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Leadership Worth Sharing, episode #8: John Rendel

Welcome to Leadership Worth Sharing, a podcast in which ACEVO chief executive Vicky Browning talks to civil society CEOs about their careers, their experiences and what leadership means to them.

Scroll down for the full transcription of the episode.

Vicky Browning speaks to John Rendel, founder of PEAS, a network of over 30 secondary schools in Uganda and Zambia which transforms lives by providing high-quality secondary education to children who would otherwise struggle to go to school. John has recently moved on to his new role of director of grants at The Peter Cundill Foundation. In this episode, they talk about delegating leadership and using power to empower others, why trusts and foundations should ditch restricted funding for good, and why we need to balance innovation with doing the boring things better.


Vicky Browning [00:00:00] Thank very much for being with us. It’s lovely of you to come along. And tell me a bit about you and your background and how you got into this whole sort of social sector game.

John Rendel [00:00:07] So I think the first thing which got me into this sector was probably doing Blue Peter bring and buy sales.

Vicky Browning [00:00:15] Excellent, excellent.

John Rendel [00:00:18] Both my parents were in the social sector. My dad was a Lib Dem MP, my mum was a GP and they both had sort of very strong secular value systems. I went to University, studied development economics at university. I travelled in my gap year to do a bit of teaching. A series of different things meant that I had this sense that I wanted to be in education. I really enjoyed spending time with kids. I valued my own education. My parents had been to expensive private schools and they chose to send me and my brothers to state schools. And I had this real strong sense as a result of that of the inequality just in the UK education system. Because I was… Both came from a background of privilege but I was in schools where a lot of kids weren’t privileged and so I had this ability to see it from both perspectives. And that combined with… Between my second and third year at university, I went to Africa with some friends and met a guy who was working on a local primary school in Kampala. And he told me that a lot of the kids were finishing primary school but not going on to secondary school.

John Rendel [00:01:28] I spent some time with the kids there in the school and I had this incredibly strong sense that this was my purpose. You know, when I think back now… You hear things about what drives – I’m going to be really honest now – kind of white saviourism and some of what’s looked at now from a negative angle. I think if I’m really honest I came from a very privileged background. I went to Africa I saw extreme poverty. I wanted to make a difference. Maybe there’s a narcissism there or a vanity. What I’ve said over time as I’ve looked back at it I’ve developed the sense that a lot of the time whenever you choose to do something it’s from a mixture of different root causes…

Vicky Browning [00:02:11] Absolutely, absolutely.

[00:02:11] And the idea that it’s purely from empathy and there was a huge amount of empathy there that was driving it. But there were also these other things, excited about the chance to actually have a meaningful life. But I am also aware of this other side to it, it was only because of my privilege that I was in a position to do that and actually probably I was a bit naïve. Maybe without that naivety, I wouldn’t have actually started PEAS and effectively PEAS was the sort of follow on from that moment in that primary school where we hatched a plan to build a secondary school and that was very successful. That then became this network of what is now 33 secondary schools in Uganda and Zambia.

Vicky Browning [00:02:49] But the sort of white saviour element of that. You rode back from the sense that… It’s delivered in country it’s all, you know, what you do what PEAS does is delivered by people who aren’t coming in from…

John Rendel [00:03:01] Yeah I think it was because I was aware of the risks, the sort of the personal aggrandizement that, you know, that you can fall into with founding something. You’re effectively making yourself a CEO, because no one else is going to when you’re 21 years old. I was very aware of the reasons that I was in that position and the asymmetry of power between me bringing the money and the partners that I was working within country. And it’s led me to the sort of general rule if there’s one good use of power is to empower other people. It was the reason I left PEAS in the end for example.

John Rendel [00:03:36] But it was also the reason that we set up PEAS, to try and maximise the autonomy of each different sort of level of leadership within the organisation. A lot of people talk about delegation in terms of delegating task, effectively delegating tasks, but then there’s another level which is delegating responsibility. And if you are really successful with delegation you’re delegating leadership and distributing leadership through an organisation. PEAS ended up having a thousand members of staff including all the staff in the schools and between the UK team and Uganda and then Zambia. Uganda and the regions, the regions and the schools. Each of these places, people weren’t in the same office and so there was a huge amount of trust in this delegated leadership that we had to sort of set up. But we became I think quite expert in the process of delegating not just task but leadership as well and trust.

