emma sinclair

Emma Sinclair MBE, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of EnterpriseJungle, discusses why using your skills to help others will inevitably make you a better leader. Sinclair – the youngest person to IPO in the UK at the age of 29 – will be delivering the keynote at UKTN’s Elevator Pitch Awards ceremony in London next month. 

I spend a great deal of my time fielding questions from people about their careers and businesses: How to reach the right investors, engage the media and fast-track sales cycles. People also often ask me how to make a radical career move into a sector they’re unfamiliar with, secure a promotion or bag a non-exec position.

Most would say that the answer to these questions is to ensure you are doing all the right things, talking to the right people, mixing in the right circles, attending tech events, reading industry blogs and getting stuck into the tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem we are lucky to have close to hand.

And I agree — to an extent.

It is vital to be informed, connected and diligent. But my best piece of advice to people who do “all the right things” relating to their career ambitions is that it doesn’t always need to be all about the career ladder you’re currently on. In fact, on the contrary, my advice is it may be far more valuable to get a side gig.

Helping others

There are so many ways to do this. Good at accounting? Support a startup that can’t afford a bookkeeper with a product or service that resonates.

Have green fingers? Help a local urban park plant a garden. Got a spare room where you can welcome a refugee? I provide temporary accommodation via a small charity called Refugees at Home and have met some incredible, brave and warm people who I now consider friends.

Getting perspective

There are hundreds of organizations and individuals desperate for your help, and it is easy to find something that interests you.

I know — you’re busy, but whether you’re in a new job, studying, working as a junior in the job of your dreams, a founder or running a large enterprise, thinking about other people’s challenges or something other than yourself will do you and your career wonders.

It provides perspective, adds skills you otherwise might not develop and allows you to communicate and resonate with people on a far more human level. The old adage of “all work and no play makes Jack the dull lad” rings true if most of our time is spent on work.

Yes, career focus is important but you are about more than just grades, academic accomplishments, and qualifications. I have always hired as much (if not more) based on a conversation as I do on resume and experience. I will always remember my final round interview at the investment bank I joined as a graduate. Non-executive director Lord Guthrie, the former head of the British Army, asked me about the part-time job at McDonald’s I maintained while studying at college instead of my qualifications or previous internship in a bank. Why? It demonstrated my drive and work ethic—which was what he was most interested in. For all those asking me how to stand out: That little side gig was one way I stood out in a crowded basket of

I will always remember my final round interview at the investment bank I joined as a graduate. Non-executive director Lord Guthrie, the former head of the British Army, asked me about the part-time job I had at McDonald’s while studying at college instead of my qualifications or previous internship in a bank. Why? It demonstrated my drive and work ethic — which was what he was most interested in. For all those asking me how to stand out: That little side gig was one way I stood out in a crowded basket of

For all those asking me how to stand out: That little side gig was one way I stood out.

Making time

In September 2014, I visited Zambia with Unicef to front a programme providing financial, enterprise, and employability skills to young people in communities where opportunities are limited. I can assure you I don’t have free time to pop to Africa for field trips. I made time. And as a result, it has made me a better, more informed person on youth unemployment and, more broadly, how to assist young people seeking a better future through access to opportunity.

More than one billion adolescents stand at the crossroads between childhood and adulthood, 200 million of whom are in Africa, where they are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. And I saw that first hand.

Last week I launched Unicef UK’s first crowdfund to roll out Innovation Labs in refugee camps, starting with Azraq in Jordan, which I recently visited.

Some 50 million children around the world have been uprooted from their homes and face unimaginable hardships. Many have lost their family, their friends, their chance to go to school – a privilege most of us enjoyed and take for granted.

The innovation labs, which I hope will be funded by the crowdfunding campaign, will give young people support, Seed funding and training in highly-sought-after digital skills, including coding and engineering.

These experiences, my various side gigs, have done many things. They’ve given me an increasingly powerful voice at many tables, from media to business and government. They’ve exposed me to people, places and experiences I might otherwise never have met. They have given me rich life experiences that make me a better employer, friend, corporate citizen and colleague. And hopefully, they’ve encouraged other people I know to get a side gig too.

Think about your last interview or sales pitch. Think about defining conversations you have had with people who have truly inspired you or when you have inspired someone yourself. It is unlikely you were talking about the latest post in your trade magazine or the next industry conference you’ll be attending with colleagues next spring.

These experiences and unexpected interactions nourish your mind and soul and I assure you, will feed a better, richer professional life, too.

To donate, please visit: www.unicef.uk/crowdfund

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