Seven Proud Years

The 10th of March – the birthday of Think Big – is a day I like to reflect on what we have achieved with young people. Seven years ago when O2 launched its youth programme at an event in Hoxton Square, we knew we had a simple but powerful idea – create a platform that would match young people’s talent with opportunity.

It was a response to a real concern among our customers, from silver surfers to small business owners, that too many young people were becoming disconnected from opportunity and community. Our response was rooted in a simple bit of thinking: “we believe in young people”. Our solution was to empower them to make a difference: O2 offered Think Big grants of £300-£2500 for young people to help turn their ideas into reality in their local communities.

Then in 2012, youth unemployment peaked at over a million, and young people found themselves in a Catch 22 where “no work experience=no job and no job=no work experience”. So we created Go Think Big with Bauer Media to give 16-24 year olds access skills, insight and opportunities to help kick-start their career.

And in 2013 our research revealed the scale of the future digital skills gap in the UK, and as a result we used our own expertise and know-how to help young people use technology for good, gain digital skills and consider digital careers.

We’ve continued to adapt and grow the programme to support young people, for example offering support on considering apprenticeships as an alternative to higher education and highlighting how social action can help them gain skills and experiences valuable for impressing future employers.

What really makes me proud to have led O2’s support for young people over the past seven years is the difference we have made to some of their lives. It’s these personal stories that have been the most compelling illustration of what we have achieved:

  • Esrael, who joined us to get hands on work experience shooting the video for Rizzle Kicks who said he gained more useful experience in 2 days with us than 3 years at college.
  • T who after completing a Think Big rugby project with O2 and Saracens Sports Foundation whilst at Feltham Prison used his positive experience and confidence to get a sales job in The City afterwards.
  • Chloe Hine, who used support from O2 to help overcome the devastating effects of bullying, and now runs a national charity, Beat the Bullies, to help others; as well as advising her local council and the Cyber Bullying Taskforce on what more can be done to protect young people.

There are thousands more: young people who have set up charities and businesses; those who have secured amazing jobs and careers, and through their brilliant ideas have made a difference to even more lives.

I’m proud to work for a company that is so committed to supporting young people, and exceptionally proud to be part of it. At the heart of our approach was listening to our customers and young people to design a solution that was “bottom up” not top down. This wasn’t about traditional CSR but mobilising the power of the O2 brand to enable young people to shine.

The results speak for themselves: over 8000 project leaders backed by £3.5 million worth of funding as well as support, to lead change in their communities; more than 38,000 work experience and skills opportunities and a digital platform, all providing support and information and all to help over 1 million young people gain skills, confidence and experience to help them transition into the working world.

Here’s to another 7 years!