Vicky Browning [00:04:26] People are familiar with delegating task and delegating responsibility. Taking it to that next level, what do you think that entails? So what do you have to do to delegate leadership?

John Rendel [00:04:34] Obviously you need to find the right people to start with so there’s a huge amount in both spending time on hiring and investing in the people that you have and working out how junior people can grow through the organisation. Then there’s obviously a big bit about values. Because if there are shared values, shared motivations, if the spirit of the founder in terms of the ownership you have in your baby as an organisation is shared, then even if you’re not in the room you feel a sense of trust that other people are going to be doing that work. The other thing is that you don’t need to delegate that leadership in the first month. When you hire someone… I quite often had a conversation right at the beginning which is to say “I am going to be quite closely directive in the first few months”. And as a kind of anti autonomy thing, you know, that’s the progressive thing where the two of us build trust and spend time together outside work, see results being delivered and then progressively pull back. And to be really clear that you will be. Because if you don’t have that conversation at the start then what happens is there’s a tension that you’re always going to micromanage. But equally if you just immediately transfer autonomy there’s a tension caused by them getting things slightly wrong because of miscommunication rather than because of any fault on their side.

Vicky Browning [00:05:54] And actually there’s something quite interesting there about devolving… So much devolving support as well. Because if you’re just going to “brilliant, off you go, carry on”, it can feel very alarming and isolating for the person being delegated to, and you need to have a kind of support structure around that because otherwise they’re going to be nervous, “Am I doing this right?”.

John Rendel [00:06:11] We often thought, you know, within our school leaders we had this idea that they needed support, autonomy and accountability. And if either one of those three or any one of those three I should say, was significantly lacking you’re going to have a problem.

Vicky Browning [00:06:28] Yeah.

John Rendel [00:06:29] And so it’s about driving all up but at the same time, you can’t have autonomy without accountability, obviously. Otherwise, you get into frustrations. But you’re right. Is this sort of… As an employee, you’re not going to feel valued if either you’re not given autonomy when you show yourself to be capable or no one is ever actually really caring about the work that you’re producing and there to support you to help you grow.

Vicky Browning [00:06:51] I know that you fairly recently moved on from PEAS and I’ve seen some stuff that you’ve sort of said and talked about… About the difference between the founder and what an organisation needs at the beginning and then some of those qualities and skills perhaps being, perhaps getting in the way at a later stage. Is that sense of handing over or delegating leadership… Was there a sense of my job here is done therefore I can move on? Or was it I’m getting in the way therefore I must move on? Why did you leave?

John Rendel [00:07:19] There was a mixture in things. The first is in 2011 I said to the board “I’m aware of the risk of founder’s syndrome. I’m going to leave the organisation between 2018 and 2021. Before that you want to kick me out that’s obviously fine, but I will leave in that period. I’m planning to. And I want you to kick me out in 2021 irrespective of what’s happening if I haven’t left by then”. A few years later as of 2014, I had a series of personal things that went on and then we had some issues, financial issues within PEAS as well, which I think is symptomatic of a mixture of things. On the one hand, it’s nearly every organisation goes through a point where you get sufficiently complex that the original way of doing things starts cracking. But equally, we felt that at the time there were some third parties that let us down as well.

John Rendel [00:08:09] And funders that were irresponsible in the ways they supported us and that’s been a big driver in what I’ve gone to do now, to try and think about what happened there and how I could change that world as well. So, a combination of those personal and professional challenges came together and put me under for a period a huge amount of pressure. And once… What I knew is that I wasn’t going to leave at the point where things weren’t going well. So I stayed. I had this really clear list of things that needed to be rock solid. But once I got through that and I say I, but this is a group effort particularly a couple of the senior team in PEAS UK were unbelievably supportive and loyal both to the organisation and to me. And we got through that as a group. Did two things. First of all, it made me very clear that I never wanted to have to go through it again because I knew I would risk putting PEAS at risk but also my family at risk. And secondly, I knew that there were people in the organisation that cared about as much as I did and had the skill to successfully lead. So that gave me a sense that I could leave as well as there was the right time to.

