Making a difference in the local community: learning from the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA

With over thirty years’ experience working in his local authority, Eubert Malcolm brought a wealth of knowledge to the classroom. Having just been promoted to Assistant Director for Stronger and Safer Communities, he reflects on how the MBA has supported him to make a positive difference.

Picture of Eubert Malcolm

As local authority leaders go, Eubert Malcolm must be among the most personally invested in his community.

“Somebody said to me the other day that I’ve been in Haringey from boy to man,” he laughs, but with over thirty years’ experience in various roles in the local authority, this isn’t far from the truth. Eubert joined Haringey Council as an environmental health officer apprentice in 1988. From there, his role expanded into different fields as his skillset developed, encompassing housing, food safety and pollution.

“I made my way up the local authority and picked up Diplomas in Environmental Health and Management Studies along the way,” explains Eubert, “but I always felt that not having a first degree would hinder me at some point.”

The value of life experience

It was during the hunt for an undergraduate degree that Eubert stumbled across the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA. The idea of studying part-time at the weekends was a particular draw, but was it really possible to do a Masters level programme without an undergraduate degree?

“I went along to the open evening without much hope,” says Eubert, “but I really liked the course leaders and they encouraged me to apply. I think I was the least qualified but most experienced of that first cohort, and the idea of a co-production and developing new types of leaders seemed perfect for my role. It felt like I was in the right place at the right time.”

Seeing things differently

The collaboration between Central Saint Martins and Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics offers an innovative perspective on businesses and the problems they face. This, combined with the diverse international cohort on the MBA, gives students an opportunity to look at situations from a fresh angle. For Eubert, this proved invaluable when looking for ways to connect with the local community:

“When I first started the MBA, there was lots of gang activity and a spate of deaths in the community. I wanted to learn more about how violence was affecting young people in Haringey, so I commissioned a community group to speak to them and to people in prisons to figure out the drivers of criminality. Until you actually sit down with young people and hear from them, their teachers and their parents, you don’t really understand the challenges that they are facing. We need to engage with them and ensure that they are part of the solution.”

Eubert’s MBA dissertation was Haringey’s public health approach to tackling serious youth violence, a combination of academic research and an in-depth evidence base that came from his experience in the local authority, which informed the young people at risk strategy.

“At Haringey, we want to co-produce strategies with the community,” he explains. “Now, we’re incorporating business principles into our local authority point of view and using action learning techniques to think issues through from beginning to end, predicting the challenges we might need to address along the way. It’s an approach the managers I work with are now also starting to adopt.”

Leading in the pandemic

The rapid unfolding of events in the COVID-19 pandemic has made an agile approach essential:

“If you look at how much COVID-19 has cost local authorities,” says Eubert, “I don’t think we’re going to be fully recompensed for that. It has made us look at what opportunities could come out of it instead.

“For example, we couldn’t deliver a lot of our face to face services during the pandemic and many of them went online. We found that the young people we work with instantly took to that approach, which we hadn’t really considered before.”

Now Eubert, his team and the wider council are working on campaigns to bring the local community together to reduce the spread of COVID-19: “The approach we’re taking, trying to get right to the hearts and minds of people in the borough, is something I don’t think we would have attempted before. It just goes to show that with the right support and network in the workplace, you can be successful even through challenging times. I know that anything I set my mind to I will be able to achieve.”

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“I have really relished the intellectual challenge of returning to university after a break.”

When a new role saw Ella moving from practical outdoor work to people management, she applied for the MSc Human Resource Development and Consultancy to build her skills. She reflects on how the course has equipped her for the challenge.

Picture of Ella

I have had a fairly non-traditional career path so far. I worked on farms for many years engaged in therapeutic agriculture, growing vegetables with young adults with learning difficulties and behavioural issues. My passion for people and land now has me working as a senior manager for a small environmental charity which works across the UK planting orchards with urban communities.  

Transitioning from outdoor practical roles to indoor organizational-focused roles threw me into being a line manager, thinking about team dynamics and holding responsibilities across the organisation for recruitment, wellbeing, HR policies and staff development.

The MSc in Human Resource Development and Consultancy at Birkbeck has given me a good grounding in people management and organisational development, with flexibility to deepen my knowledge in areas that have interested me.  

I have really relished the intellectual challenge of returning to university after a break of many years. The course is structured to deepen academic thinking as well as practical knowledge, and that combination means I can bring practical questions from my work into an academic sphere, and I can apply thinking from my Masters directly into my work.  

The support from lecturers and fellow students is phenomenal. I have learned so much not just from lecture and seminar content, but also professors, guest lecturers and fellow students speaking about their work contexts and roles as HR or Organizational Development practitioners. 

I am about to enter my second year, of which a significant part is embarking on a management research project. This differs from a traditional dissertation as it again combines academic rigour and practical organisational focus, as we work with an organisation to address a challenge that it is experiencing as our research problem. I am really looking forward to exploring an area of HR Development in depth, and to try out new research and consultancy skills. 

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“I used my work as a kind of petri dish for everything that I explored in the classroom”

Roscoe Williamson, Creative Strategy Director and Partner at MassiveMusic reflects on how the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA has helped him shape his career path.

Picture of Roscoe

With a twelve-year career in the music industry under his belt, you might be surprised to hear that Roscoe studied Chemistry as an undergraduate. Its hard to know what you want to do with the rest of your life at 18 years old,he explains, Chemistry was a bit of a slog, so I had a real hunger to go back into education later in life, to learn and expand my horizons around topics that genuinely interest me.

Roscoe was keen to develop strategic leadership skills to advance his business, but coming from a creative industry, it was important to find a programme that valued creativity: I was particularly interested in bringing creativity into business and applying design and systems thinking to the corporate world. I was interested in a few courses that took a creative approach to business education, but I chose the Central Saint Martins Birkbeck MBA because it had both the innovative outlook and the solid finance and strategy side.

The MBA focuses on three curriculum units: Provocation and Enquiry; Entrepreneurship in Action; and Effecting Change: Collaboration in Practice. The eighteen-month programme culminates in an extended live project or dissertation. I enjoyed most aspects of the course and the exploratory learning style that was encouraged,explains Roscoe, The whole experience was like tasting a knowledge cake with lots of segments. I left behind those I didnt like so much, while my final research project allowed me to really get into what I liked the taste of.

Roscoes academic dissertation explores how organisations can nurture, scale and grow creativity and innovation. His findings point to ways in which organisational creativity can be led by individual behaviours, teams dynamics and organisational structures. Analysing organisational creativity and innovation from managerial, psychological and sociological perspectives allowed me to identify gaps between academia and practice and understand how to get the best of both,he explains.

Roscoes dissertation is in the final stages, but the changes in his work have been felt already: I wouldnt have enjoyed the course nearly as much if I hadnt been working at the same time. As well as becoming more efficient at managing my time, I used my work as a kind of petri dish for everything that I explored in the classroom. Ive been lucky to have a really supportive business partner who gave me time to devote to the MBA he says he has seen a change in me and the business already. Through the MBA, I got partially interested in strategy and realised strategic thinking is something that we needed more of.

Completing the MBA with a new job title of Creative Strategy Director, it seems that Roscoe has wasted no time in implementing what hes learned to his business. In the future, he plans to create a content hub, where he intends on sharing his leanings to the wider world.

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