Sarah Brown’s career journey to global education via 10 Downing Street & overcoming fears of public speaking

Podcast show notes and transcription: episode 1 of The Escape Artists with Sarah Brown

The Escape Artists: Episode 1 with Sarah Brown

A career journey to global education via 10 Downing Street & overcoming fears of public speaking 

To listen to the episode in full and follow The Escape Artists visit this link. Or search for The Escape Artists wherever you get your podcasts.

About the Podcast:

Dom Jackman & Skye Robertson bring you incredible stories from those who have made their Escapes. From bold heretics to wild entrepreneurial journeys, we share the ups and downs, and the lessons learned along the way. 

We hope it brings inspiration to those looking to make the leap into something different. Because life’s too short to do work that doesn’t matter to you.

Episode 1 transcript: 

Sarah: My name is Sarah Brown and I'm the chair of a global children's charity called Theirworld. It's our 20th anniversary this year, and we have a real commitment to looking at how we end the global education crisis. There's at least 260 million children who don't get a chance to go to school at all and greater numbers are threatened by the cost of the pandemic, which has excluded children from school. 

We very specifically focus on how we can ensure children get the best start in life, how they have a chance to attend safe schools and also develop the right skills for the future. 

Skye: I'm really looking forward to hearing more about Theirworld – why you started it and how it's grown and evolved as I know it has over the past 20 years. But I think to start with what would be great is if we can talk about the beginning of your life, what did you think you wanted to do when you were a child?

Sarah: I was thinking about this before joining the podcast, whether you're someone who wants to be a pilot or a teacher, whatever those ambitions were, I don't think I had a set career choice in mind. My mum was a teacher. She ran her own school in our own backyard. She ran a nursery school that my brothers attended while I went off to big school and my father was a publisher. My stepfather is a public health doctor. 

Over that time I always saw professional achievements in the world around me. I think if I look through my teenage years, what I was interested in was campaigning and activism and the times of the anti-apartheid and I joined the rock against racism, concerts, and the anti Nazi league marches. I had a lot of motivation to create change, particularly around justice as you saw it around the world. 

And then of course there was the Make Poverty History campaign that everyone could get involved in – and I certainly did, allong with the Drop The Debt Campaign. However none of that felt like it was something that could be your work; it never occurred to me through any of my childhood that that could be a job that I would do.

So I don't think I'd settled at that time on what a career choice would be. I just studied at school and used quite a lot of my free time to march and protest. 

Skye: And where do you think that drive came from? Because not all children or young people are particularly interested or active in that.

Sarah: I think some of it is the times that I lived through. I was at secondary school in London when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and there was a huge pushback with her, against job losses, against the poll tax. There was a climate then where marching and protesting was something that you could do and could join.

And at that time, because my secondary school was in North London, it was just a short bus ride to Trafalgar Square, which is where the action usually was, so it didn’t feel far away at all. Where I work now at Theirworld, we have a cohort of over a thousand global youth ambassadors who are in 90 countries around the world. They all do what they do - whether it be study, work or run their own organisation, but in common they all have a passion for change and bringing change to their community. And so it doesn't seem like something that's such an odd choice to me. 

Skye: I am also a bit of a campaigner, so I can relate. When I was younger, I was writing letters to the paper, writing letters to the editor about various things that were going on in the world so I can relate, but I know that not all my peers were as interested. So it's always interesting to hear where that comes from. 

Dom: So when did that moment come, when you realised that actually you could do that as your job?

Sarah: When I was two, my family moved to Tanzania in East Africa, and I think that gave me what felt to me at that time was a vantage point of, ‘here's another place in the world and this is where I live and go to school, and during our holidays we all go off and see wild animals in a safari park.‘ – because that's what you do!

But I think coming back later on and being in North London, going to secondary school, you realise you've experienced a really different world, and that you've met people who have really different opportunities and very unfairly have things that they can't access in life that I'm able to take for granted. I can walk down the road and I can go to school and I can study and I can think of university and dream about a choice in the career that I have, but I'd known people as a young child that certainly didn't have any of those choices.