John Rendel [00:09:18] The other thing is, after ten, eleven, twelve years…

Vicky Browning [00:09:19] It’s enough.

John Rendel [00:09:19] Everyone always, I think, has that kind of arc of productivity. You get a bit less keen to tackle the same problems, a slightly diminishing enthusiasm. The slightly odd way of looking at it is the process in evolutionary terms of death and the next generation being born and tackling the new environment as it is with its new adaptability is critical in the success of species. The same thing is true in leadership and within organisations. Unless one generation dies or steps aside and the new generation comes in, you get to the point where you don’t actually have those fresh eyes and the ability to adapt to what’s new.

Vicky Browning [00:09:59] What’s interesting, I just listened to you talking about your experience with funders driving you. You now moved into a foundation. Peter Cundill Foundation, and you’re shaking things up there as well by that by the sounds of it. Tell me a bit about the organisation and what it does and what you’re doing.

John Rendel [00:10:15] The foundation is a Bermuda-based large endowment. There’s about three hundred million dollars which we’re spending… Retaining the underlying value we’re spending about nine million a year. We’re funding things in Canada, the UK and in Africa mainly. All focussed on improving the lives of children. The trustees went from seven on the board to four last September and decided to hire the first sort of proper lead. And that was timed quite nicely with… I’d been out of PEAS for a few months, been doing some consulting, haven’t been looking for a full-time job but this came along and I’ve had this kind of itch to scratch around the challenges of the grant or grantee relationship and how things can be done better. And they were a point where they were quite excited by the idea of doing something a bit differently in terms of sort of move the organisation forward. They’ve had a test portfolio, a learning portfolio. They had a number of people applied that had been career grant makers and I was the only one that applied from the other side. They wanted an entrepreneur, they wanted someone that was going to do things differently and in the interview I said I would. You know, I said I don’t really want to do this job if I’m just going to come and portfolio manage. I want to grab it and actually, hopefully, be influential beyond the foundation. The other thing I said was I actually think you can in foundations you can have as big an impact by working out the how of funding as you can the who of funding. I think a lot of philanthropy is focussed on who do you give money to. Actually the big gains in a lot of foundations can come to how you actually give that money as well.

Vicky Browning [00:11:48] The announcement then… This led to the announcement you made quite recently that said that you’re going to give unrestricted funding to your grantees, your partners rather than project-based. And it sounds… I mean obviously I saw you tweeted it and it seemed to go down quite well with the sector. There was a lot of incredibly positive and excited support for that. You know listening again to what you were talking about the way you ran things at PEAS… Those three things. You’re going back to the accountability, autonomy and support as a funder. Is that your role?

John Rendel [00:12:19] Yeah. I think you’re part of accountability.

Vicky Browning [00:12:21] That’s what you’re giving them. You’re giving them, you’re saying to them: here’s some money you need to be accountable you need to be autonomous. But we will also support you.

John Rendel [00:12:29] Sorry. Yeah. No, exactly, exactly. That’s right. And I think as soon as you give people restricted grants they’re actually less accountable than they would be if you were giving them unrestricted grants. Because when you give someone an unrestricted grant there’s no kind of excuses. You’ve got the money to do what you want to do with it and the way we do accountability in terms of grant management is we ask organisations, under the new approach, we ask organisations for milestones. Their own milestones that they’re expecting to achieve over the next 15 months. This is an idea which sort of come across from one of our best funders at PEAS called the Mulago Foundation which is a US foundation and you sort of share these milestones and you then track them over time and you have six monthly catchups and you look at how they’re doing against their own milestones rather than specific requirements. Particularly input restrictions are completely ridiculous. No one knows what they’re going to be spending in three years time, you know, in terms of the detail. And you want the organisation to be flexible you want them to be efficient.

John Rendel [00:13:29] A lot of foundations and trustees on boards, once they hear the ways in which restricted funding contorts the behaviour of charities, the projectization, the extent to which you’re doing things you don’t really want to do because you thought they were the right thing two years ago. The accounting cost of trying to map different puzzle pieces together in kind of tecelation problem, you know, and this higher audit costs and you demotivate people as well. It relates back to the autonomy thing that suddenly playing to someone else’s tune rather than their own mission as well. Of course you have to trust organisations well but I think one of the mistakes made is people say it must require a lot of trust to do unrestricted granting. My belief is that it requires no more trust than to do a restrictive grant because if you don’t trust an organisation don’t give them any money at all. Don’t give them a restricted grant because you will never have enough control to actually force them to spend it as well as you would with an organisation you really trust.

