Aug. 10, 2021

5. Howard Jones

5. Howard Jones

Howard Jones, CEO and Thought Leader shares his sonder moment as well as how after a career in the military he has dedicated his life towards helping others and the environment. Be sure to listen to the very end of the episode for bonus material.

You can follow Howard on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/howard-jones-6a253b4/

A transcription of each episode as well as guest profiles and much more is available on our website www.sondership.com

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Transcript

Howard:

Although this story sounds as though it's it was a chaotic sort of collection, the common theme is always me wanting to do better, and seeing how I can make my best contribution and particularly where on this question of values and the value of this wonderful place, where we live and the value of each other, if only we bother to look.

Danny:

This is brilliant Howard. I'm genuinely grateful for you sharing your story. Welcome to the Sondership podcast, I am Danny Attias, your host and today I will be having a conversation with Howard Jones. Howard is the global head of sustainability for the Bangarra group and was at the same time managing director for the St Mellion estate since February 2020. He has operated at the most senior levels in voluntary, private and public sectors as an executive and on boards. Howard the left medical school to serve 16 years in the military on active commissioned service on five continents, fulfilling a range of specialist duties. On leaving in 1999, he managed a horticultural business before becoming development director of the Eden project in 2001, if you've not heard about the project, definitely look it up and definitely go visit it, it is a fantastic facility in the south of England. In 2011, he founded and served as a CEO of living networks, a social business for regeneration and social justice. He was a founding director of shaping places a cross-disciplinary partnership for capital investment for regeneration. In 2016, Howard became the CEO of the international wildlife charity, Born Free, transforming the organization and its quality work around the world prior to joining Bangarra group in 2020. Howard, welcome.

Howard:

Thank you Danny, very kind.

Danny:

As you hopefully know, by now, the Sondership podcast is about hearing people's stories, inspiring stories from people like you, learning about your journey, the highs and the lows, and what shifted you to do things, to help other people, to do things, to make a difference in the world. I'm really excited just to talk to you specifically around sustainability and social justice these are incredibly important topics. But I want to start with that very first question that I'm asking all of my guests, which is your sonder moment, your earliest memory, or your most impactful memory and to remind our listeners sonder is the realization that random people's lives are as vivid and complex as your own. It's that moment where you realize that the story is not all about you, it's not all about your family, but everyone's got their own story going on and hopefully having that moment starts to create more empathy and eventually you get to the point where you want to be part of those stories. You want to influence those stories, although you might never get to meet those people or ever hear about the impact that you've had. So Howard, tell us about your memorable sonder moment.

Howard:

I've had a strange old life and it's to the outside observer and you would say that it's you would say, w what's the direction there, then? What, how have you managed to do all those different things and what was the consistency or the direction. And actually there's been a common thread which we can come onto later, which holds it all together. It's been very much in my mind and it comes from and it's been reinforced by a number of sonder moments, but the earliest one that I can recall and I, my, the basis for me saying this, I was fortunate, I was brought up in a good stable family, strong background, very good education. My parents were great, taught me an awful lot about life, the world around me, and so on, taught me a lot of things about decency and justice and fairness but that didn't prevent me, even though I went to a very good traditional or boys' school it didn't prevent me from going off the rails somewhat. being really naughty being, being the worst actually and having absolutely no personal sense of direction that I could make out at the time lost all at sea. although in the meantime, good at rugby, good at running all the rest of it, but failing dreadfully and academics. and then I was picked up by when I was 15, 16 and was thought to become a failure wherever else going is what was it in Cambridge and the school? I was picked up by a maths master the head of maths who, who spoke to me and said, you can really make something in this, but you've really just got to calm down work with what you've got and we can get through all of this central maths, physics and the science subjects, which have a shape to them and we can get you through your O levels and in fact, you're going to do really well, but stick with it. And I did. And in just the space of two terms I moved from being a pretty, a real pain in the ass to getting all my O levels high grades and then surprising everyone going into sixth form and then getting all my intervals and going off to medical school. But the thing is that that wouldn't have happened had there not been a really good people who saw something in me saw that it would be a loss if I wasn't encouraged and picked up and saw also in slightly more detail, what was required to help me get there. And it was a case of, in his words, calming down, getting a bit of a grip of myself and my behavior because I didn't have anything to prove. I didn't have to be the naughtiest boy in the school. I could, if I just relied on what I had, I'd be fine. And and that was the first time and that, that occurred a couple of times as I went through life because I certainly in the first, up until about the age of 30, I was always inclined to get on the wrong side of of life and and behavior and so I was always tempted to be the the one in the crew who would be a poorly behaved or whatever. And I don't really know why that is, but what I've, what I needed then was a sense of discipline, direction and an objective, which I gave myself on leaving medical school and joining the military. That was a positive, conscious decision. I was failing in medical school got in the fourth year because I was playing a lot of rugby and having a bit too much fun, met my girlfriend in the first couple of years. And who's now my wife. and Yeah. it was various points when I did surgery at medical school, my hero was the surgeon called Brian Reese who'd been an international and he again was a key person who took me and showed me how I could be really good and spend that extra time, extra effort, extra bit of fault about the person who was dealing with. To see if you can get, give me a sense of direction. I think within that, moving from really good education and also achievement academically into medical school, I was all at CN again because medical school was, this is back in, this is the late seventies, early eighties. Education was different than there wasn't structure, there was, a lot of the lecturers just read stuff out of books or just spoke for an hour about neuroanatomy and bored everyone rigid. there, it was a lot of self-direction. Having come from a disciplined school and family, I just gotten lost at medical school. and I could do it academically and so on, but goodness me. So in fourth year off, I down to central time and joined up.