So I think that's embedded quite deeply in me. And then again, teenage years, living through a time in the late seventies and early eighties of rebellion and pushing back against what authority and the state had to offer. It felt like something that a lot of young people were doing and really not sitting comfortably with things that felt unfair, so I think that's where it comes from.

Skye: How did you make the choice to study what you did at university - you studied psychology - what drew you into that and what did you think you might want to do with that? 

Sarah: I'd gone through school and I went to a state school in North London and I was fortunate really that my parents gave me a choice and I picked the local school to go to. But I was quite surprised that not everyone assumed that they would get their exams and go to university. That wasn't necessarily the norm across the board. I did that, I got my exams, I went to Bristol university, I did a degree in psychology. I couldn't choose between arts and sciences and it seemed to offer a bit of both. 

And then coming out of university was then career choices, and I remember there was a lot of push to join big companies and go to what they called a milk round - I don't know why it was called that - but you walked around stalls set up from these different firms and they’d try to attract you to join their graduate program.

None of it felt very appealing. It felt very buttoned up, like you were going to leave student life, put on a suit and never take it off – go and sit in a cubicle and never leave until it got to 5:05 PM. None of that appealed. I started my very first job in a market research firm. The best thing about it was the location, it was two minutes walk from Carnaby street and the heart of Soho. 

Later, I moved from there to a company that I was so delighted to join called Wolff Olins. They were a corporate identity design company. They were set up, entrepreneurial, and quite visionary with what they were doing.

They were working with companies to get them to look at their values, look at their brand, look at the way they were communicating with all of their stakeholders, not just customers and shareholders, but employees too. Even at the centre of this company they had a kind of wonderful canteen where everyone sat around a table collectively and ate together. My time there left a really strong impression on me, mainly because it felt very different to the corporate world. 

My job didn't stretch me a lot in the end, but I found the culture and environment very inspiring – I think they were very ahead of their time.

Skye: So when you decided to leave, you went out and actually set up your own firm?

Sarah: Yes. A project I'd been working on came to an end and there wasn't really another obvious thing for me to do. So I decided to head off, but I think I also got a bit of an itch at that time, where I wasn't quite confident enough to go and join somewhere that had a big set up, environment and career pathway. By not joining a big firm, I'd never experienced it.

I collaborated with some friends of mine and we set up a design studio. One was a designer, I was doing a lot of the writing and the new business development, and another guy did the finance. It's fair to say that certainly my family and most of my friends thought that was a bit bonkers because it was risky and there was no guarantee you would earn a consistent living.

And actually we did pretty well. We had a studio in Charlotte street, just north of Soho in London, we were employing quite a number of people and it was all moving at a very fast pace. The other thing I liked about it was that the freedom of being your own boss also meant that you could choose the additional things that you did. So if we decided to do some extra work for a charity or for a cause we really supported, no one was going to say no – that was our choice. This feels very normal now, but it wasn't at that time, it felt very different. 

After a period of time, we actually all decided that collectively we’d started to develop different interests and it wasn't going to suit us to continue working together. And again, it was just time to move on and do something different. 

So I then worked with what was essentially a PR company, but we decided that what we wanted to do was to try and work with clients where we really backed what they did. There were a lot of arts organisations, some charities and media – rather than promoting soup and soap!

But at that point, I became a lot more drawn to political life and had opportunities to do different things so it all started changing again. When I look back and think through my twenties and into my early thirties, where I was working with people my own age, who've got different ambitions, different skills, where you can collaborate together, it was a really good thing to do. And a real privilege when I look back to have been able to do that.

There were also scary sides to it. Once you start employing people you're responsible for how they make a living. And most of the time that's fine, but every now and then you're going to hit a wall where, maybe your clients aren't as strong as they were, or someone changes their budget, and you're in real grownup territory at that point. 

Dom: And how was it when you were dealing with that? 