Vicky Browning [00:14:30] You used very kind of blunt language, that was very kind of music to ears I think. And you talked about restricted funding being a) distrustful b) disrespectful c) philanthropically self-defeating and d) narcissistic. And I’m sitting and going ‘no, John what do you really think?’. I mean, you kow, that’s quite kind of bold.

John Rendel [00:14:47] I felt a bit like Trump.

Vicky Browning [00:14:51] Wild tweet  in the middle of the night.

John Rendel [00:14:55] I mean it’s 10 years of being, you know, knocked down.

Vicky Browning [00:15:00] Yeah.

John Rendel [00:15:00] And the asymmetry in the relationship between grantor and grantee is very disempowering. And… But a lot of grantors are very well meaning they just don’t know how the grantee feels.

Vicky Browning [00:15:13] Yeah.

John Rendel [00:15:13] And so I think it’s not just sort of knowing intellectually, it’s about knowing the feeling of being a recipient. Of course this is exacerbated a million times with beneficiaries of charities.

Vicky Browning [00:15:23] Yes.

John Rendel [00:15:23] That’s why it’s so important for charities themselves to really really try and get beneficiaries to be involved in their governance and their leadership wherever possible.

Vicky Browning [00:15:32] Those powers, that’s the power balance.

John Rendel [00:15:33] There’s a power balance between…

Vicky Browning [00:15:35] The funder the charity, the charity the beneficiary.

John Rendel [00:15:38] Yeah.

Vicky Browning [00:15:38] And so when you look to fund… Because you haven’t been doing this for long so presumably you’re working out how it works as you go. When you’re looking for charities to fund are you looking to see… If you’re devolving power to them that they’re devolving power further on? Is that one of the measures that you look at?

John Rendel [00:15:56] I think that definitely is. We’ve created a sort of set of different things we look for. One is fit with our overall scope of the things we’re looking for and we’re looking at governance, leadership, the strategy, this sort of theory of change, the cohesion around the strategy and the way in which the inputs are likely to drive the outputs, outcomes and impact, a theory of change. And then we’re looking at value for money impact. And that means the cost per beneficiary, means the depth of impact per beneficiary as well. And then the sustainability of the work. So there’s all these different things that are very very hard to put numbers around a lot of these things. So a lot of it comes back to judgment. But if you’re scoring reasonably well across these different things or if you’re scoring a bit lower you can see that the path is in the right direction towards higher scores, or as an organisation that’s less mature, then you can feel a sense that it’s okay to sort of provide unrestricted funding to track the milestones and carry on supporting the organisation over time.

John Rendel [00:16:58] In response to that Twitter thread, loads of charities said “this is amazing I wish more people were saying this”, of course there have been, a lot of people have been saying it for a while but this thread did cut through for some reason. If everyone in the charity sector responds in that way, all the recipients, then funders have to ask themselves “Are we on the same side?”.

Vicky Browning [00:17:18] Yeah.

John Rendel [00:17:19] There are various reasons why you might want to give a restricted grant and I think maybe it’s not as black and white to say that everything should always be unrestricted. Sometimes you might want to commission a particular project because that’s the thing you need to produce. But if you are fundamentally interested in impact, then unrestricted grants up in nearly all situations are better I think.

Vicky Browning [00:17:40] Now, you kind of, you know, talking to other funders and how are they responding? Because I know, as you say, some are already doing it and I think yours cut through because you were speaking language of the chief exec. You were sort of speaking in a way that resonated. But are you saying other than a kind of small cohort of funders kind of getting it, is there a wider movement towards this that you’re noticing?