Danny:

Your country needs you.

Howard:

yeah. but yeah, it was actually, I needed my country and I needed a sense of direction and discipline, and that's what I got.

Danny:

That's really interesting, so it's that almost that free and that independence that became, quite difficult to work with them because you had been used to such regimented and structured approach. So I can see how the army would fit in and what you've described there it's fascinating actually my own journey, which I shan't and going through, but it's quite similar not to the same degree. I was never a bad boy or a bit naughty, but I wasn't doing academically brilliantly until someone just leaned in and said, you've got lots of potential. Why don't you just give it a go? and that made a fundamental transformation as around that GCSE O level time that that so you've really articulated wonderfully there. Other people, seeing you and seeing your potential and going out of their way to, to help you realize your potential become better and where, at what point did you then see it the other way round? Or what point did you start to see those other people or just random people and say, okay, it's not just about Howard. It's not just about him going off the rails or not being good at school or enjoying rugby or or being at medical school. At what point did you look outwards and start to realize everyone else has got these stories going on as well?

Howard:

Yes, it did happen, but I would just touch back to the impact it had on me because I never, at any point, I still don't think very much about myself. I'm not a person of high personal esteem. I, and the funny thing is I've never actually needed it. So I've never been someone who exudes confidence or, transmit some kind of huge amount of self-awareness or whatever, because I don't, I just don't seem to have any sort of ego and it's, it comes about because I think some of these initial, very early learning opportunities and that, that chat, Mr. Smith, head of maths, utterly surprised me. He was the least expected of the people. He was very strict, the very dry crusty head of maths. And I just didn't expect him to take an interest and he did. And that's what struck me most, and then several other masters who probably tried and failed before, but followed suit and they were great with me and it was final to use at school. And I didn't think about myself at all. In that context, I was more fascinated by the fact that they really cared for me and that was a massive learning experience because it became obvious to me that caring for people around us and the community and the people we serve and that nature in the world around us is massively more important than care for oneself or self awareness. It's just completely the other way round for me..

Danny:

You actually experienced receiving someone else going above and beyond the day job of sitting at the front of the lecture room and reading out from a book to actually caring about you and investing in you, and then you felt that impact.

Howard:

Yeah, completely and that enabled me at various points to have no self regard at all, whether that was in conflict or, in emergencies and dealing with that sort of thing in the military all the way through to people who are living appalling lives. Just not even thinking about the fact that those people, those communities, families deserve better, deserve support, deserve an insight into why things were as they were, and also deserve somebody, somewhere to do something about. So That's how it came about. and everything really followed from that. And and those lessons and those opportunities became reinforced through my military career.

Danny:

Howard, take us now to your military career, you went down the high street you signed up what happened next? I, can't, no experience to the military the idea doing this for so many years and across so many continents, what did that look like? How did that feel?

Howard:

Initially it felt very strange because I didn't have and still don't and didn't throughout my career, my colleagues will say it didn't have a military bone in my body. I was never interested. Is there anything, any sort of organized discipline, like the Scouts or the whole thing used to make me cringe I've not got the, never have had the slightest interest in weapons or anything hated marching there's just not a bone in my body that likes that sort of thing. But the funny thing was that's not what life in the military was like at all. People often say to me, all that shouting, I used to think I can't recall shouting ever or anyone raising their voices. I just remember that extraordinarily professional process and lifestyle and career where you got on and did stuff you're really well-trained for what you did expectations were extraordinarily high. It w you had the most amazing experiences. So that was the odd thing and it fitted me really well. If the military had been the sort of characterization that let's say the general public views I'd have hated every minute of it, but it wasn't and that's the funny thing that's the misperception of how things are, but anyway, it was, I commissioned at the Royal Air Force which was great and it was a fantastic experience but what I did was I was essentially a soldier within the Royal Air Force in a unit called the Royal air force regiment and that enabled me to specialize in a range of different things and I was, we did a lot in terms of security. So we were off to do tours of duty in Northern Ireland, back in the day. there, again, an experience for that was I finished a training course, which was to teach us to be light armoured troop commanders. but the very next day after that off I went to be on the streets of Northern Ireland. And so this odd to me because I suppose the, all these big learning experiences then enabled me to just build on my beliefs and my way in which I needed to work with and trust people, because one example is the next day flew out to Belfast to join my unit and the very next morning there, I was a young officer stood in front of 35 men. Never met them before in my life. And I was off on patrol. And that was a bit of an experience because they needed to trust me. I needed to trust them. We needed to understand each other lots and lots of safety nets are of course, in place in the military but there's a huge amount based upon how you behave and how you come across as an individual and it starts right there. There's no going back. There's no questioning, there's no fear of what may or may not happen you just get on with it and you rely on everything that you've learned to that date. and that really then is, it's just one of thousands of stepping stones, that example I've given you that just bring me a right up to the present day. Just a series of different experiences where the common thread has been seeking to understand people around me, their needs, their aspirations, their fears how they see the world how I can support them what I can do to make things work and that's always been far more about those people, those individuals, those teams, those organizations that it has about me because at the center of it, I'm fine. I know what I'm doing. I know who I am I know what my beliefs and values are, but I need to be able to support others, to enable them to be the best they can be or to get the best opportunities they can or to get the best support they can that's my role.