Sarah: It was hard. I remember one time with the design studio where we had to say to a couple of people, look, your work's going to come to an end. I found that absolutely heartbreaking, whilst also knowing there wasn't really another choice.

And of course there's lots of ways to do that responsibly: you keep in touch with people, make sure you're providing them the right references, in the knowledge you've never promised in the first place that you're giving them a job for life. All those things make sense, but it's still pretty tough to do. 

Dom: I can very much relate to that, just the ongoing, additional stress of when you're employing a group of people and feeling like you're responsible for their livelihoods. That is hard. 

I was going to ask a question about when you created the agency and you were saying that your family and friends thought you were a little bonkers. How did you deal with that? 

Sarah: Well, my family was always very supportive. I have brothers and there was a moment where we used to sit and laugh with each other. Our mother was a head teacher and stepfather was in public health – they were both working in Bangladesh doing these phenomenal projects. Whereas my youngest brother had joined the army, another one was an economist, another one was a journalist on a less than reputable newspaper and I was in business. We just thought they must sit there as parents or think what did we do wrong? How did we imbue these values? 

Except, scrolling forward it has now changed; the journalist is now a screenwriter, the economist working on good causes, the one in the army is now living in Australia and living his best life, no one stayed doing what they were. Also there's a huge amount of honour in all of those professions too, it was just very different to running a public health clinic in Dhaka, Bangladesh – to someone working on a tabloid newspaper, or running a business. 

Things change and people have different experiences. You don't necessarily end up doing the same thing your whole life. But the values that you have, you take with you wherever you are. I think that's the thing I've learned is you can be doing a job that really is quite straight laced and quite buttoned up, whilst still imbuing it with all of your values. 

Skye: I'm curious that you said that you didn't feel confident enough to go and work in a bigger agency organisation and yet you went out and started something on your own. It’s something that I hear a lot from people if they don't feel like they have the courage or the confidence to start something, so they get a job somewhere else. 

Sarah: Or you jump in and you’re doing it and you haven't really got time to sit and reflect on it. But I think there is a different dynamic between going to an employer and they set out for you what they want you to do, and they set the measures of success for you. Whereas when you set up your own organisation you're the one determining those measures of success.

So it's not necessarily a lack of confidence to be able to say, ‘this is the product or service that we offer, this is the way we can do it for you to actually make sure you do deliver it on time to budget‘, to get it all sorted. But it's whether you’re determining what that pathway is for yourself or whether you're fitting into someone else's.

And of course, I've worked over the years fitting into structures that are set by other people, and it is a different discipline, but it doesn't mean you can't bring something to it. I think at that time in my twenties, I was less willing to understand how I would measure up to someone else's expectations.

Skye: Interesting. 

Dom: So that's basically why you wanted to do your own thing, you liked the freedom element? 

Sarah: I think so. Sometimes you're looking back and using the benefit of hindsight to try and figure out what that was. I think what motivated me was some of the things I could do in my extra time. You would do your core client work and make sure that happened and worked - but the things that I was really passionate about most of the time, were the things that I did in my spare time or added in, using the skills that we had in our own work environment. The things I perhaps couldn't have done working with another employer, they might have said, ‘sure, if it's in your free time, come and do it.‘

But I was also drawn to politics. I was quite active with the Labour Party. I wouldn't necessarily assume that with an employer, I could bring that into their space. There are different choices as you go along.

Skye: All of these various projects that you have spearheaded and been a part of and organisations that you've started, they all make a lot of sense when you talk about, what at Escape we call your ‘good idea criteria’. These are the things that you need to exist in order for something to be the right thing for you, whether it's a career or business idea.

It sounds like some of those things were having space to bring all of your parts of yourself into it. So being active in politics and being able to do that without it impacting your work and being able to set your own measures of success. Were there other things that you were looking for in your career and life which has led you to some of those choices? 

