Lord Wei: “Education needs to nurture a creative way of thinking”

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Jul 07, 2014
by Tanya Yilmaz
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Lord Wei: “Education needs to nurture a creative way of thinking”

Lord Wei of Shoreditch attends annual Board Weekend as a speaker, drawing on his political background to discuss bridging the rift between young people and their future
Lord Wei speaking at his panel discussion at the Board Weekend

Whilst attending the annual Board of Directors weekend, Lord Wei of Shoreditch spoke to Salzburg Global Seminar on how he firmly believes that social innovation can make a real impact in creating new opportunities for young people.

Wei spoke in a paneled conversation discussing “Do we need to reinvent education?” where he recognized several challenges as well as many potential solutions in “Bridging the Rift: How can we reconnect youth to their future?” – the overarching theme of the weekend.

Within the session, Wei spoke of his optimism and described a shift in opinion amongst younger generations, in particular, millennial graduates who he argues, no longer view the avenue of teaching as a profession as a constricting or limiting field.

“Graduates have become less interested in purely just working for a big company and having a job for life – which doesn’t really exist anymore – instead there is a desire to learn the skills that could then enable you to make a difference,” he explained.

Wei also called for a more inter-generational initiatives to encourage the old and young to engage and work together in civic exchange, international dialogues and entrepreneurship.

“There are a lot of different factors driving this prevalence of youth underemployment around the world and there are now routes to follow an interest which doesn’t preclude your ability to go into other careers afterwards,” Wei explained.

At the age of 37, he is the youngest member of the House of Lords and therefore knows a thing or two about reconnecting younger generations to their future.

His efforts in social reformation at some of the UK’s most renowned teaching and educational initiatives, including holding an advisory role to the UK government on the “Big Society, have led him to be called a “social innovator.”

Wei said: “I never sought to get into politics and I think for many young people, I would actually recommend gaining experience in other fields, such as commerce, social entrepreneurship, and other forms of civic action. You will find your own voice and passions and develop the skills that you need to get into politics – it is far better to have a fresh voice in politics.”

Wei was born in Watford, England and grew up in nearby Milton Keynes where he attended the Sir Frank Markham Community School. It was from his own experience of attending a failing state comprehensive school that led him to want to reform education. He started his career after being the only pupil from his school year to attend Jesus College, Oxford University studying Modern Languages. He later joined McKinsey & Company – a global management firm that specializes in global advisement to businesses and governmental institutions.

After three years, he decided to focus on social enterprises which led him to become a founding member of Teach First in 2002. As a registered charity that specializes in addressing inequality within education, Teach First (the UK equivalent of Teach for America, founded by Salzburg Global Fellow Wendy Kopp) was first established to equip young graduates with the skills they need for leadership positions by offering a two-year, employment-based teaching program. The program not only equips graduates with new skills and employment opportunities, but it also helps some of the most disadvantaged urban secondary schools in the country by placing graduates into classrooms which are under-achieving based on government recommendations. 

In 2006, Wei left Teach First and joined the charity Absolute Return for Kids, where he founded the Future Leaders Trust, which aims to “raise the achievement of children, regardless of background, and to provide them with equal choices and opportunities in life...by developing a network of exceptional school leaders...transforming challenging schools and working to eradicate educational disadvantage.

Also in 2006, Wei extended his social entrepreneurship skills by founding the Shaftesbury Partnership – a social enterprise business with the aim of bringing together entrepreneurial individuals to create social reforms that empower communities by tackling disadvantages and by generating opportunity in areas such as employment, healthcare and reducing reoffending. He explains how he drew particular inspiration from social reformers, in particular, the Earl of Shaftesbury  founder of 60 organizations, including the Ragged Schools and Church Pastoral Aid Society. The Earl of Shaftesbury's interests ranged from mental health, child poverty, education and faith, where the underlying cause was to address poverty, inequality and social exclusion. Wei adopted these principles when he founded the initiative. 

“Amongst others, he was a very visionary person who had big ideas but who also worked with others to make them happen at scale – and that is something I am passionate about having founded the Shaftsbury Partnership.”

In his panel conversation in Salzburg, Wei was direct in addressing the current situation regarding the loss of jobs – for both the old and young.

“In the UK 37% of jobs and in the US 47% of jobs are at risk of displacement in some form,” he told the audience of Salzburg Global Board Members, Senior Fellows, donors and staff. He warned especially about the displacement that would occur due to the development of new technologies – a threat to both blue and white collar jobs.

To help counter this displacement of jobs, Lord Wei now wants to help others to use the vehicle of the Shaftesbury Partnership and other initiatives such as Teach First and for them to see the potential of large scale social innovation.  

He said: “I am very keen to help build up others to go on the journey to be social innovators and social reformers in the same mold but harnessing all of the latest technology and all of the business expertise that we now have to improve systems that are often not working today.”

One way in which Wei proposes to stimulate conversation and interest regarding youth employment opportunities is through entrepreneurship and apprenticeship. He said: “These avenues are key and we need to enable the young and low income people to be apprenticed into these roles.” Wei added that such roles could include relatively unknown jobs such as a 3D printer technician or a drone distributor – roles which require a more "hands-on" approach. 

He added: “In some countries, vocational courses can be seen as a second class option and it doesn’t have to be like that anymore.”

Wei also mentioned how issues within education are no longer center on just educational attainment, but instead educational differentiation – particularly in regards to the "new illiteracy" amongst the young.

"Children need to taught 'the basics' of maths and reading – but they also need to be able to get a job and contribute to society"

"We might not all be artistically talented, but we can all be creative – education needs to nurture this way of thinking," Wei told the audience.

Lord Wei also spoke of the opportunities Salzburg Global provides by hosting such discussions and described the Board meeting as “an incredibly stimulating weekend” where he had “the chance to learn a great deal and to participate in some very interesting discussions.”

He added: “Salzburg Global Seminar, for me, has been a real revelation given its rich history and it’s pretty unique position as a forum for enabling discussions to take place between Europe, America and the rest of the world, so it has been an enlightening time.”


Lord Wei spoke at the session "Bridging the Rift: How can we reconnect youth to their future?" For more information and updates from the session, please see the session page: http://www.salzburgglobal.org/calendar/2010-2019/2014/board-june-14.html and on Twitter with the hashtag #SGSjune