“People coming together, you can see the leaders and organisations that are equally placed to join up and work together on stuff.”

Our practical guide to system leadership features real-life examples of inspiring people. People who choose to do something about the challenges faced by everyone in the systems they are part of.

Someone doing just that is Gareth Ruddock, CEO of Giraffe Trading, a social enterprise providing tasty food and valuable work experience and training to people in Perth and Kinross.

Gareth understands that, as part of a wider system, Giraffe’s aims – and local communities’ needs – can only be achieved by joining up with other organisations and sectors.  So he joined Perth City Leadership Group, which encourages cooperation between private, public and voluntary sectors.

“Everyone was having repeated conversations about cost of living, asking what they can do about it. I came in with a plan: a ‘Big Lunch’ that would bring people together to talk. It’s simple approach, there’s not much to learn from that! But bring them together, with a clear focus. Curate aspects of it, so each table has a mix of third and private sector organisations, with provocative questions printed on placemats and a facilitator, briefed to guide the conversations.

“Time is valuable, so we wanted an impact for the day. I was adamant we all needed to come away with gifts, whether financial, gifts in kind, expertise etc. And that’s what we got. Nearly every charity went away with an offer or actual help from private sector members at the tables. There were:

  • £20k of pledges of immediate financial help
  • 11 companies offering the use of their space
  • 8 new trustees who came forward.

“It’s all about making it very easy for people to help. Bringing them together with a purpose, then supporting them to help by getting them face to face with people who need it. It’s a bit like an impulse buy in a supermarket, you buy the chocolate because it’s there.

“Companies want to help, but if they have to seek it out and figure it out, it’s easier to kick down the road. But the Big Lunch was like, ‘Here are eight different ways you can help the voluntary sector.’ It was fun. And it was so cool that we filled the room. There was so much hunger to help, pardon the pun, that we had to provide extra seats at the tables.”

I’d call Gareth a system leader, but he doesn’t dress it up like that.

“I’m just keen to support my peers in the third sector. I have the luxury of being able to create networks and the confidence to demand engagement. And just the belief and entrepreneurial spirit to give it a go.”

Shine a Light uses the word ‘generous’ to describe the role Gareth and Giraffe play in the wider system. Maybe direct, measurable impacts will come from them catering for and helping organise the Big Lunch. Maybe business will come from it. But there’s no guarantee. Gareth understands, however, that impact – and income generation – are about relationships.

“Having me involved in forums like this, it adds integrity to how people see what Giraffe does. The fact we speak to these people, support their businesses, link them to other people – when we need a job placement for our trainees, the businesses take my call. It’s about knowing what’s in it for people, and there has to be something in it for everyone.

“It’s not ‘Don’t play with my stuff!’. It’s ‘How do we make this work?’. Referring people to each other, helping each other out, just working together.”

Gareth concluded our conversation with three signs of effective leaders:

  • A well organised email inbox. Use folders and subfolders to prioritise and follow up on things, without having to action them all immediately.
  • Giving credit rather than taking it. It’s not about being falsely humble, it’s about knowing you’re benefiting from the knowledge and experience of other people.
  • A strong, shiny brass neck and the willingness to chance your arm.

Gareth is more comfortable when helping to Shine a Light on other people than when it shines on him – as you can tell by his feedback below! His example sheds light on system leadership for others who feel the same way.

“I’m happy with what’s written although slightly squeamish about the content! Perhaps you could dial it back by introducing the fact that I’m also an idiot as evidenced with this picture!”

Gareth in a meeting with three dogs

Find out more about Giraffe Trading here:


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