Sarah: If I look back at my school years, I was really frustrated by the sense that the children I was at school with didn't have the same vision or ambition for themselves. There was an assumption that they would have quite narrow horizons. No one thought of going on to further education, people didn't even think they would necessarily get a decent job. So lots of people just assumed they'd make their income on the black economy, or they just go onto benefits.

Some people even had the assumption that at some point they'd end up in prison and that was just how it was, you know? And I couldn't bear that. I still can’t bear that. That you lower people's expectations and they can't fulfil their potential, and you deprive them of that opportunity. Whether it’s seeing that in Tanzania where people just didn't have the life chances at all, or seeing that in a school, in my own London community, where people had restricted horizons for what they could dream of, it's just something I think we can all do better at. 

And I think what I've learned through working independently with small businesses, collaborating with colleagues, is that fantastic moment where you work together with people, who've got different skills, but you share a common vision for something. That is an amazing thing.

Whether that's to deliver the products and services you're offering through your business, or whether it's something you're doing as part of a campaign for change, it's the same spirit that comes for it and you get something tangible as an outcome. It is work. It's hard work, running your own business, you don't clock off. There's no, ‘oh, it's five o'clock I'm trotting off, down for a drink with my friend,‘ that doesn't exist. But you're not watching the clock either. When people would say to me ‘you ran your own business, what would you advise?’ I’d respond with ‘don't do it unless you can't stop yourself, do it because you're so drawn to it.’

Because if you sit there thinking, ‘well, I'd like to switch off now,’ you don't necessarily have that opportunity. It just keeps on driving. 

Skye: Dom can relate!

Dom: I can relate to that!

Sarah: Not everyone wants that, you know? 

Skye: It's definitely not for everyone. People find themselves in that position sometimes and they think, ‘actually this is really not right for me.‘ They have those challenges, as you've said, having employees can be a real challenge for people. If they get in and they don't really know what they're in it for, it's actually not really right for them. 

Sarah: But there is also something amazing when you can get a moment where people are working in harmony towards a common goal. And everyone's got their different skills, their different support, at all levels, some people with the back office admin, all those pieces come together and the whole thing moves forward.

Also you can't always see the change straight away. Sometimes you have to go ‘where was I 12 months or two years ago?‘ And then sometimes you notice that actually you've done an awful lot more than you feel like you're doing.

Skye: It’s a good reminder when you're in the weeds. It can be very difficult to see how far you've come, for sure. So you started Theirworld almost 20 years ago, why did you start that and what were you trying to achieve at that time? 

Sarah: When we started the charity (I co-founded it with others), it came from a few different experiences that added up. We came to the conclusion to focus mostly on children and young people, with some of the focus on women, and using the ideas that come from the community and from grassroots level to inform and influence to create change.

When we set up a health project, we were looking at what community health workers and midwives would bring, not just the doctors and the research scientists. The same with education programs these were ideas that people would bring forward. So it started with quite small horizons of funding local community projects, with a particular focus on a health research project that was for premature babies and little ones, just to see whether there were outcomes that could create a better start in life.

Some of those projects really grew to fruition. The small health project we started is now a groundbreaking world-class laboratory based in Edinburgh that does extraordinary work with the most vulnerable babies and children. The support we can bring is both from science and the laboratory, but also from a practical, hands-on and caring perspective, and matching up the two.

However as it grew, alongside that, I was also going through a really different time in my life. My husband had become Chancellor of the Exchequer, looking after all of the nation's finances, and then suddenly it catapulted to living at Number 10. Downing street when he became Prime Minister.

So it's not that it all happened overnight, I was working on a small charity that was really important to keep ticking along, but my life was changing in a very different way alongside it. The charity stayed quite small for a long time doing really valuable projects that were meaningful and well supported, but in the last 10 years we've shone the light on the education crisis, and really looked at what we could do there. 

Theirworld has grown to another level. We find ourselves 20 years on with a global children's charity that's doing this extraordinary work. I found myself committing the vast majority of my working time to it. Something that for me was part-time activism has now become my full-time main work. 

