Alumni diaries: from International Relations to social venture founder

Meet Lewis Jenkins – International Relations alumnus turned Founder of Experience Something Different – a social venture that uses school trips as a force for good

What is Experience Something Different?

We run educational field trips to a sustainable future. Through trips, safaris, workshops and tours we help future workers encounter, imagine, and invent new sustainable ways of living and working. We use positive commercial role models, candid discussion and behind-the-scenes tours to see what a sustainable future looks like.

How did it come about?

In 2016 I was #2 at a global travel and education company. I set up the Australian arm from scratch and it had gone well. I had all the trappings of success: a big house, nice car, global travel, I was getting married…nothing could go wrong.

It went wrong. In a day I lost my wife, my home and my dogs, along with my right to live in Australia. Then I lost my mind and got literally lost in a tropical rainforest in Queensland. I got out a day later with two busted ankles. Personally, professionally and physically I was broken. This period taught me that we can’t take anything for granted.

That Christmas I visited England to try to regroup. I met up with someone I hadn’t seen for twenty years, someone from school, and she took pity on me.

A year later I sold my company and limped back to England to move in with the girl from school. After that I promised myself that I would stop lying, both to myself and other people. And that I’d pay more attention to being a good person. I decided the next company would be business as a force for good. That’s how it started.

The thing about climate and sustainability is that it is all encompassing

What are some of the challenges you face on a regular basis in your role? And which parts of your job do you most enjoy?

The more I look at the science, the more I appreciate how entirely the game has changed. The thing about climate and sustainability is that it is all encompassing. You can’t talk meaningfully about war, disease, famine or the future of work without thinking about climate change. It’s mind-boggling.

On the other hand, it gives us the potential to rise together to a massive challenge. For me, the most inspiring examples in business and government at the moment are those that let go of the mistakes of our past, the fear that harms our society, and instead hold on to the hope in our future. Climate and sustainability lets us do that.

At an environmental level, we’ve got this wrong. But we can still make it right. I see this as an opportunity to build a new, fairer, cleaner economy based on fiduciary and moral responsibility. That’s exciting.

Our goal is to help improve the wellbeing, results and career prospects of 100,000 students a year by 2025.

Your work aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. How do you achieve this? And how do you prioritise your projects?

We look at sustainability in all its guises and focus on companies that are evolving and building new ways of working. The SDG Action manager, the Bcorp movement and the community of companies who are willing to let go of shareholder capitalism help us to do this.

Our goal is to help improve the wellbeing, results and career prospects of 100,000 students a year by 2025. We aim to transition a generation from consumers to custodians. Whatever gets us there fastest is how we prioritise.

Just as online changed everything, climate is about to do the same

Tell us about Curriculum and Careers, and the diverse range of workplaces you take groups to.

My first start-up did well because we noticed a growing gap between education and the real world of work. The internet shockwave that disrupted business in the first decade of the millennium did the same to education in the second decade. Just as online changed everything, climate is about to do the same. The companies and workers that will succeed in this decade will recognise the opportunities in this.

We have visited galleries, start-up incubators, community hubs, restaurants and leading renewable energy companies. We’ve had talks from BBC journalists, founders, scientists, local government, successful entrepreneurs and other experts in sustainability and business as a force for good. We even ate bugs washed down with sustainable beer!

If you had one piece of advice for students who don’t know what they want to do once they graduate, what would it be?

Work in a start-up or small business in something you care about. Get your hands dirty, let your ego go, and ask lots of questions. The depth of experience, the energy and the exposure to different aspects of work is incredibly useful in later life.

Tell us something few people know about you.

I was 1991 Beaver of the Year in the South East London region. I was eight years old. I got a trophy. Still revelling in the glory to be honest. #beaverchamp #winning

Learn more about entrepreneurship and working for start-ups on our website

Experience Something Different is part of the University of Cambridge Judge Business School Cambridge Social Ventures Incubator, and has just been granted advance approval from HMRC to raise seed funding through the UK Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme. If you would like to be involved in their work, please contact lauren@experiencesomethingdifferent.org 

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