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Steve Coles (BSc Human Cybernetics 2000)


I work or have worked in the fields of social enterprise and social impact measurement in various roles, including as Managing Director of my own consultancy, Intentionality CIC, and as Social Enterprise Development Manager for The Salvation Army in the UK. I'm also a trustee of two charities and a director of another social enterprise, Justlife CIC. I'm keen to see social enterprises - businesses trading for predominantly social or environmental purposes - flourish and establish themselves further as a key part of the economy. Prior to that, I've worked in the private sector in Dubai and in the voluntary sector in the UK.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Reading?

I was attracted by the Cybernetics courses and their innovative blend of the hi-tech with business, psychology, human systems and much more. At the time, the University of Reading was pioneering the field with the UK's only Cybernetics Department. The geographical location and the campus are also exceptional, allowing for easy travel from around the country and to London while being surrounded by a beautiful setting.

What was the best bit about living and studying in Reading?

The range of possibilities for getting deeply involved in student life and in a fascinating area of study was brilliant. The variety of clubs and societies, coupled with an accessible, expert team of academics provided a very rich experience indeed.

What top tips would you give to students who are beginning their studies?

Take the first year of your study very seriously - it sets a foundation for what comes next. Get involved in a student society and, even better, get involved in running one. You don't need to buy all the books on the book list - and certainly not brand new. Make a budget and stick to it.

What are you up to now? How did you get there?

I now run my own business, Intentionality CIC, a consultancy working with the voluntary sector and social enterprises to help them understand, measure and report their 'social impact'. After studying in Reading, I worked for a start-up leadership development consultancy, then a national charity and then moved to Dubai to work in the private sector for 2 years. On returning, I studied for an MBA at Imperial College London, which solidified my interest in social enterprise and my desire to start my own business.

What would be your top tips for students interested in working in this sector?

Networking, networking, networking - get along to events, conferences and join online and physical networks. Explore the options and be clear as to what you do and what you want to do. Find people that interest you or inspire you and ask them for an hour of their time (in return for buying them a coffee) - you'd be amazed how often even busy, senior people will give their time to someone who shows an interest and some initiative. Think hard about whether you want to live a life of amazing impact, which will include juggling the tensions of financial vs social, vision and values and not conforming to the norm.

How has the University of Reading and the Careers Centre helped in your chosen career path?

My degree provided me with a fascinating insight into a multiplicity of different areas of study and the application of that study. The opportunities for leadership within the student societies were also immensely valuable and taught me important skills in dealing with people, communication and planning ahead.

What are your top tips for students graduating this year? What should they be doing to secure the job they want?

Don't worry about wanting to do something a bit different, it's much more important to be you and to be true to who you are or what difference you want to make in the world than to conform with the norm. Seek opportunities to broaden your horizons - volunteer, become a trustee, perhaps event create your own enterprise

What does the University mean to you and what is your favourite memory?

The University, and what I learnt there and those I met there, mean a great deal to me. It provided a fantastic foundation to my adult life and career. My favourite memory is of my final project, exploring deep questions of memories and stories through the medium of simple robots and computer programmes while surrounded by chaotic, creative, clever people in the Cybernetics Department 'MadLab'. The 'Cheese and Chips' in the Student Union were pretty good too.

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