Danny:

There's so much there you come from a privileged background and a lot of this is about, yeah. Lots of people have privilege in different ways and it's about using that privilege to, to make a difference center and to have an impact. As you said at the beginning, the good family, a great education, you had a lot of opportunities, but you've used that to help others and to seek to understand. And it's quite interesting, there are a couple of things you've said so far, you're a career CEO but you're not driven by ego. and you're not overflowing with self esteem, you've been in the military, but you had no interest in guns. It was really the structure and the impact that the military could have. So there's already a theme coming out here, which is really interesting about what makes Howard different and the path that you've then been gone down. so take us through a whistle-stop tour of some of your other continents of experience in the military.

Howard:

The initial Northern Ireland stuff and reinforcement exercises in Germany when the cold war was on and the whole thing was around reinforcing and reconnaissance screens on the borders of Germany, endlessly practiced and so on back from here in the UK a lot of internal security, Cyprus and so on, but then beyond that, I went and commanded what you might call a territorial unit. and then beyond that I'm doing leadership training of being a training officer at the Royal air force college, and then became more specialized in that intervening time. I'd done a lot of my engineering. I was a snow and ice climber, a fully qualified expedition leader, that sort of thing. I went off and did survival courses and I then became quite specialized in what I was doing. So when I went off to the command headquarters that strike command at High Wycombe I then got asked to do particular tasks and which took me various points of the world whether it's an individual or in within teams and one of the first ones, there were a range of things that I did, but w the more interesting, or the ones, which are easier to talk about more relevant for this involve my time in Northern Iraq, where I was in command of a company of Kurdish Peshmerga up in the north, after the first Gulf war. And before the second which you may recall started off as being called Operation, Provide Comfort where the Kurds had been driven into the mountains, following the first Gulf war, and then the failure of the allied powers to secure the territory having created a nightmare in Iraq then abjectly failed to secure anything with regard to the populations, particularly the north and the south, and anything to do with the structure and the governance of the nation. So all of that, was a dreadful mess and I did two long tours of duty working with US army special forces and also the the Kurds, as I say, in the most extraordinary, unusual circumstances securing the safe haven on the ground, but also working with air assets above to make sure there weren't any incursions and most amazing experiences living with the Kurds and operating across Northern Iraq and getting to see and do things you would hardly believe you're buying all the weapons and ammunition or to support the operation from weapons markets and in these very tough towns touring around the country and land rovers and visiting people in extraordinary historic places like Heli Mandir one of the oldest settled cities on earth and learning a huge amount about an area of the world I'd always had an interest in any way, which, which was Mesopotamia, the ancient world and seeing it seeing it for the first time and exploring it and understanding that we had made the most God almighty mess of the whole thing. I would do whatever I could as a small individual to try and help put things, right because other sonder moments like sitting down with the Kurds who were extraordinarily accepting people, respected us. When you might say, why would they respect us, given the mess we've created here, we've let them down or let everyone down. but they still felt that we were a positive influence and, I'd developed great humility about this sort of trying to see into their minds and seeing why and how things had happened and what could be better because at the heart of this was a whole range of lies and political structures and vested interests that created this in the first place and whilst I was a loyal military officer doing my job I also had a personal view that things could be a whole lot better.

Danny:

That must be really difficult to correlate the direct impact that you would want to have as an individual versus your orders, the, you were in the military, it doesn't get more structured than that, does it? how did you consolidate those two?

Howard:

That's interesting because you say that, but there's a degree of not self determination, but there's a degree where you can make some choices and particularly in that environment where it's a long way from anywhere and at certain points not put it too bluntly. I wondered who is on my side with people you thought perhaps where your colleagues or not colleagues rather, but allies

Danny:

Okay.

