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Collaboration: Key To Success in The Charity Sector - Interview with Martin Baker

I was inspired this week when I caught up with Martin Baker. Martin is the founder and CEO of the Charity Learning Consortium, the Corporate eLearning Consortium, and the not for profit organisation GivebackUK. Martin is passionate about the power of collaboration, and he is also determined to give something back to the learning community. He is also a powerful advocate for the charity and not-for-profit sector. He says one of his key roles is “to shout about the fantastic creativity, innovation and achievements that I see from charities use of learning technologies, which never ceases to amaze me.”

Martin, tell us a little about your background

I’ve spent almost 25 years working in learning technologies – and yes, I do remember using CD-ROMs, floppy discs, training videos and even 12” interactive laser discs. My children don’t know what any of those things are, but to me they’re a reminder of the staggering advances in learning technologies in one generation.  

You’re the founder of the Charity Learning Consortium, can you tell us about the consortium and your vision?

I first had the idea to form the Charity Learning Consortium almost 15 years ago. Very few third sector organisations were using eLearning at the time – although I’ve since discovered that Barnardo’s were early adopters. Led by Lisa Johnson, the L&D team at Barnardo's continue to trail blaze, being one of our first members to use virtual classrooms, and use them well.

I knew that bringing charities together could offer an affordable eLearning solution – there was no way that they could afford bespoke eLearning. But it took time and real tenacity to bring a first pilot group of charities together, with a second and third pilot following in subsequent years. Today the Consortium has more than 120 member organisations – including Barnardo’s, RNLI RSPCA and Macmillan - and continues to grow - supplying eLearning and resources to more than 500,000 third sector staff and volunteers.

My vision is and always has been quite simply to collaborate to succeed – and according to research by Towards Maturity, it works! I love the expression ‘together we are more powerful than on our own’ and it is particularly true in the third sector. We’re really in it together, sharing knowledge, experiences (good and bad) and expertise.

What particular challenges do charities and not-for-profit organisations face when it comes to learning?

First and foremost is money. The NCVO estimates there are 164,000 charities in the UK, and I think that only 500 to 1,000 have any kind of budget at all to meet the skills needs of their staff. Those statistics are really shocking aren’t they? They also may have inherited a mishmash of outdated hardware and software, so technology can be a real issue. And on top of that there are the usual challenges of offering L&D to retail and care staff and volunteers, that probably don’t have a desk or access to a desktop computer.

What learning design and technology trends are taking place in the sector? 

What I notice most about our members is that they are frequently at different stages using technology for learning. We have a group of innovators - who are now driving the technological changes that we are making as a Consortium – but at our quarterly Members’ Seminars, they may sit alongside someone who is totally new to eLearning. And of course there are lots of people in between. So in terms of using technology, they can all be doing quite different things. For example, the Shaw Trust is experimenting with Open Badges, The Rainbow Trust has an excellent Induction programme, St Mungo’s is doing amazing work with apprentices, while Southern Housing Group is using eLearning as part of an in-house coaching training programme. So it’s very diverse. What unites them is their openness to new ideas and new ways of working. Collectively we’re striving for excellence in learning and development.

The consortium is about sharing and being a collaborative network, what can other organisations learn from your experience?

I would say don’t give up! I’m well known for putting ideas into action, and sometimes they don’t work out, or they change and develop along the way. That can sometimes be frustrating in the early stages, but personally I love that kind of organic development. I knew that the Consortium could work, but it would have been so easy to have given up at any point in the first few years. I feel that now we’re at the stage where the members themselves really own the Consortium – they’re the ones in the driving seat, shaping our direction. At this stage, that means my letting go of preconceived ideas, but it’s really exciting to see where the members will lead us. I’d also add, surround yourself with amazing people – I never could have achieved what I have on my own.

What achievements are you most proud of at CLC?

Several years ago we launched the Charity Learning Awards – they’re entering their fifth year this year. When I read through the entries every year, I’m always ridiculously proud of their achievements. Just as one small example, Addaction hired its own instructional designer to create bespoke eLearning, a big step for a charity but a great investment, as it estimates it has saved more than £780,000 (and growing) over three years.

Even more exciting, charities like Addaction (and a few other very early innovators) are also creating specialist eLearning – based on the charity’s subject matter expertise – to sell to other organisations. To be able to capitalise on their own skills and abilities in that way, and raise much needed funds for their charities, is pure genius. It’s really early days, but I’m thrilled at this development.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Earlier this year we launched GivebackUK – a not for profit organisation creating inspirational, free video learning for the overwhelming majority of charities that have no budget at all for L&D – that’s most of the 164,000 charities that I mentioned earlier. In terms of people, the sector employs more than 700,000, with more than 12 million amazing volunteers. Video seemed the perfect way to reach them.

So far – with no funding but lots of good will and support – we have created more than 300 videos.

I have to admit that I had a lump in my throat when Andrew Jacobs - a great supporter of what we are doing - stood up and made a very moving speech about the real purpose of GivebackUK – which he has also written about on his blog. It was unrehearsed and unexpected, and I was incredibly touched.

I feel again that I have started something that is already developing in ways that I could never have possibly imagined. It really is an honour and a privilege to be at the start of something new and amazing, so I have very high hopes for 2015.

Connect with Martin Baker on Twitter @martincbaker and on LinkedIn.



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