Nicole - Director of Talent
On the afternoon of 16th February, about 200 student leaders from some of the most impactful societies and student start-ups in the UK gathered at King’s College Bush House to engage with a variety of topics concerning social impact.
PA2019 is a milestone for Project Access (PA) – the first we have ever done. The conference is directly inspired by what we do at PA, and we often step back to examine how the work we do translates into impact. As such, we decided to create a conference to bring together some of the most amazing student leaders, leading experts, and up-and-coming start-ups to engage with topics of social mobility, impactful leadership, and the future of work, thus giving the theme, “Shaping Futures”.
Anna Gross and Emil Bender Lassen, CEOs of Project Access UK and Project Access International respectively, opened PA2019 with a welcome address where they shared about PA’s mission and impact, as well as our motivations for creating a platform like PA2019.
This was followed by a keynote on The Future of Social Mobility by Professor Stephen Machin from the London School of Economics, who also co-authored the book Social Mobility and Its Enemies. As a leading researcher in labour economics and the economics of education, Professor Machin highlighted the relationship between low social mobility and wealth, and income inequalities in Britain. Several statistics were cited, notably how socio-economic status was a key factor in influencing the development of children aged 10 and below. Despite the realities of the zero-sum game of social mobility, Professor Machin also pointed us to possible solutions, for instance a system that nurtures talents holistically, as well as policies that improve access to local opportunities.
Tapping on the academic insights of Professor Machin, the first panel on Shaping Futures through Finance, consisting of Sofia Bartholdy of UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), Sol Eskenazi of Impact Management Project (IMP), and Matt Lewis of Acumen, drew our attention to a potential way for closing inequalities today: impact investing. The panellists discussed the complexities of measuring and evaluating the social impact of investments, which gave our participants a glimpse of the journey towards arriving at a standardised set of methodologies in an industry brimming with potential.
After a brief networking break, PA2019 resumed with the second keynote speaker, Nat Ware of 180 Degrees Consulting, taking the stage on The Future of Impactful Leadership. In his captivating speech informed by his personal entrepreneurship journey, Nat advocated for increasing access to education. To quote, “for too many people this ladder (of education) is inaccessible”. His passion for developing business solutions to social problems is truly inspiring for many of us in the audience, as he shared how he is currently applying his PhD research to his latest venture, Asterisk, which proposes a novel and efficient way for financing the reskilling of individuals as technology replaces more and more jobs.
Following up on the subject of intersection between business and social impact, the final panel of PA2019 focused on The Future of Work – featuring Ken Janssens of JP Morgan and Out & Equal, Alvin Carpio of The Fourth Group, Sapana Agrawal of McKinsey New Ventures, and Nat Ware. Leveraging on their backgrounds in both the corporate and non-profit scenes, the panellists candidly shared their take on a future that works for all, where there remains huge potential for innovative and socially impactful solutions to overcome disruptions to the workforce.
Finally, PA2019 came to a resounding end with the exciting Start-up Battlefield, which brought 8 start-ups to one stage, each pitching their value proposition and career opportunities to the audience of student leaders. The start-ups featured include Aula, Scoodle, Tempo, Finimize, SPCE, Vendigo, ViaVan, and Tify.
As the post-conference networking reception ensued, it was evident that PA2019 has been an inspiring stepping stone for many of the student leaders who attended, as they eagerly engaged with our speakers, panellists, start-ups’ representatives, as well as fellow attendees. On behalf of Project Access, I would like to thank everyone involved – our speakers, panellists, start-ups, student leaders across the UK, and Project Access members who supported our inaugural conference. We hope that PA2019 is the first step in inspiring student leaders to continue doing good work in the access sphere, and contribute towards a model for more engagement between youths, experts, and businesses in the future.