Skye: It's amazing to hear how it's changed over the last 20 years and in parallel with this other journey you've been on, which is obviously quite disruptive in your life also, and very, well I can only imagine…

Sarah: When I started doing the odd thing with the Labour Party, I didn't realise that through that I would meet my husband Gordon. And then of course, as his political career continued to grow and grow, that was his work and his life. But obviously I was very much in the mix for it.

Dom: You set up the charity before the journey to Number 10, did your vision for the charity have to take a back seat because of your husband's political career? 

Sarah: There's a really good question. And the answer is yes, to some extent it did, because what I couldn't do was use any of the advantages of where we were or who he was to be able to boost what the charity was doing. We also had a young family by that point too.

And there was quite a set of responsibilities that came with living at Downing Street and being involved in some of that political life too. The charity continued, but I made sure it was in an office completely separately. It had its own separate staff and we would follow the same rules. Charities could apply to Downing Street to have a reception, you could write in and we would do our best to accommodate everybody. We would never give any charity more than one thing in a year and I applied the same rule to my charity. It's complicated because amongst other things, you think about where donor support comes from and you just had to keep all of that very separate and at arms length.

So we did all kinds of different, fun things to fundraise for the charity and make sure it worked. We had foundations supporting it, we used to do a football match at Chelsea Football Club, Stamford Bridge, where people would come and play and it was really good fundraising. There were lots of things like that, that were completely separate and far away that meant we could continue to help fund the projects we were working on. 

Dom: So if you have to put the brakes on the vision a little bit, did it then catch up when Gordon stopped being Prime Minister, and did he then lend more help to accelerate the vision in the last 10 years?

Sarah: I haven't had to lean on him too much really. He's got a role where he's a United Nations Envoy and he's a World Health Organisation Ambassador. He's out there fighting to try and get vaccine equality in countries around the world where children are not vaccinated. We can try and kind of change that in part so that they have that same opportunity that we do. But also because none of us are safe until everyone's safe, and this is why we get new variants coming along. 

So that's his mission, which he is very focused on. And he's been involved in other campaigns that don't overlap with me, such as where he's caring about the future of Scotland or focused on issues around the global economy. So he's there and doing his thing and I can focus and do what I do. But it's difficult. You live in the shadow of somebody who’s a really big figure that everybody knows. And there is a lot of assumption that what I do somehow is either in service of the great man or it's somehow that my opportunities come because of doors he can open. 

Whereas I would say a lot of it is the other way around. I think he's really lucky to have me give so much time for the things that he's done. There was a great opportunity, but also a great privilege at 10 Downing street, in saying ‘this is a public building with no public access.‘ All these decisions are being made in this building for people around the country and around the world. And yet people would love to come and see it and be part of it. 

But they, for the most part, can't be as it's a working building and there's an awful lot of security out the front. What I could do was host receptions, have people come in, but you have to put your time into that and therefore it's not going to something else. I did do a lot of that and I thought that that was the best thing I could do with my time there. 

We haven't been there for more than 11 years and life continues really, but I am absolutely clear that it's my skills, my experience, my connections, my work, and the people that I work with that built Theirworld.

One way we did benefit was when he left office, Gordon decided to use his pension from being a Member of Parliament for years, and not make extra money. That was his decision. And so every time he does have money that comes in and gets supported through an office for public service, everything goes to them. So we do benefit from it in that way. 

Skye: Nice. Yeah, it feels like a fair trade to me. 

Sarah: I think so, yeah.

Skye: I think it's a really interesting challenge as a woman specifically. You don't hear men very often being criticised in the same way, ‘oh, it's your wife who's giving you all of these opportunities.‘ That must be really challenging. How have you dealt with that? Who supports you in those sort of moments?