Howard:

shooting at you and this does, there's all sorts of things. I won't explore with that, but also the U S army, US state department, CIA, our own secret services, our own government, our own military, all seemingly at odds with different agendas different goals. To the point where at the front-end or something like that if you're in the slightest thinking intelligent, personal, you think what a absolute mess, and then you start, I started to begin to understand some of the dynamics existing within political intelligence spheres and how with those dynamics, nothing was ever going to be sorted unless we as humans start to behave far more intelligently, far more collectively with far better informed populations, treating people with respect, particularly in terms of telling them the truth. Because that way we might actually resolve a better world. You asked the question about where else I was a weapons inspector in Baghdad. I was part of the United Nations special commission in Baghdad later on and was also part of the final team a five person team who interviewed the Iraqi government about weapons of mass destruction, and then issued the final report to ambassador Richard Butler in New York. Unfortunately shortly followed by the bombing of Baghdad, which was something which completely destroyed my belief in what I was doing. so I did that kind of thing. I commanded a Mozambique army outfit the training company in Zimbabwe to help with the recovery of Mozambique from the civil war Worked in the Far East so jungle qualified and also in the Artic did Arctic training. So I, a whole range of things and specializations which took me to very old places, very interesting places. and none of which I would exchange for anything, it was an extraordinary opportunity. but through it all I just reinforced my own set of beliefs, that we were getting things dreadfully wrong, that we're ignoring individuals because the bigger picture is always best but the bigger picture is always easier to deal with in terms of politics. as is often said, the military is always in there clearing up the mess, and I didn't want to be involved in clearing up messes anymore. I wanted to try and do something about it to try to build perhaps or help build a more intelligent informed society where a larger proportion of the population is involved, engaged, and informed because the more that people understand about the world, the more they're engaged and interacting with each other and understanding the truth, whatever the truth might be. The less likely it is that we find ourselves in conflict and clearing up messes all the time or reacting badly to disasters, whether they're natural or human made. When I left the military I came away with a really reinforced sense of justice of right and wrong and how one might effect change and that's what then led me into the stuff I did next with the Eden Project and social justice, inclusion and working with very disadvantaged people.

Danny:

Brilliant Howard that is just so interesting and not a perspective, lots of people get to hear about. You know, going through my mind you're part Tom Clancy novel part, Indiana Jones. It's just such an incredibly varied career so far and this takes you up to your late thirties, early forties now. So tell us about this transition from guns to greenhouses. What did that look like?

Howard:

So interestingly then and this is happen chance not through all that time. and in terms of the old Tom Clancy in Indiana Jones thing, absolutely not. I'll tell you something I was a paratrooper and I was scared, stiff. the something you asked about fears and everything right at the beginning of this. And everyone knew that there I was first out of the aircraft. Number one, port normally absolutely petrified. I hated heights. and when I did my training, I was mortified stood there in a balloon cage. having to jump eight hundred feet into nothing scared, stiff, but I knew I had to do it because I wanted to do it. I needed to try to be the best I could. likewise my snow and ice climbing goodness, me. I couldn't look down, but I had to do it.

Danny:

So expand on that, you had to do it.

Howard:

I've always had, and it's certainly then had this utter sense of failure that I had, let everyone down, let my parents don't let myself down because I could have been really good at rugby. I could have been a really good runner. I didn't, cause I didn't concentrate on it. I could have been probably a decent doctor didn't so I've always felt, gee, I've got to do, I've got to do something really well. And I've got to really now start to explore my capabilities and so some of the things which I I knew in terms of what I want to do in my military career I knew I needed to do stuff like climbing and so on. If you want to get qualified as a someone who could take people above snow lines and so on, you've got to do snow and ice climbing. So I did, Goodness me. I couldn't do it now anyway, but I'm scared the life out of me, but I did it because I had to and I had to cause I was driving myself to do it, you know, rock climbing, paratrooping. Oh, I was fine when it hit the ground, the bits leading up to that. No, I wouldn't. Oh yeah. It's all voluntary and you've got to go when the green light goes, you got to go cause you do its duty.

Danny:

Goodness. You're incredibly driven you've got that drive of not wanting to let people down

Howard:

Yeah, absolutely and or myself cause I felt I'd done that too many times before. and I felt I had something to offer and what a waste, if I didn't, if I didn't do the best I could what a waste it would be. So when I left, I'd done a open university degree in my latter years of the military in environment technology and I did a post-grad diploma in international environmental policy. And I'd always had, and certainly through my military career, a love of the natural world and also an understanding of how we were destroying our most precious resource, but certainly not providing any value to it. or recognize any way or mechanism of finding value, which seemed to me always just the most extraordinary oversight I put that together with also the fact that in the military, when I was at commander quarters you, oversee these huge budgets, millions of pounds of assets and materials and so on, but there's no profit and loss and there's no accounting and all the rest of there's no budgetary principles really. So you don't actually know how to run a business. so I knew I needed to learn how to run a business and I was really lucky and I got to a role running a horticulture nursery in Penzance. My home was in Cornwall, so that was great in this business, but a small business that needed to be developed that had fundamental flaws and it was selling one particular plant to wholesale trade. So I had an insight and at the time I was really interested in Eden Project. It'd been being built over the previous three years or so, I'm talking about the turn of the millennium and it was in the local papers are fascinated by this because it was all about building a better world and so on. I thought God does that sound right up my street? I wonder how I could possibly manage to get involved in that,

Danny:

Could you outline what Eden Project is?

