Fundraising for Byte Night: supporting Action for Children

One bike. Three men.

Our challenge? To cycle for 24 hours non-stop to raise money and awareness for a charity called Action for Children who support the 80,000 homeless children in the UK. On Friday 3rd August at 4pm we settled down for what was going to be a fantastic experience of tiredness, camaraderie, humour, shouting, generosity, through rain, wind and sunshine.

Back in May when I first suggested a charity cycle challenge as part of our Byte Night fundraising I couldn’t have guessed how much support we would need and receive; where do you start? Picking the team was easy as when I asked John French, Scotty Davidson who sits opposite jumped in and said “I’ll do that!” Next up, venue. Sure we could have done this in the office but that would have limited scope for donations and sounded somewhat boring.

Edinburgh is a fantastic city and every year in August the population swells so much during the Fringe and International Festivals that I thought it would give us a great opportunity to get as many people as possible to see us and donate. With the main festival venues centred around the Royal Mile which is soooo busy we decided on the West End. Busy enough but not too busy to give us any security concerns.

Next came sourcing a bike, informing the local council, clothing, posters, food, drinks, visitors (for support, security and supplies). Aside from friends and family I’ll get the thanks out of the way now. Massive thanks to:

  • Edinburgh Leisure for the spin bike
  • Brewlab for a couple of cases of water
  • Starbucks for breakfast coffee and muffins, and then more coffee and treats
  • A very kind unnamed woman who after watching us from a nearby bar for around 3 hours suddenly appeared with Big Mac Meals for the 3 of us. She’d asked the bar if she could pay them to bring us a bacon roll for breakfast but they said no – not particularly charitable of them but they will remain nameless
  • And finally to my main partners in crime John and Scotty for helping to organise and keeping us all going

And so on to the main event

After picking up the bike and my team mates we quickly set up and settled in for a long night. The weather was unkind for the first few hours with intermittent heavy rain showers but we were soon visited by colleagues leaving the office for the day. The cycling plan was to do 2 hours on the bike then swap while those off the bike shook the buckets and improved their patter. It’s amazing how quickly you lose any sense of inhibition and start shouting out for the cause to attract attention for donations.

 I don’t plan to give too much of a blow by blow account but will instead pick out what I consider some highlights :

  • During rain showers we used the weather to our advantage by shaming those sheltering in shop doorways to consider those unfortunate children who would have no such shelter overnight
  • Free coffee from a bar across the street who had no idea what we were doing but saw that we were clearly raising money for charity and had already been there for a good few hours
  • Chatting with a homeless young lad who had previously been helped by the charity and was now in a hostel which was helping him get his life back on track
  • Meeting other homeless people that had very little to their name but still offered some chat and some coppers as they know how hard homelessness is
  • Seeing the city move through a whole 24 hours from one fixed spot; this was fascinating watching it ease from early to late evening to very early morning to morning to afternoon and the different people this brought across our path. We watched and chatted to people heading out for the evening, heading home and then dropping by again in the morning just to see if we were still there!
  • Being visited by colleagues late into the night with smiles, food and supplementary shouting at passers by to spare some change
  • A young man who gave us £40 which we said was too much but he insisted as he’d apparently won £9,000 at the casino the night before!
  • Lots of children wanting to pop some change in the bucket having harangued their parents/grandparents for money to help us

24cycle_2Our fundraising target was a few hundred pounds – but we raised over £2,000!!!

What an amazing experience and what an amazing result! But what’s next?

Tonight, Friday 7 October is Byte Night and a group of us from the Edinburgh office will be sleeping out under the stars to raise more money to help fund projects and services run by Action for Children.

It’s not too late to support us – if you’d like to make a donation please visit our justgiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/soprasteriateam

What crazy things have you done to fund raise for charity? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Sustainability rolls on at Rio 2016 Olympics?