Sarah: One of my favourite things was when somebody came up to me and I was juggling a baby and a toddler, I was hosting a reception, I’d just come back from a trustees meeting with the charity and they said breezily to me,‘so what's it like to have given up work?‘ And I don't think anyone says that to a man. I think that sort of comment is specifically directed towards a woman and I can't remember how I answered, but I'm sure it was politely and through gritted teeth, but it has stayed with me. 

I don't think I'm a big ta-da, put myself to the front kind-of-person. I've always enjoyed working collaboratively. I think that my strength comes from working with other people who bring so much more and you get something bigger out of that. So therefore, I don't think that's been the greatest issue. You asked where the support comes from, well, my first line of support is always Gordon. 

He’s always ready to see what I do. And family and friends. So I don't feel unseen in that way, but I'd worked very successfully with companies - I'm sure it resonates with both of you - presenting to people, you're speaking all the time, you're explaining what you do, you're going through a PowerPoint presentation. But when it came to those moments of a shift to public speaking, people would assume if you're doing something in the centre of government in Downing Street that you'll just pop up and make a speech about something. And that I didn't have any experience of.

I really struggled with that. I was very good at laying on a reception, arranging something, having the person who ran the charity go and give the speech, doing all those things without it being me that had to stand in front of the lectern. That shifted, and I suddenly realised that I was going to lose the chance to use my voice for things that I cared about if I didn't get up there and speak. 

And the first few times I did it, I was abysmal. Just mumbling into a piece of paper. The very first big speech I gave, I got to the end of it and I hadn't been breathing properly, I just raced to the end… so I passed out and I fainted. Appalling.

It was also one of those moments where I'd invited people I knew and it was terrible. But it was never quite as bad again. I meet so many people who are fearful of public speaking, who don't like doing it, who avoid it. However if you don't do it, then people can't hear your story or your message or what you have to say.

If you're campaigning or wanting change, you can't create change if you can't be heard. If I could go back and do it again, I would use the chance to practice with fewer people watching, like do it when no one's listening, do it when one knows who you are and don't care.

So, when people say, ‘well, there's no point in me doing it because no one's interested in what I say,‘ that is the perfect time to start doing. No one needs to remember you or worry about it. Do not do it the way I did it, where I have stood out in front of rooms of people where everyone's looking at you, very expectantly, and I've mumbled into a piece of paper in front of my face. Now I can do it, now I don't care. 

Dom: So now you're totally over it and have no fear of it at all? 

Sarah: Yes, but I've had some of the worst moments. One in particular where I was leading a very big campaign for maternal mortality, which was to protect and save the lives of women in pregnancy and childbirth - it was a big platform I had in government. I had a big opportunity to go to the world health assembly in Geneva to address all of the world's health ministers. I knew I was nervous, but I had a speech written down and they said, you have to give the speech that's written because lots of people have it in translation, so you can't go off script.

The Secretary General of the United Nations spoke before me. He got up and went to the lectern, was word perfect, marvellous. He got down and unfortunately took my written speech with him and I was next. So there was no written copy for me and my autocue broke down. That was one of the longest moments of my life. Where you think, I don't have the confidence for this, I don't know how to brush this off. So I ended up standing there saying, ‘I would continue, but I'm under very strict instructions not to,‘ while desperately looking for somebody to give me a paper copy of my speech, which they did probably only 30 seconds later. But it felt like time stood still.

It was so important and mattered so much, but I wasn't confident enough for it. So that was a bad one. When the worst thing happens, like you faint or lose the words to your speech, once that happens and you're still standing, and no one's said ‘we're never talking to you again,‘ you keep going, you learn – it’s just the hard way.

Skye: It's exposure therapy, isn't it? You talking about this now is really inspiring. I used to be very afraid of public speaking and I definitely never had to speak in front of all of the world's health ministers, that's for sure.

You've had such a unique experience of obviously your own career and all of the things that you're doing. And also obviously living in Number 10. In your words, as somebody who has historically been behind the scenes making things happen, you were then thrust from that to this public persona where everybody knew who you were. What was that like for you personally? And how is that for you today? 