Howard:

It was a millennium project, so it was one of the seven or eight, I can't remember publicly funded projects at the turn of the millennium that were to set out and build a brighter future. and it's, I believe it's the only one that still runs, but the it was a major capital investment. I don't know, probably going on at least 150 million now, but a very largest greenhouses in the world called biomes, which aren't greenhouses at all that the ETFE covering them most extraordinary hexagonal, octagonal structures. They reproduce the humid tropic and the warm temperate biomes of the world with collections of plants, which tell human stories. So the plants are used as interpreters for what people do with trade with, in some cases, exploitation with plants that useful to us and so on. The whole idea was that this amazing collection of plants would be. the best and most engaging way by which people could learn about the world around them and value it more understand it in more detail and see our interaction with it, how we're utterly dependent upon plants and the natural world. So that was the reason it was built. it's been very successful, but it opened in 2001, a couple of million people came and visited in year one and year two and it settled down into smaller numbers over time. In running this horticulture nursery, I saw Eden project up there in near St Austell and thought I wonder whether they would like to buy some of my plants and if they did, then I could turn around the type of plants I'm doing and start just stock exotic, very small, exotic plants, like a tree ferns, olive trees and bananas and things. Contacted uh, Israeli micro propagator of bananas bought several thousand bananas did the same with olive trees and so on. and uh, took a van up to Eden project with a whole range of trays of plants in the back and said to the head horticulturalist at the time. you've got your building site, you've got all these people coming to visit and paying a fiver just to see the building site, what about selling them some plants and all right then, okay, but if we don't sell them, then you're gonna have to have 'em back. I got a phone call the next day, can we have another van Uh, and that was the start of us becoming the biggest supplier to Eden project in its first few months, that then led to cut a long story short, I was only there for a year, but that business became quite successful and then I was approached by Eden and my interview was in a pub, and they said you've been in the military, you know how to organize things, which is not always true, I can assure you. and they said we need someone who can pull us all together because essentially we've opened for business we haven't got a team which has the equipment to run this really busy enterprise. We need someone who can pull that together. So I did that for the next five years, that's what I did and I put all the organizational stuff in place everything from how to run the biomes and instructions all the way through to the finance procedures and HR and, the technology networks and so on, and was involved in recruiting some really good people into Eden project and was the development director there for five or six years. and then became more and more responsible building on what I've been doing before for taking Eden beyond Cornwall, so through education programs, public engagement, social justice programs to extend our message about the world and about us as people and how we can do better to a very much wider audience. So that became more of my role in the second five years, that was what I did. So I lead our external stuff and I got myself engaged in setting up and running with the government at the time, particularly a range of social justice programs. So working a lot in prisons introducing skills programs in prisons, and then employment programs, outside setting up projects where offenders or people with all kinds of addictions could find places to learn and work some of those places still running did things like organize the Eden side of the Live Aid concerts. So we hosted the African acts at Eden I organized all of that. and two Chelsea show gardens, which were all built by homeless people and offenders to demonstrate that person you might pass by on the other side of the street is someone who has value and if you only take the time.to see that person is just like you has had a different pathway may have been. if we think these things are interesting, may have been about manager who fell on hard times, who cares. It really doesn't matter that person can be a valuable member of society and if we pass all these people by if we pass all those youngsters who don't go to school by then, we're all the poorer for it.

Danny:

So that's really interesting, Howard, you are involved in the Eden project and you're starting from banana plants, but you are switching over to helping homeless people, providing opportunities, getting involved in education and social justice and environmental impact. How did you switch from that? I mean, you could, you could easily have been a hundred percent focused on biomes and green things all the time. How did you make that switch to say, I've got these incredible tools at my disposal. I've got this profile and this awareness, I can help more people and make a difference using what I have. How did that switch happen?

Howard:

So partly it was still the time it was just needed to be pushed. and I think you've probably got that from what I said previously, I knew I needed the opportunity to do that. I wanted to be successful at what I did so that I could do more. it wasn't for a self-interest to be a senior, exec and so on it was because I knew by being a senior exec, I could have an impact. so one of the key points for me and Tim Smit, who was the boss and want to see on those of us who have been talking about how we can engage with people other than those who come to the project. So it's all very well having this thing in Cornwall, but how many people would come to Cornwall? Okay 2 million a year come to Eden Project fine. but what about the other five, six billion? Because we had pretty big ambitions and if our message is correct about the future of the planet, then actually everyone needs to know about it, but we also hit upon the point, which is pretty much built on my experience was it an awful lot of those people will publish and have absolutely no way of understanding, engaging, even knowing about what it is we're talking about. And it's not because they don't want to is because no one ever bothers to have them here anything. And that is exactly true in our own country. All the things that I saw in Mozambique and in the Far East and in Middle East and so on that's exactly the same parallels exist in our own towns and cities. we have grinding poverty and disassociation from reality in our own communities. So I set about getting in touch with people who were supporting individuals in care, particularly youngsters in care and that is a particular area of tragedy, really in this country of youngsters in care, who actually, in some cases, the care is not very caring and very large portion of them end up going to prison. But we set up and I spoke to someone in government and just gave something a silly name, I often given my programmes silly names, I called this A Great Day Out because I became convinced that because of what people who would pay to come to Eden said about the way it changed their perspective on the world. I became convinced that could work for people and for youngsters from very disadvantaged backgrounds. So why shouldn't it? In fact, it might even have more impact. So created a program called great day out and the, which was a bit of a take on the Wallace and Gromit thing. but that was quite deliberate. The government loved it. They funded it. And over a period of years it was really successful in getting groups of about 12 or 15 youngsters each with a support worker or carer into Eden for a day on a relaxed, guided route around Eden about the world and actually the point was it was about themselves. Right from the very beginning we were getting feedback or even on the day itself from these young people, all the people that were supporting them saying, oh, that's the first time that Johnny said anything for three years. So it was that kind of thing. and it was the motivation then to do more, was huge because we were literally changing lives there, and then and more to the point, not just changing and inspiring, but giving people hope and a sense that there was an opportunity to exactly the same in a way to me, when I was way back in my school days when someone had chosen to take time for me. What we were doing was taking time for them and saying, yep. It's just a day, but that day can extend it doesn't matter, whatever follows let's deal with today and we can change lives because we're taking interest in you for a lot of those children or youngsters that was the first time in their lives that someone will actually take an interest.

