Earlier this year, through a partnership with The International Exchange (TIE), we gave two Octopus people the opportunity to apply their skills and experience by spending time volunteering with a charity based overseas. This is Amira’s story.
Amira Mansour is a Learning & Development Trainer within Octopus Investments. When Octopus Giving announced plans to send two volunteers to charities working in developing countries, she thought it was an opportunity too good to miss.
After a gruelling interview process and careful consideration by the Octopus Giving panel, Amira’s learning and development skills, combined with her determination to add value, were clear for all to see, and she was awarded one of two available places.
As Amira recalls: “As soon as I heard about volunteering through Octopus Giving, I knew I wanted to do it. Getting my application right was hard, and getting through the Q&A session with the Octopus Giving selection panel was even harder. But when I was told I was going through, I was so happy.” The other place went to Chloe Allan, and you can read all about her experience here.
TIE matched Amira with a charity based in Recife, Brazil, called Joy Street. Joy Street is an innovative organisation with ambitions to transform the Brazilian education system. Digital gamification is the application of typical elements in game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity. Joy Street apply gamification to education. It is an online technique to increase engagement and improve the performance of learners and educators.
Preparation proved invaluable
But it was only when Amira began to prepare for her placement did she start to understand the size of the challenge ahead. As she recalls: “I did a lot of preparation, reading and watching everything I could to ensure I made the most of my experience. I remember watching one TED Talk that had a big impact on my mindset. It was about how westerners go into deprived countries with an air of superiority. It encouraged me to really listen to the people we were trying to help, rather than going there thinking I knew what they needed.”
Realising that it was a great time to drum up support, raise awareness and build a pot of money, Amira and Chloe embarked on a very successful programme of fundraising within Octopus. A number of Octopus Giving fundraising events, including a cake sale and a ‘Man versus Food’ speed-eating competition, really drew in the crowds. Amira was thrilled by the positive vibes and “overwhelming support” from her colleagues across the Group: a total of £4,400 was raised for the project.
Amira decided that the best way to prepare for her volunteering assignment in Brazil was to start by immersing herself in the Brazilian culture. So, she took some much-needed holiday time to take in the sights, and the sounds. Amira recalls: That first week was quite tough. Travelling on my own and not knowing any Portuguese meant going 24 hours without a conversation. I got lost on several occasions. In addition, as my mobile phone wasn’t compatible there, I had to find my way around the old-fashioned way!”
Meeting Joy Street
Once the holiday was over, it was time to get to work. Amira met with Luciano Meira and Fred Vasconcelos, the co-founders of Joy Street, and her introduction to the charity included a presentation to 25 of her new colleagues, to explain why she was there and what she was hoping to achieve. Once that was out of the way, it was left to Amira to work out how she could add value to a charity that was so heavily invested in promoting the concept of digital gamification.
Gamification is fast becoming a force in the digital world. But getting to grips with a highly technical subject, not to mention the difficulties of trying to overcome the language barrier, made those early weeks difficult. Amira recalls: “Week two set me back a little. What was so clear on day one had now become confusing. And Google Translate was not doing what I hoped it would!”
Fearing that she wasn’t able to add any value, Amira knew it was time for a much-needed pep talk. She met with Philippa White, the founder and Managing Director of TIE, who gave her the reassurance she needed. “First off, Philippa calmed me done by telling me that she often has volunteers crying on her shoulder in week two, so that made me realise that what I was experiencing was quite normal. Second, she told me she wanted me to be bolder and be more forthright in sharing my ideas with the founders.
“This really helped to grow my confidence. I used this to develop a greater understanding of what gamification is and how it could be effectively applied to education.”
Making a difference
Amira’s research, along with her findings and subsequent recommendations, helped Joy Street move forward and become more innovative and effective in applying gamification to education:
“I analysed Joy Street’s platform against competitors’ in the market. They hadn’t had the time and resources to do this in the past, so I was pleased to relieve some of the pressure on them. Having the view of an outsider provided a fresh perspective and challenged the founders on aspects they had perhaps taken for granted. They found it useful that I’d looked at it from a completely different angle, particularly as I was new to this industry.”
Life in London
Now back at Octopus, adjusting to the pace of life in London has been hard. But Amira is hugely proud of overcoming the obstacles she faced and for embracing the opportunities that her time in Brazil has given her.
As Amira explains: “The biggest thing I learned about myself was that if I can go to Brazil and be taken completely out of my comfort zone, then I can handle anything life throws at me. I spend too much time worrying and expect everything to be 100%. But it’s okay to make mistakes and show your human side. I’ve grown to realise that connecting with people is a skill I possess. And that even with a language barrier in front of me I can find positives in any situation.
“Now I’m back at Octopus I’d like to make use of my own personal learnings and to make these two worlds join up. I want to move learning and development at Octopus forward through digital gamification. It’s a great way of embracing learning and motivating people.”
Amira’s placement was arranged by The International Exchange, an organisation that believes in linking private sector companies with social initiatives across the globe.