Sarah: I can't imagine what that's like for somebody who suddenly becomes famous now, where you go from, not well-known to suddenly being thrown in the limelight. I think with all of social media it'd be very overwhelming. But I'd had 10 years where Gordon had been at number 11 Downing street. So I was not really famous and no one really noticed me, but I'd been able to experience the environment. 

I did think that the shift to him being Prime Minister and us being at Number 10 would just be a slight gear change. And it wasn't, it was a much bigger shift where you suddenly realise people really know who you are. But at the same time - you feel constantly on show - but I was still able to go around and lead quite a normal life. If I left the gates of Number 10. and jumped on the tube and went about my normal business, no one would really notice me. 

However as soon as you're out in a way where people are going to recognise that you're there, then you get seen. I was fortunate that I did have moments where I wasn't always completely on show. I used Twitter a lot at the beginning because I felt there was quite a responsibility to open things up a little bit - if you're a public figure then the public does have a right to some public access.

They can leave your kids to one side, but you need to show who you are and what you do, if what you're doing impacts on their lives. So it's trying to get that balance right. I used Twitter to put out what I was doing and where I was going so that people would see that. Then I could nip off and do a bit of food shopping and no one would really see you there at all.

I’d be in Marks and Spencers and have just shoved a massive cake in my shopping basket - and that’s the moment where someone would come over and look. It's never, when you got the salad!

Dom: You don't have to answer this question if you don't want to, but was it a relief when it finished and you could take a step back from Number 10? 

Sarah: There was no relief in the sense that we didn't want to lose the election that we did, and we didn't want to move off. And there was no relief in thinking that things that you wanted to be doing couldn't happen. But in terms of just being able to lead your normal life, it was certainly an easier day to day, to not have all of that commitment and expectation lined up.

And also the moment where your next mistake is about three minutes ahead of you all the time. So that side of it I don't miss. The only thing I found that we missed when we left was the people. You work so closely and intensely with people and get to know them really well, whether it's policy people or someone who's just going and getting you a cup of tea and a sandwich.

You miss those people because they're suddenly gone overnight, but the rest of it, you can still pick out what’s possible in terms of public service and continue that. In that respect it's not like you suddenly have nothing to do. 

Skye: So looking back at your experience of seeing the kids around you in North London lacking ambition and opportunity, do you think that things have changed since then?

Sarah: I think for children around the UK, what's been tough for them is all of them have had their schooling disrupted. All of them had their education disrupted. There's nobody who has been unaffected by the pandemic. There's a lot of conversation around what the learning gaps are for children going back and what support they're going to need.

So I think that's a very real issue. The other thing is looking at the levels of child poverty around the UK, but even broadly around Europe and other parts of the world. What do we do about that? If you've got kids coming to school, who haven't had a decent breakfast, aren't going to get a decent lunch who need that sort of support.

So I think as a UK community, and as a global community, we have to look at what's going on near us and look at what that impact is on families. Everyone feels very stressed and stretched by this pandemic. The impact is long periods of isolation, loss of earnings and income for families and the rising cost of living.

All of that is really, really tough. And as I'm talking, I'm trying to avoid being political about it, but it's still right there and very evident to people that child poverty is absolutely unacceptable. Especially in a country that overall can afford to look after everybody and to provide everything that a child needs to go to school safely and comfortably, and to be well fed.  

Each of us can play a part in that. We can choose how to vote and how we choose to serve in our local communities, but also you can think of something you can do to help the families that you see within your immediate environs. 

What we're doing at Theirworld is focused on a global bigger picture, where you're calling on governments at a global level to step up and kick in the financial support, whilst also having the political will to say, hang on a minute, it doesn't cost a lot to educate a child. 

For a long time we've worked with Syrian refugee children who are in Lebanon, Turkey or the Greek islands, and the cost of their education is a few hundred dollars a year. It's not this overwhelming figure that we can't service and provide. You also need to combine that with some form of trauma and emotional support, whilst making sure they get a decent meal and are safe. I think it’s a basic action we can all do to honour humanity everywhere.