John Rendel [00:18:02] Some people say it’s going the other way which is desperate if that’s the case. It’s really important to say that other people are doing this, have been doing it for a long time, have been talking about it for a long time. But far too often people are still using these old school method, it is old school. It’s about control. It’s about my impact rather than total impact. If you see what I mean. I think what’s been really exciting is a number of officers of and leaders within foundations have asked for the set of board slides which I shared with my board that went through some of the reasons that I thought unrestricted was good. And so that’s something I’m really… If I do anything in this role is to model some of this stuff and hopefully influence other people to do more unrestricted funding. So I’m keen on continuing to do that. And there been some good people making sensible counterpoints around, you know, how do you do unrestricted funding when you’re supporting an organisation which is huge and has so many different layers that some of them are outside your geographical scope?

John Rendel [00:19:06] And there are ways you can maximise flexibility within that by doing hypothecated, unrestricted but hypothecated to a particular area, so that you try and at least you work with the principle rather than the complete black and white. But generally I think it is possible to largely do unrestricted in all cases. So yeah I’m sort of meeting with a lot of foundations at the moment and bouncing ideas around and I’m learning a huge amount because I’m really fresh in it. But people are very respectful of what I’m bringing in, the ideas from the other side of the perspective as well. And a lot of people have said maybe that simply the idea that every foundation should have someone that has been a fundraiser or has been a charity CEO, that would change a lot very quickly.

Vicky Browning [00:19:47] Yeah, bringing that perspective. Absolutely. You mentioned it before about “it’s not my impact, it’s our impact” and that sense of…

John Rendel [00:19:55] Total impact.

Vicky Browning [00:19:55] Yeah the total impact of our money our purpose. Your purpose your activity. Bringing those together.

John Rendel [00:20:01] There’s never going to be enough money around and that’s what drives the asymmetry. And every charity always needs more money. So the asymmetry will always be there. But finding great charities that are maximizing their impact, that are well governed and well led actually isn’t easy. And we need them as much as they need us. But I think foundations do need to be responsible for working out every possible way they can empower their partners so that you can maximize impact as a partnership. And in doing that you can feel that, yeah, you’re not buying impact from them. You’re you’re doing your bit within a collective and that empowers them and constantly talking about how important that is and living it through your policies is really important. One of the things beyond unrestricted funding that we’re very keen to do is to make three year grants which is very normal. But the difference that we’re going to hopefully implement is that every year that three year grant will extend by another year. So people always have a minimum of two years at any given point. There’s accountability there as well. If people aren’t making progress and for some reason we’ve lost trust, they aren’t going to be part of the long term core portfolio. Then you have that tapered exit. Again, empowerment isn’t always about being nice and giving people everything they want. It’s about saying no quickly. If someone is out they need to know as fast as possible. Then they’re empowered to work out what to do next. But even organisations that we’re exiting we want to do… it’s a slightly unfortunate phrase, we have sunset grants, tapering funding over a period of time. And as we move to this new strategy is saying okay the idea is we want to be where we want to be in 2022 not by the end of 2019. And that’s not a failure. That’s a success because the process of transition and making sure we exit responsibly from existing grants is really really important as well as getting to where we want to go.

Vicky Browning [00:22:01] That kind of Gwyneth and Chris thing is conscious uncoupling isn’t it? That’s what You’re definitely making sure that when the divorce happens it’s kind and generous and supportive as it can be.

John Rendel [00:22:14] Yeah. Although there aren’t many organisations “yes we’re very happy that we’re going to exit this partnership”. Nearly always people… There were times at PEAS where I didn’t want any more money from an organisation. That’s how bad it can get. So yes it is possible.

Vicky Browning [00:22:35] But I think if there are so many hoops to jump through that the money becomes a liability. Actually you can’t do what you need to do because you’re spending the whole time trying to deliver this thing for this other money than it is that you do is “actually I don’t want that”.

John Rendel [00:22:47] Yeah.

Vicky Browning [00:22:47] Yeah I think that’s right. And you said that it’s not always easy finding really good charities that are well governed and demonstrating impact. And I think that feeds into something else I’ve seen you say which is talking about doing the boring things better. I think that’s a really important thing because a lot of the time with funding and also in other context it’s all about innovation. What’s the next excting thing, what’s the shiny thing. And some of this is just about getting the right stuff done well.