The Olympics has the accolade of bringing nations and cultures together with a backdrop of sporting disciplines. When my home town, London hosted the summer games in 2012, I wanted to be part of the action and celebration, so I volunteered as a Games Maker in the Athletes’ Village. What a great and successful event it turned out to be and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience to the extent that it spurred me on to volunteer again, this time for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Buildup to the Rio 2016 as we all know from the media had been mixed with questions being posed on whether the country could have spent ten plus billions of US$ on more vital infrastructure and services to its citizens and whether the stated legacy would ever be realised. Facilitating Sustainability (Environment, Workplace, Marketplace and Community) for Sopra Steria in the UK meant that my desire was to find out for myself what the locals thought on the ground.

 Rio de Janeiro was somewhat a familiar territory for me. I had travelled through Brazil, Peru and Bolivia in 2014, spending time in the Amazon rainforest. My role for Sopra Steria Group as the Head of Environmental Sustainability had given that trip an added dimension to learn first-hand and share with my colleagues the vital role the largest rainforest making our planet habitable for us and generations to come. I had made friends with several Cariocas (those born and raised in Rio de Janeiro), so I arranged to live with my Carioca friends, walking, taking buses (an experience for the brave) and metros (lines 1, 2 & 4 – does anyone know where is line 3?), eating feijoada (a hearty stew of black beans, sausages and cuts of pork of varying quality – traditionally veering towards the lower end, with trotters, and ears all going into the mix!) and not forgetting my daily dose of Caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça: sugarcane hard liquor with sugar, lime and ice).

It was great to see the first gold medal for Brazil going to a young lady, Rafaela Silva, from the notorious favela, Cidade de Deus or City of God who had to fight inequality, poverty and racism growing up. Perhaps this achievement was a tiny example of a positive outcome to mitigate human rights campaigners’ concern about the impact of the Games on the Brazilian city’s most vulnerable communities. Driving with my Carioca friends through several favelas (too dangerous to walk they say; a black belt in karate is of no value against a gun!) poverty is there to be seen with limited schools and hospitals. Most Cariocas with whom I mingled, spoke (thank you must go to Google Translate for rescuing me in a number of situations) and drank Caipirinha felt that money could have been more wisely spent on infrastructure (hospital and schools), than on transport – which by the way was a big improvement from two years ago – and to ensure planning continues to realise the long term benefits of sports and stadia without the risk of a repeat of Athens 2004.

To conclude on a positive note, my volunteer experience at the Rio Olympic Arena with gymnastics and trampoline was great and I admired the Brazilian skill of thinking on their feet and coming up with successful solutions to issues that develop due to a lack of process and training! I even managed to secure a new Rio 2016 volunteer shirt and trousers to auction at the Sopra Steria Community Matters week in October that champions community involvement and where all employees are encouraged to get involved in community activities, one day’s paid company time to volunteer, matched funds and enabling grants.

As I finish this blog, I gather the Tokyo games in 2020 are planning to use multi-lingual high tech robots. Does this mean my human volunteer skills (underpinned by Google Translate) have had its day?

What do you think?  Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Game Changer: Giving children the opportunity to lead a healthy and physically active life

I started my local reading group a number of years ago and since then we’ve become good friends, so when I announced at our meeting the other night I’d spent the morning at a primary school, they were rather surprised. “You work for an IT company, don’t you?” Asked Katy. Not quite I thought, but I’ll save our digital transformation partner credentials for another conversation… I then got on to explain about how I’d had such an inspiring morning and about the strategic partnership with Widnes Vikings Rugby League Club, Halton Clinical Commissioning Group and Cheshire and Merseyside Women’s and Children’s Partnership Vanguard and how that had taken me to Weston Primary School in Runcorn for the launch of Game Changer, a programme with the ambition to make a significant impact in raising physical fitness and promoting healthy lifestyles in children and their families.