I think we've learned through this pandemic, how interconnected we are. If we're not all vaccinated everywhere, then we're not safe where we are. If we are not making sure that children are educated in other parts of the world - by 20 and 30 years old, half of young people aren’t on track to have the skills to employ themselves or to get a job. We've left out too many people along the way, what do you think they're going to do? They're angry. They're going to move. They're forced to move. They can't sustain themselves where they are. And then we're all faced with a world that feels very unstable. So there is a global responsibility I think we have, to serve other people, protect our planet, but also know that by doing that, we look after each other closer to home too.

All of the things that I've done through my life, where I've been to school where the kids are, I know the work that I've done doesn't take me away from seeing that bigger picture. I've had the huge privilege of being able to do things in the United Nations, do things in the World Health Organisation, and sit in 10 Downing street. 

But I don't lead that life day to day. I live in a small village in Scotland. I work with amazing colleagues, in a charity where we’re all very focused on the same thing. We connect with this network of global youth ambassadors aged between 18 and 30, who want to do their part to change things. We collaborate and work together to give them the tools and skills for their campaigning and activism, as well as the push that we can provide ourselves.

Dom: If someone is in a corporate job, or at any job really, and feels like they’ve lost their path but have some skills and want to make a difference – it's eating away at them in January, 2022 that they’re not using their skills for good. What advice would you give them?

Sarah: Well, the first thing is I think it is perfectly healthy at the beginning of January to get itchy, and want to reset and rethink - pandemic or no pandemic. It doesn't mean you should walk away from your job as the first action. Sometimes you can sit there and shape what you're doing from where you are. Particularly as so many people are working from home at the moment, there's lots of opportunity. People are able to do their work and compartmentalise that away from things that they want to do with their own activism and their own campaigning. Or there's the route where you actually take the skills you've got and look at them and think, where can I apply that and take that somewhere else? Or would I like to be somewhere else?

And that of course, is your job Dom to work with people and say, ‘well, is there a place where you can be, that would utilise your skill set, enthusiasm and passion and take you closer to where you want to be.‘ But I think step one is not necessarily to hand in your notice, it's to ask yourself ‘what are the things I do that can provide that nourishment and fulfilment that I want both professionally and personally?’

There's always something you can do for somebody else, you can make sure there's somebody else who's plugged in, connected, looked after – whether it's making sure you check in and talk to somebody or get involved with a charity or organisation that's doing something that you're passionate about.

In the community that we have at Theirworld, you can sign up to our weekly newsletter that shares stories about what's happening around the world. It gives people small actions they can take, such as sign a petition, write to somebody, call on an action, sponsor someone, and so many more amazing things. So going back to sitting there in January, it's a bit like starting the diet and the exercise regime. Maybe it's okay to adjust, have a meat-free Monday – you don't have to go full vegan for the year and then fail by week two. 

Take the changes that you can make and do what we were talking about earlier and just look back 12 months and think how that has shifted. You can't always see the speed of change if it's all got to happen today and you feel like someone else on social media has a better life than you. By the time you get to this time next year you’ll be thinking, ‘I did quite a lot this year.‘ 

Dom: Amazing, thank you. My final question, are there any asks that you would like from our community that could help in your world and your work?

Sarah: Well, if anyone's got an interest in what we're talking about doing at Theirworld or they feel moved in the same way, sign up to our newsletter. Vsit Following us on social media or people can follow me directly at Sarah Brown on Twitter, and they'll quickly pick up things that are going on.

So I think just being connected and having a look at what we're doing and the amazing work we share that others are doing. Our core mission this year is to focus on an opportunity we've got coming up at The United Nations Summit in September, including some big decisions for global education. Every single voice, click and vote of support we get helps so much. 

Dom: Thank you so much, Sarah. 

Skye: So interesting and really inspiring. 

Sarah: Good luck with everything you're doing. Good luck with the podcast, but also with the wider world.