John Rendel [00:23:14] Most of it. The problem with doing the boring things better is they’re boring. But if you organisationally and even in terms of your communications can spin it into a positive then it’s about making all these potential weaknesses into strengths. And yeah there is this sort of real fetishization of innovation. Innovation is great but actually, particularly in something like widening access to quality secondary education in Uganda and Zambia we know what works. We just gonna do it and do it as big and fast as you possibly can. Constantly thinking about how best to do it, step back, be creative, fine. But also make sure you’ve got people who really like the process of eking out the marginal gain. Again another reason why I left PEAS is because we got to the stage where it was about really efficiently driving operational gains and that wasn’t the big thing for me. I like the idea stages as well, it’s nice to now come into a new role where I can do the creative bit.

Vicky Browning [00:24:10] And so it’s important to do the boring things better as long as you’re personally not doing them.

John Rendel [00:24:17] Okay. I think that’s probably…

Vicky Browning [00:24:20] Was that harsh?

John Rendel [00:24:23] It’s important to do the boring things better. It’s important for me to say that it’s important. That’s my role.

Vicky Browning [00:24:28] Yeah yeah yeah. I like that. At ACEVO we’re looking at some of the work we’ve been doing on cultures and charities and the way charities operate. It’s not enough to do good. You have to do good well. And it’s that sort of getting the basics right, getting the way you operate. And you talked about not just the who of funding but the how of funding. And I think that goes back into the charities as well. Not just what we do, it’s how we do it that matters and we have to be as focussed on both elements.

John Rendel [00:24:59] A huge problem with the sector is that the powerful fundraising comes from the severity of need rather than the efficacy of the solution. And PEAS again tried to always really sell the efficacy of the solution. That’s why we often got more money from institutional, might be regarded as more sophisticated trusts and foundations rather than the Dorothy donors, which is a very patronizing way of saying people that day to day are thinking who… “Oh that’s that’s got me emotionally hooked”. And it drove me crazy that we had to constantly be spinning these stories about the particular individual beneficiaries. And of course that’s part of the work but actually, operationally, internally you need to make sure you’re really focussed on retaining that empathetic link with individuals but actually being proud about the fact that it’s how you do it and how efficient you are and how are you maximizing impact in a very professional kind of business like way.

Vicky Browning [00:25:55] And I wonder if that’s something. Well I think it is something for us a challenge for us as a sector to continue to think about how we shift perception of funding charities or giving to charities away from that. Well you know it talked to my heartstrings and therefore I give you the cash. As opposed to actually I can see that this is a really important thing to do. And I’ll give it to you anyway. And those things are difficult to balance.

John Rendel [00:26:15] Yeah. I mean I think it’s an example of the tragedy of the commons you know. The idea that for each individual charity it would be nice if everyone else was doing that stuff for you. You still got to do your thing pragmatically to get the money the same way. It’s nice if everyone else is picking up litter but it might be easier for me to chuck mine on the floor or carbon emissions or whatever else. And I think equally in relation to unrestricted funding charities never say “thanks very much for this offer of a restricted grant, will you give it to us unrestricted?”. That’s not true. They sometimes say it but usually it’s easier to reduce the risk of losing it in entirety to not actually make that pitch. If everyone was constantly making the pitch about unrestricted funding the message would start coming through. So there’s a responsibility on the side of the charity both to not have this kind of race to the bottom of desperately emotional fundraising and focus on the severity of need rather than actually doing things well, but also to actually say to funders you could do better than this stuff. If we all did it would help the sector move forward.

Vicky Browning [00:27:20] We’ve been looking as an organisation at the environmental impact of what we  do. And one of the key things that we’ve learned is that we should be talking to our funders, saying “where are you investing your money?” You know, on the team it was kind of  like “yeah absolutely” and I’m taking as a chief exec, I’m taking a deep intake, thinkin “I don’t want to upaset anybody by asking them that” but actually, okay, if that’s what we need to do that’s what we need to do and that’s what we need to do collectively. So I think there is something about us holding each other to account as charities are being funded. It’s back to that power imbalance that we don’t want to say anything that’s going to upset the people giving us the money because otherwise we can’t do what we need to do. But equally if we’re going to shift whether it’s doing what we do as well as we can because the funding is unrestricted or having an impact on the kind of global climate crisis by questioning, we’ve kind of got to just grit your teeth and do it.

