Collaborating with a former drug abuser and serial offender would not usually be seen as a good career move. But for Dee Keshwara, Centrica’s new Head of Corporate Citizenship Transformation, it turned out to be a worthwhile step.
He worked closely with ex-offender Mark Johnson MBE, CEO and Founder of User Voice, whilst on a 15 month secondment as an Investment Manager with Social Business Trust (SBT).
Dee’s verdict on the experience? “It’s been fantastic. Probably professionally the best year of my career to date. It has given me a well-rounded commercial experience because you’re just looking at the whole business from end to end. And yes, they are smaller organisations but the problems that they face – you can clearly see those happening in larger organisations such as British Gas.”
He enjoyed getting across a variety of big social issues including educational disadvantage, mental health and criminal justice – the focus for User Voice. Its mission is to stop re-offending by enabling prison governors and others who run the criminal justice system to have a constructive dialogue with their ‘service users’. The organisation is run almost entirely by ex-offenders, including the CEO.
Dee’s task was to analyse User Voice as a business: get to know the management team; review its operational model; see its work in action; assess its growth potential and advise whether it was a suitable candidate for investment by SBT. He then worked with User Voice to prepare a strong pitch to SBT’s Investment Committee.
He describes that pitch itself as the most exciting moment of his secondment: “The euphoric feeling afterwards when they were granted half a million pounds worth of support and then relaying that information back to them, it was great.” The package will enable User Voice to expand the number of people it works with directly from just over 10,000 to almost 20,000 a year.
Dee (pictured above with SBT’s Chloe Surowiec-Allison) has just returned to a new role in Centrica and thinks his experience at SBT will be “really useful’. He plans to remain involved with SBT: “And I’ll be recommending to my colleagues to take up any offers to support SBT – absolutely.”
British Gas and Centrica staff have given hundreds of hours of high-quality business support to social enterprises through SBT since 2012.