s happened is that it’s also brought people together and all sorts of social impact projects have popped up during this unprecedented time.

We’ve seen it with our own Animas projects, our community’s projects, even the footballer Marcus Rashford pressing forward with his food poverty campaign.

There was a beautiful social impact project in my home town of Glasgow, called the Kind Kitchen which launched to support Scotland’s most vulnerable and key workers. It was an incredible project, born out of passion it mobilised the struggling independent catering sector to provide fresh, healthy meals across the country, launching a crowdfunding campaign to both feed the local community whilst supporting small independent businesses.

Everyone has the potential to make that impact, you don’t need to be a public figure or a humanitarian organisation.

If you’ve got an issue you want to address you can go out and do that. You don’t need to have a theory of change. You don’t need to have robust measurements or metrics in place. You just need to have a passion or a drive or a sense of purpose for what you’re doing. The rest can follow if that’s the kind of project you want to build.

For me, social impact is about inclusivity and accessibility; it's not a thing only certain people do. It’s about the fact that everyone has an opportunity to make an impact, and that’s why when I talk about defining social impact, I talk about it as being something fluid, which evolves to echo the shifting shapes and needs of our society and global community and is something that everyone can play a part in.

Sam: That's great! It's been a pleasure to talk with you and it's been very insightful knowing what people can look out for moving forwards. I just want to say again, welcome to the team and I'm looking forward to seeing all of this come to fruition!

Emma: Well, thanks so much. It was great chatting to you, there is so much potential to build a collaborative coaching movement around social impact and influence how coaches and the coaching profession step into this space.

Sam: Thank you so much Emma, I look forward to seeing your vision unfold!

Want to help us understand the collective impact we can make?

We are conducting some research to gain more of an understanding around where our pockets of social impact knowledge, expertise and interest lie within the community. Take a moment to complete this survey and help us understand the impact we can make together! It won't take any longer than 5 minutes.

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