Gary White works as Operations Manager for Peebles CAN, a community based organisation which runs social enterprise projects building skills and capacity of young people in the town. He attended our Just Enterprise New Start Leadership (now Developing Social Entrepreneurs) programme in 2014-15 www.peeblescan.org
Peebles CAN is a social enterprise providing meaningful opportunities for young people and the local community through a food market, community garden, waste food classes and a deli.
Gary is passionate about supporting young people and building resilience in the community. “We work with young people at a stage where we have an opportunity to shift their direction. A little shift can make a big impact later on.”
“I was used to working with a staff team who were all at the same level but when you set up and drive a social enterprise, everyone looks to you at all times."
As the Operations Manager, Gary White says his role can lead to him feeling the weight of all the responsibilities. He signed up to New Start Leadership programme as he was hoping for the chance to meet like minded leaders.
“I was used to working with a staff team who were all at the same level but when you set up and drive a social enterprise, everyone looks to you at all times. It’s very rewarding to see how amazingly well my team is doing. At the same time it can be quite isolating because you don’t want to disrupt that positivity or offload in any way on your team, board or the people you support.”
As a part time university lecturer he was slightly unsure about what he would learn from the leadership programme but that soon changed. “I quickly could relate to the tutor, an experienced social entrepreneur, and all the others in the course.”
“I got a lot out of understanding different learning styles and from listening to the others in the group. I could see a reflection of my own experiences in the kinds of things that others were struggling with. And that helped me realise that I was not alone and felt a rapport with my fellow learners. Meeting regularly, sharing our experiences and learning from each other - I looked forward to that and found it really helped me at work.”
One of the biggest learning curves for Gary in his role leading young people, volunteers and getting a new social enterprise off the ground had been how to motivate people.
“Motivating people is a big part of my job. What I learned on the course gave me a better understanding of myself. I am a natural starter and love to initiate new things but am not so great at finishing! I also discovered I am not really a naturally empathetic leader. So I look out for that.”
“That process helped me figure out what I needed to learn about my team. I pulled out some of the stuff from the programme and put it into how we work with our staff.”
Gary has made changes since completing the course. He has applied what he learned about himself to how he assigns work.
“If I know something is outside their comfort zone I work out how to better support them. I am not a carer in my leader style so that system helps. If it wasn’t for taking the time to learn this on the course I don’t think I would have picked it up. I wouldn’t have had time to consolidate all that learning. The programme took what is quality robust work that can be really complex and boiled it down to something simple that can be applied. It’s like gold dust!”
“If I know something is outside their comfort zone I work out how to better support them. I am not a carer in my leader style so that system helps."
Gary said the change in approach reflected a deeper shift in the direction of the project. “The focus was changing away from buttons and kit to how to change and influence behavior. One of our team left when that became clear. I think it was just a natural parting of ways and that’s okay. We have new volunteers coming through and my team is extremely driven.”
The most tangible impact for Peebles Can is that Gary is taking a more systematic approach to assessing people’s strengths and abilities.
“Now I see what I want the enterprise to look like and I have started looking at ways to put into practice what we did especially around learning styles. Some of the young people we work with are not going to sit and do a long detailed questionnaire so I am adapting it.
“I am looking at ways young people can learn by doing. So trying to set up or engineer projects with that learning styles work built into it. Trying to replicate some of the learning I experience, that is exciting!”