Danny:

It's really interesting. I think my Matthew Syed talks about it in one of his more recent books a similar but completely opposite program in the U S where they would take kids who were offending and take them through prisons and show them, scare them into what their lives could be like and this was lauded as a great program, but the actual data showed that it had no impact whatsoever. What you were doing is the positive reinforcement, the complete opposite showing them what their lives could be, in a good way, what it could become and giving them opportunities.

Howard:

It was about that. It was about seeing what things could be, but it was also about understanding that the world is much, much bigger place than their next fix or their poverty or the fact that no one loves them or, you know. the world is a way bigger place and all these other things going on in the world. but we completely and utterly depend upon each other and the natural world in order to be, to have any success at all, but to have a resilient future, whether it's individuals or as groups. So that was the point. And from that developed to another program called Great Grass, which was working with football clubs, Arsenal and West Ham and Spurs and Plymouth Argyle and so on with comic relief and others. Yeah. Big American tech company called Cisco who are great to get youngsters who thought they were going to go into Arsenal, or but they weren't, the course was four to six weeks and what they were doing is doing about technology learning about themselves, their lives, the personal wellbeing, teamwork responsibility, because this was a different way of engaging, not through school, but through really positive reinforcement of what can be possible in the world of a football club, just taking the model of Eden 'cause there's not 200 Eden Projects, but there are 200 football clubs, and saying, there there are different ways of looking at the world. And each one of these clubs is also a little industry. There's all sorts of jobs here that need to be done. That you might yourself think is worth doing so that, and that changed lives and so I did more and more of that. And then some international programs working with offenders as I said, Chelsea show gardens, which would demonstrate to the public at large, don't pass on your side. These people who you shun and it, whatever, are just like us, they are us we're all part of the same society. We lock someone away in prison. Guess what? Unless they're a particular offender, there'll be out of prison. Why would we just want to exercise retribution? Surely we need to help that person along because they're part of society. It's madness to pretend they're not. and the other point, being the offenders cease to be offenders once a sentence. So then, or should be on a process of recovery so calling people offenders when they're in prison, unless they are actively offending, they're not, they're ex offenders. yeah. We're all ex offenders. W we're all getting on with life.

Danny:

It's a lot about lack of opportunity from lack of privilege as well and it's giving them those opportunities that they might not have been lucky enough to have had to see their own potential and to do things a different way.

Howard:

Some of the stories and just keeps inspiring you. so I was working with a homeless organization in Plymouth and very briefly I was looking at their skills because they take the person and I still work with them now. and they, this are Okay you can let's forget the multiple needs, but let's look at what that person can do and they work with individuals say, okay, there is a role here, there's a job there, which we can work. But first of all, we've got to deal with all these other things that go towards it. So the goal is there. And then the series of pathways to get, to achieve that and pick off one by one, whether it's addiction or poverty, and so on. It was not a political point at all, but 10, 12 years war starting don't help. But there are better ways of working than we currently do, so essentially, and again, It's long story short that all that time, and even all my work became quite big. and we agreed, I took my work away from Eden because it was called Living Networks and I took it away, formed the business around myself as a social business and took part of my team away from Eden and my funding and continue to do those programs for the next four, five years. and in, so doing also made the link between the quality of the places we build, the the environments we create within our cityscapes and so on, which have been informed by me becoming, this is a terribly self-important sounding phrase, but I was called a thought leader on a smart, connected cities. So I went various places in the world with Cisco and other organizations who were developing themes and technologies for smart, connected cities. So I became a bit of a leader on the thinking and the applications and the success of potentially cities that worked better with and for the communities could be constructed, design better and governed better with the help of technology. And so I did some of that into what, towards the end of my time at Eden and continue to do it, but then started to make a very strong connection between the opportunities exist between the places we build or regenerate or not. And the quality of life that exists within those. and that's why I set up Shaping Places, working with architects, engineers, funders, investment companies, to see how we could introduce my style of thinking around social inclusion, social justice, and the repositioning of capital wealth to deliver more healthy, vibrant communities because of the quality of the places we build. And so that work carried on looking, working with a company called Emma Bridgewater, pottery Emma Bridgewater in Stoke and in boroughs in South London road, Crystal Palace and Bromley and so on taking these ideas and methods to say that you don't need to make grossly inflated profits as developers, which they do never let house builder tell you they're in poverty because they're not um, or, or pretend to do what's called section 106 social obligations with developments and then not deliver. if we're all in this together, then it benefits us all by delivering on obligations. and so don't try to avoid them because it impoverishes us all in the end. So build partnerships which have a commitment to do the best they can to deliver high quality well-considered inclusive developments or regeneration projects. And actually the goal, the game that comes out of that is far more than you do by just cutting corners, cutting costs and so on because you ended up better reputationally, better quality you get better margins on products and services because they're better. They have higher value, you create value and that value can be sustained and so often we miss that point