Physical activity is a critical part of Game Changer, as is healthy eating and the goal is to change habits. To kick off the programme at Weston Primary School, the entire Widnes Vikings team came along to put the children through their paces with a series of fun exercises and games. It was incredible to see how the children responded to the rugby players and so encouraging to see how they really wanted to get involved and take part in the physical activity sessions.

Sopra Steria’s involvement in the programme started a few months ago with discussions about how technology could support the Game Changer programme. Our role as technology partner is to develop the applications and web site side of things, which combined with a wearable device is looking to provide a fun environment for monitoring exercise levels, support gamification to encourage participation and link to important advice for leading a healthy lifestyle. With the data that is downloaded from the wearable devices, Liverpool John Moores University, another partner, will be able to develop statistics that can be fed back to the children and schools in a fun way, to encourage further participation.

In September Game Changer will reach out to 36 schools across Halton and each one will be looking to unlock an extra 15 minutes of physical activity each day. It is an incredible programme, I’m now asking myself how I can find an extra 15 minutes a day for exercise… Can you find the time too?

Find out more about Game Changer.

Three things I learned volunteering for The Prince’s Trust

 Sopra Steria is a proud Patron of
The Prince’s Trust – a UK youth charity that helps 13 to 30 year olds get into jobs, education and training.  We encourage our employees to be volunteers for The Trust to help run and lead programmes that inspire and empower these young people to realise their potential.

I recently volunteered to deliver a
‘Find A Work Placement’ workshop to help participants take responsibility for developing and raising their skills.  Here are some things I learned from this challenging and rewarding experience:

The participating young people wanted to make a difference to their lives

The young people participating in the workshop showed real potential to succeed.  They engaged in the workshop activities (including a role play where I played  an employer they were approaching for a work placement), listened to and positively acted on the feedback given and shared in celebrating success.  They demonstrated the right qualities we all need when looking for work.

The Prince’s Trust team were fantastic

The materials and support I received from The Trust Team were always practical and useful.  As a volunteer drawing from my own professional skills and experience, I was rightly expected to make the workshop a success; The Trust helped me by providing a structured approach and suggested methods for facilitating the session with clear, specific learning objectives for those participating. This empowered me to run the session effectively with other volunteers while giving us room to share our own relevant insights and experiences throughout the day. In addition the onsite Trust Team helped participants engage in the workshop activities constructively using a positive, collaborative approach.

It was challenging and personally rewarding for me

Like all Trust volunteers, it’s intrinsically satisfying to see young people get value from your engagement.  The experience also helped develop my own business skills as I needed to adapt my working style to succeed as a workshop facilitator.  By the end of the day I had helped participants create their own individual action plans to find work placements – a positive next step in them taking responsibility for unlocking their own potential.

Find out more information about The Prince’s Trust and how you can get involved.  And if you have any thoughts on this topic, leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Supporting transformation: my thoughts from Scrum Day London 2016

As an advocate for the use of Scrum and in need of some Scrum Juice, I went with Sopra Steria colleagues Steve Forbes and John McNeill to the Scrum Day London 2016 – an event held by Scrum.Org where Ken Schwaber, co-creator of Scrum, was giving the keynote speech, and the day’s theme was “Business Agility through Professional Scrum.”

The story of the day for me was that while Scrum is popular, seen as necessary and is adopted by many, Scrum success as represented by teams delivering working software into Production every Sprint or Iteration (i.e. every one to four weeks) continues to be a challenge. Very few teams are able to report success against this measure – in fact, I was the only person in the room with a raised hand when Ken asked the question “How many of you release software every Sprint?”

The fact is, technology exists for teams to be able to release into Live every 5 minutes (or even less).

The issue appears to be that Scrum and Agile require a change in organisational thinking and support that is hard for many to implement, and in a way that allows the innovations a Scrum Team offers to be realised.

We heard first from Gunther Verheyen, co-developer of the Scaled Professional Scrum Framework, who laid out the map of the journey from a ‘waterfall’ type structure (and mind set) to one that supports Scrum. Gunther has a vision:

‘Management’ is not a collection of people exerting hierarchical powers. It is an emergent, networked structure of co-managers. Removing Impediments. Optimising a product’s value. Updating the organisation’s OS.

