Leaping into the unknown

Posted 17 Jul 2018 | Blog | Pilotlight Programme

I knew I wanted a challenge that took me out of my comfort zone. Something that was outside the corporate legal world (I’m a Partner at Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP), and would allow me to use my skills in a different way. I’d heard great things about Pilotlight, and knew its Pilotlight Programme was only a commitment of three hours a month, so it would fit in well with my case work. When I was offered a company sponsored place on the Pilotlight Programme, I leapt at the opportunity. 

I hadn’t worked with a charity before, I wouldn’t know anyone on the project team I would be part of, and I had no previous experience of this type of experiential learning. But that didn’t faze me. And now, after working with Volunteer Midlothian through the programme, I can say that my eyes have been opened to an entirely new way of learning - if only all training and development could be this good.

Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP have been working with Pilotlight for five years. Our partnership forms part of the firm’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Learning and Development (L&D) opportunities for Partners like myself. I specialise in employment and discrimination law, advising companies across the UK, and had been wanting an opportunity to give something back for a while. I also wanted a development opportunity where I would learn a lot about myself as well as learn new skills. On joining the Pilotlight Programme, I was teamed up with three other senior executives from very different organisations to work with Volunteer Midlothian, a charity that supports and develops volunteer opportunities across Midlothian. The charity itself came to Pilotlight because it was looking for strategic support in a changing environment. I’m happy to say that we were able to support the charity leaders to explore and face some very complex challenges. We considered how the charity could, and should move forward, to place them in the best position to support volunteer development in the region.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting to get much personal development from the programme. I’ve been surprised not only with how much I learnt myself, but also how much advice I was able to offer the charity. Through the project I gained a real insight into the third sector and the pressures smaller charities face, in terms of funding and competing priorities. I also learnt about good governance and how to maximise the effectiveness of the skills on a trustee board. I enjoyed the challenge of really getting under the skin of Volunteer Midlothian to fully understand their core purpose and the significance this has for its beneficiaries. This challenged both my coaching skills, learning to ask the right questions, and my own knowledge and understanding of a sector I had previously very little experience of. Each meeting was very inspiring, and knowing that we’ve put the building blocks in place so the charity has a happy and sustainable future is far more rewarding than any other charitable giving I’ve done. It’s also opened my eyes to the valuable work being carried out by smaller charities, and the difference they make to the everyday lives of people within their local communities. 

I’m pleased to say my leap into the unknown was a success. Being a Pilotlighter has given me the confidence to now look for non-executive roles, and find other ways of giving back. If you’re thinking of becoming a Pilotlighter too, I’d say absolutely go for it! Pilotlight offers a thoroughly rewarding experience, and you’ll learn a lot more than you anticipated.