Danny:

It's so much about the long-term view and not short term profiteering short-term quarterly targets and, that's just so unhealthy. So

Howard:

as I say, it impoverishes us all in the end. and it's so stupid because the greater value arises from taking a balanced view and making a positive difference and making proper investments and not cutting costs all the time, but we learn, we relearn and relearn is that we don't learn that that's just a fundamentally stupid thing to do.

Danny:

So then let's hear about the animals, what happened next?

Howard:

So kind of minding my own business literally in 2015 but also thinking, because, and this is a slightly political point because under that government, it was incredibly hard to get funding or support or any interest at all for the sort of work I was doing. So the Cameron government starting with the coalition government, just stripped that all away. and so not only did that cause immense damage to the work that was being done, but in many ways it became impossible. and so from a completely realistic point of view, even though I was getting funding from Accenture some big companies to do the work I was doing and from Comic Relief and, the usual suspects government funding fell through the floor because it's simply weren't interested. and the last to go was my work with football clubs where I was I remember the last programs we ran a Great Grass were in and around crystal pass and Crispus foot club tremendous club doing stuff in the community and we Charlton Athletic equally. but that all came to a halt because Department for Work and Pensions were no longer allowed to fund that sort of work. it was all about just cutting. So in 2015, I was definitely thinking times will change. I hope. but for the moment I can't even really keep myself. in employment let alone anyone else. I was starting to look for things to do, but then I got a call as these, as I discovered these things work, but I didn't know at the time with headhunters, the way they work in mysterious ways. And it was from an organization, it was looking for a boss of Born Free and I literally got a phone call and they said would you be interested or would you know of anyone else in this rather roundabout way who might be interested in being the Chief Executive of Born Free? I said, what being Born Free, the one, the film and all the rest of it. And they said, Yeah. I said I'm really interested in that. and at the same time I was going for being choose active for the Royal Chelsea hospital. and as it turned out, they both ran very concurrently and it was Born Free that I went for. the, something that put me off about interestingly, about being the Chief Exec hospital was that it was going back to, you'd be reporting to the Army board and it was very, it's an extremely valuable institution, but I just didn't quite fancy going back to that sort of Ministry of Defense way of doing stuff. So Born Free it was I was there for just about three years and I left in 2020. it was an amazing experience because what it did was it got me much closer then to the natural world, the world around us and people's interactions with it and the reasons why we are losing all species and biodiversity at an alarming pace, nothing to do with anything other than human beings. You know, animals, wildlife would be perfectly fine if left alone, but the impacts we're having because of the, some of the same drivers and the same ignorance and self-interest that drove all those conflicts that I'd previously involved in same things driving the degradation of the planet and the most bizarre thing being it's the thing we should be utterly dependent upon. And so that was a big motivation for me wanting to do the job, but also to want to do the job really well.

Danny:

There's definitely that dissassociation in society and it's something out there it's, it's a rainforest it's not my problem. I think people are starting to realize bees are important for food, but

Howard:

Yes.

Danny:

as clear that's about, I once had someone say well, I just got a charity thing about bees, I don't even like, honey. We all said to him do you like food, because they're quite important for that as well. but you're right there is that disassociation in what happens in the rest of the world, whether it be conflict, whether it be deforestation or the impact on biodiversity and not relating it to your daily life, but actually it does have a direct impact doesn't it?

Howard:

completely. It's all linked to, and we, by our individual little actions have an impact, some cases depending who you are, big impact, but all of us have some impact. And it's just the smartest thing to think. just by making a small change, I may actually turn that negative impact into positive one. And just thinking about it a little bit more, and that's what I've been in trying been trying to encourage people to do. And I, the born free needed a lot of work it was a pretty dysfunctional outfit. Which is reasonably common charge for world. governance is not great and so on, but no new systems processes, anything really in place. So I pour that in place, turned it around and built the business up, which was successful and improve the quality of the work and really enjoyed it difficult because of a founder's syndrome and so on but which is again, common charity stuff, but managed to make real headway the first one, because you know what and the reputation of the organization. But secondly, with the way in which the organization, and then others were engaged in seeking to understand why it might be that conservation is the least investment. Part of our economies. and I was amazed there are two things in particular, which amaze me other than the, the disorganized way in which wildlife charities or some other charges work. And that is that the technology being used, things like anti-poaching or surveying or whatever of war places was archaic to say the least they weren't even using technology that we'd been using the military 20 years before. and so I got in touch with a range of my contacts from the past in involved in very interesting things who started to then help bring up-to-date technologies, not necessarily the full whack military stuff, but certainly good stuff the public use into conservation. So I was quite a driver for that. I'm proud of getting people from those sorts of backgrounds, more and more interested in conservation, although there's a groundswell anyway, interestingly enough, in people who've served in that particular way in conservation or it quite interesting connection, but anyway, I'm quite pleased and proud of the impact they had there in helping that. But the second one was how these, all these organizations and all these projects, which has huge value going around begging funding, grant funding, and the mechanisms aren't there within society or economies to make these proper investments, but I though Christ. So I've been involved going back to Eden project days in social investment bonds and the first test of social investment bonds in Peterborough prison and reducing re-offending by essentially building business investments into reducing re-offending so I knew how it worked. So I spoke with a couple of organizations World Bank and others, and came up with the idea of conservation bonds, which essentially a reworked way of doing social investment bonds, where you get a return on investment on the net improvement you make to the human condition in a particular area. But the trick is whilst you're improving human services and so on whether it be education security or whatever, what you're also doing is securing wild places from poor practice, from lack of planning justice, poor development, et cetera, et cetera. So that, so the but the interesting thing was in my conversations with government our government then is the lack of imagination and their willingness to accept that DIFID would spend 14 billion a year but not to consider the way in which it could, the same amount could be invested and you would absolutely know where it went because you would have sovereign bonded investors who damn well would want to know that they're going to get a return. So big insurance companies or whatever would add a real discipline to the way in which UK government spent its money. And Boris Johnson at the times, foreign secretary and others, no interested. or at least possibly a little bit too difficult, even though it's not a difficult idea difficult to take on when other ways of doing things were easier. But anyway I left Born Free, cause head hunter again but I joined almost seamlessly. the Bangarra group, which is owned by a very wealthy Australian fellow who essentially runs asset management businesses amongst which a couple of properties in the UK. Now I took up the opportunity to run the large leisure estate in Cornwall, which desperately needed care attention turning round along with, at the same time being the head of sustainability for the wider global group, because the owner of the group is a very secretive individual wanted to see his lifelong passion for community and investing in philanthropy for communities to see that expanded into a way in which that can be linked with the way in which the world at large works, particularly the natural world and sustainability. but I'm now moving on from my work with Bangarra group and I'm now working independently with a group of colleagues to put all of that thinking together into a model for how organizations, projects, programs, products can be better evaluated, better, supported, better coached, be enabled to work, to create a better future based upon the quality of what they do and the value that they create, essentially being better business in all senses of the term. That's work in progress. we know where we were headed and it has come together from all of those threads that I've been describing to you over the last hour and that absolute sense of value and of the value we can create for each other, just by being a little bit smarter and a little bit less self-interested.

Danny:

Amazing. Howard, thank you so much for taking the time to, to share your story with us. there is so much there so much information and hopefully so many points of inspiration for other people to hear about the potential and the opportunity that individuals can do to make a difference in their own surroundings in their own community and how they can also help other people. So thank you very much. we'll be really keen to hear about how your new concept gets off the ground and the impact that it's having. I really look forward to speaking to you again further down the road to find out how it all pans out. Thank you Howard.

Howard:

a pleasure, thank you Danny. One day I was in a work center talking to a youngster really a good looking up together 18 year old who was learning various skills to go on to go to a point where he'd already been offered a job and he needed to various other things out and I said to him, what are you doing and his name was Luke, what are you doing here? And he said he told me his story and you know, you, you, you couldn't listen with him thinking, oh my God. You know, if, if that had been me I, I, I didn't know what I'd be the same or worse because he'd been forced into prostitution by his mother when he was a child. He was into drugs when he was barely five. you know and it is just life, he was in youth prison, because I don't think the majority of population, know we've got children's prisons in this country. he was this youth prison when he was 12. And Yeah. you think, Okay if I was him my, probably dead now, but there he was, sorta himself. But with people who were prepared to take time to make a difference and he's, I've no doubt he certainly was not long after that. No doubt. These are positive, productive member of society adding good to the whole, which is what I think we should all try and do. so Yeah. these things work

Howard Jones

CEO

Howard is outgoing global Head of Sustainabilty for Bangarra Group and was at the same time Managing Director for St Mellion Estate since Feb 2020. Howard has operated at the most senior levels in voluntary, private and public sectors, as an executive and on Boards. Howard left medical school to serve sixteen years in the military, on active, commissioned, service on five continents, fulfilling a range of specialist duties. On leaving in 1999, he managed a horticultural business, before becoming Development Director of the Eden Project in 2001. In 2011, he founded, and served as CEO of Living Networks, a social business for regeneration and social justice. He was founding director of Shaping Places, a cross-disciplinary partnership for capital investment for regeneration. In 2016, Howard became CEO of the international wildlife charity, Born Free, transforming the organisation and its quality of work around the world, prior to joining Bangarra Group in 2020..