John Rendel [00:28:08] It’s also important to be realistic about the fact that wherever you have these power imbalances, you know, whether it’s employer/employee or foundation and beneficiary/charity, even if the person in the position of power is hugely open and you know, the other person doesn’t… You know, there’s always a bit of a kind of trust gap. If I did this it would marginally reduce my chance of getting what I want which is the funding or whatever else. It’s beholden really really strongly on the people in the positions of power to create an environment in which when someone says something in the short term it actually makes you feel a bit uncomfortable but that doesn’t damage the relationship. That’s an incredible brave thing which helps you do better yourself.

Vicky Browning [00:28:52] I like your sense that the person, that the people in power need to think about how they enable that. And I think that’s really important. Personally John as an entrepreneur, as somebody who’s founded and driven an organisation, what’s the difference between that kind of direct involvement and now your role where you are empowering others to do the direct action? How do you feel switching over from doing the do to enabling others to do the do?

John Rendel [00:29:18] Well it’s lovely. Much much easier. We had a thousand staff. I now have one and a half apart from me. So to that extent, I’ve taken on an easier role. But it’s fun because it’s creative. It’s working well in terms of my family life and I think sometimes you go through life and there’s a stage for one thing and then your priorities can change for a bit. I might go back and do a job which is a bit more intense day to day at some point. It is the most incredible privilege to give away money. And I’m really enjoying it. In terms of the distance I am from the frontline. Throughout my career, so far I’ve progressively moved away from the frontline. I did two years as a secondary school maths teacher. I grew PEAS as an entrepreneur with a tiny team very very closely involved in the launch of each school. It grew to being so big that I was meeting our senior staff and not actually getting on the frontline enough. And now I’m one step further removed again. And it hasn’t necessarily been deliberate. But partly recently I’ve had my own kids and I’m able to enjoy spending time with them. So I’ve got a bit of frontline education work going on with being a dad.

John Rendel [00:30:28] So that’s been a nice balance. But overall yeah it’s a privilege and I’m really enjoying it.

Vicky Browning [00:30:33] Just in terms of how you want to… how you see your impact as a leader over the next few years…What will success look like for you in terms of this phase of your career?

John Rendel [00:30:44] Well I hope we can sort of support the organisations that are going to be in our portfolio as well as possible. Both in terms of the way that we fund them and the way that we support them beyond grants. So directing other money to them, providing third party reference, looking at non-grant support be it capacity building or networking or cohere the sector. Also, I want to try and be influential about unrestricted funding and funding practice and about… You know the big thing in our international work is trying to cohere the international education sector around something called Learning adjusted years of schooling, which is kind of a single compound metric for education which doesn’t exist, there hasn’t existed the single way of saying you’re increasing the amount of education, and so that will help the education sector to be on a more level playing field with other sectors. To sort of enjoy the work, to reflect. And I keep on promising to try and start writing a book but I never get around to it. Maybe I’ll have to get a ghost-writer to do the first draft or something.

Vicky Browning [00:31:47] And this will be a book about your story or how you see the world or your vision of what leadership should be? What’s the book about?

John Rendel [00:31:55] Anecdotes, you know, words of wisdom from John Rendel. Actually the big thing is, my granddad wrote a book about his time in the war. Proper age of heroes type stuff. He was behind enemy lines in Crete as an agent. It hugely inspired me. His values that came through in the book, but also incredible heroism. And I’d like to write something that, you know, my kids and grandkids could see and could understand some of the PEAS story in particular.

Vicky Browning [00:32:24] And certainly from the sector’s point of view I think you flying the flag for unrestricted funding you’re using your voice to promote that, that is I think that’s heroism in its finest form.

John Rendel [00:32:34] I’ll take that, I’ll take that.

Vicky Browning [00:32:34] For those of us. So yeah, all the very best for that and thank you so much for talking to me, I’ve really enjoyed chatting to you and I’ll pat your elbow for spreading that message because it’s one I think we need to hear more of so lovely to chat to you.

John Rendel [00:32:48] Thank you.

Vicky Browning [00:32:49] Thank you.

Vicky Browning [00:32:51] This was Leadership Worth Sharing, the podcast by and for civil society leaders. Thanks for listening and we’ll meet again in a few weeks! If you want to know more about ACEVO, check our website (that’s a c e v o dot org dot uk) and follow us on Twitter, twitter dot com slash acevo. Bye!

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