… and you can  view his presentation online.

Karen Bowes, Head of HR & Sustainability at Capital One gave an impressive and honest insight into how Capital One was adopting Scrum not just in software delivery, but throughout its management structure. We were reminded by Ken Schwaber that Scrum requires courage, and courage was used by Capital One to great effect: they realised that there is always ‘noise’ and conflict when new practices and change are introduced and accepted this as a fundamental part of deep transformation. The focus of their management and strategising was consciously shifted from detailed micro-planning and control to providing support for Scrum teams and the removal of impediments to Scrum team success. Not an easy journey, but one that has already reaped rich rewards for Capital One.

Ken Schwaber’s new initiative is to propose a ‘Scrum Studio’ approach, which effectively places a Scrum team (or group of teams) in a special location within an organisation, with all the support structures it needs, and allow it to get on with its job. In this way, the hope is that the impediments to successful Scrum uptake are removed and organisations can then further adopt Scrum practice at a pace they can manage if and when they see a benefit in doing so.

Whatever the future for Scrum and Agile, it is going to take motivated, influential and courageous individuals to lead and support the kind of transformations that business is being challenged to undergo.

It was a privilege to meet some of them at Scrum Day London. Do let me know your thoughts – leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Working in IT: an education

Building relationships with schools as a STEM ambassador

Following on from our attendance at Leith Academy’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers event, the opportunity arose for Sopra Steria to welcome a class of third year pupils to the Edinburgh office.

After our visit to Leith Academy, we found that the school pupils (and teacher) considered a career in IT to involve tasks similar to those of a career in admin, using standard tools such as Microsoft Office. The main objective of the day, therefore, was to broaden the pupils’ (and teacher’s!) perspective on what IT really is, as well as give them an insight into the great work that Sopra Steria does in the industry – but how were we going to do this in a way that would make them understand, and do so without being overly technical?

We developed an agenda of activities for the morning, with three separate sessions:

  1. We asked the pupils to break down an everyday activity such as the booking of flights, as we thought that this would be something the pupils would understand and would possibly have experienced first-hand at home. The idea was to break this seemingly straightforward task into its IT sub-parts, showing and explaining how data flows between them. Being an interactive and relaxed session, the pupils really got involved and they clearly found it both enjoyable and fascinating; they were previously unaware of how many different systems there are behind what they saw as a simple process and therefore had no concept of the levels of data involved.
  2. A presentation on UX delivered by Emily Walters and Lynsey Brownlow, which opened the pupils’ eyes to the idea of building good user experience and its importance in the development of well-designed software. This was a hands-on session, and got their brains ticking as they thought about the most user-friendly ways to redesign a standard yoghurt pot!
  3. The pupils were unleashed into the office to chat to members of staff about their roles in Sopra Steria. Rather than give them a set of questions, we encouraged them to think of different questions to ask. As staff from all areas of the business got involved from development through to HR, it gave them a great insight into the varying roles that are available in IT, and it was interesting to see how different members of our staff showed the pupils what they did, or how they answered their questions. It was also great to see such a buzz around the office from both the pupils and our staff!

It was clear that the pupils enjoyed their day, with positive feedback from both themselves (especially after they told us they had been looking forward to the day after looking up and researching our company and what we do) and their teacher, who was so impressed with our morning that she asked if Sopra Steria could act as Leith Academy’s STEM ambassador. This was a great achievement and conclusion of the morning and we hope that we can continue to build strong relationships not just with Leith Academy, but with other schools in Edinburgh and beyond.

Sopra Steria has since been approached about the possibility of doing days like this again; if this is something that you feel could benefit your school, please feel free to get in touch – we would be more than happy to help! You can leave a reply below, or contact me, or my colleagues Ross Graham or Stephen Readman by email.