Jack Harrison: Learning and Evaluation Officer, The Henry Smith Charity
Posted: 29 April 2021
Jack Harrison, an ICS alumnus, recent Oxford University History Graduate and now Learning and Evaluation Officer, The Henry Smith Charity. He believes that his experiences at school shaped his character and gave him an insight into how invigorating and challenging supporting a cause could be. Jack believes that there is a strong connection between his engagement with Service at ICS and his more recent career choices. At ICS, Jack introduced the Movember Project, an initiative that continues to support men’s mental and physical health through sponsorship and advocacy. Jack was a regular speaker in secondary assemblies as he worked to raise awareness and sponsorship to support men’s mental and physical health.
After completing his university studies, Jack worked as a graduate trainee for Charity Works in London. As part of his training he spent time working for Mind.org, which is a UK based charity dedicated to ensuring that those facing mental health problems are not alone. After his year placement, Jack began his role as Corporate Planning and Reporting Officer at the Red Cross. Spending a foundational year at the British Red Cross, supporting the largest humanitarian response in its history, Jack gained key insights into the methods, challenges and thrills of working in a historic charitable organisation. Wishing to cement this learning through further academic study, he chose to undertake a Masters course in Development and Gender studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a world leading institution in its field. For Jack, this study enabled him to deepen his understanding of international development practice and gain greater self-awareness of where and how he can make the greatest contribution to society. Going forward, Jack wishes to use the skills he’s acquired to contribute to research and policy making within the development field. Working collaboratively to solve the greatest challenges we face remains his primary ambition and he is excited to take on a new role as Learning and Evaluation Officer at The Henry Smith Charity, one of the largest grant making charities in Britain, which has been helping to combat disadvantage and poverty since 1628. Last year The Henry Smith Charity made grants of £39.7 million. Jack believes that many of his choices beyond school (university college, dissertation, and subsequent field of work) were strongly influenced by his experiential learning at ICS.
ICS is an IB World School that values character education and well-being. The school encourages students to engage in service through the MYP Service Learning and Community Engagement (SLCE) programme, the IB CAS programme and the Round Square Action Groups. This lively environment of service and engagement inspired Jack to look beyond pure academics and work and consider his identity within a wider context.
The work is one thing, but there is a whole world out there and if you do not look to it, you do not engage with it, then you won’t do the work very well because you are not appreciating the world in which it sits and… you won’t really be flourishing to the extent that you can.
Jack is a “naturally studious person” who admits that he would be quite happy “ensconced in a library” and focusing on his academics. And when asked what he thought would have happened had he not been to a school focused on the development of character, he replied, “I would have been very different”. Jack’s experience was that CAS (Community Activity Service) and Round Square Projects drew him away from a purely academic experience and he believes that through participation in these programmes you learn how your actions “can help change you, change the community and change the world you are in”. For Jack, this focus on character ensured that his “narrative was balanced” not only for his time at school, but also at university.
I think that having the character focus was critical for me for my growth as a person. If it (education) is a purely academic environment, then you lose that dimension completely.
Jack reflected that being in a school with a focus on experiential learning encouraged him to take risks. The stage was set for him to take action and try out initiatives; he felt supported by the school community and felt he was in a safe and secure environment where it was OK to make mistakes. Although mindful that his actions at the time were “trial and error” he was not afraid to try, “it takes a lot of courage to not hide yourself under that cloak of conformity”, and as a result, he had some “brilliant experiences” simply because he said to himself, “I’ll try, I’ll give it a go”. Jack tried to make a difference, no matter how small or big the action was, “I felt that it was within my grasp to at least have a conversation”. Consequently, it was these engagements that opened up opportunities he would never have thought of.
Looking back on his experiential learning experiences at ICS, Jack reflects on the transformative effect his projects had on him. Not only because it helped him to learn about himself, but also because it helped him to learn from others. He believes that through supporting and engaging with others, you learn to approach situations from multiple perspectives, and this more importantly “prevents you from becoming very stale in your outlook of the world and your engagement with the world”. The skills and perspectives he acquired through this engagement in service and leadership projects have proved invaluable in his life after school.
I think what ICS was doing with Round Square and CAS was a really important safeguard for all kids. You begin building up those key skills which help you in any profession you choose to go into, in your daily life. It’s that ability to think, “OK, how are we going to compromise? How can we talk to each other so that we can get somewhere, so that we can progress together?”
One of those service projects for Jack was the ICS Movember Challenge. His involvement happened by chance. But now, as a result of his work, each year, students at ICS encourage community members to shave their faces and/or heads to raise sponsorship to support men’s health. Jack believes this initiative is an example of one of those “brilliant experiences” that set the course for his future choices.
I was trying to talk about and introduce issues that I did not understand fully understand to the purest extent, and there were a lot of things that I did not know how to do…..I did not go in with a plan at that period. So, had that stopped there, if it had ground to a halt, then we would not be having this conversation right now.
Engaging with a cause and developing strong relationships through teamwork is a theme that has continued for Jack.
At university he was attracted to others who shared the same passions and social consciousness. During his summer holidays he continued to look for ways to make a difference. He volunteered with Home Start, a UK based charity that supports families with young children through challenging times. Jack believes that understanding your own identity and impact is more important now than ever.
It is a bit of a changing environment that we are all working in now. You struggle to not see yourself as part of a collective, and you struggle to not see yourself as related and impacting others. The pandemic is a prime example of that. Whatever you are doing does have impact. That has sort of been a notion that has really stuck around for me over the last few years.
And Jack’s advice to other students, “bring your whole self to the work that you do, and to the work you do with others”. This has been a strong theme for him over the last couple of years and a willingness to be honest and authentic has enabled him to develop fun, engaging and productive relationships with his teams.
Be authentic in all the work that you do and how you bring yourself to work with others. Even in the more basic things…. Having that sensitivity when you are working with others, expressing your uncertainties and showing when you are not purely comfortable. That is really key to creating the relationships that are the foundation of everything you do. … It’s how you relate with people.
Jack believes that exciting, challenging, and productive work comes when teams have the confidence to share uncertainty, make suggestions, and, to use Jack’s words, just, “Give it a go!”