Football, fast cars and parties there is more to Iain MacRitchie than meets the eye
The founder of MCR Pathways discusses his past, his passions and the impact of mentoring
What made you start MCR Pathways?
In my prior business career I got parachuted in to turnaround and merged three failing care organisations with 90 homes, five schools and a foster agency. I had had a philanthropic interest for a few years but this was a baptism of fire when all my worlds collided. The organisations were losing £500,000 a month which was the easy bit to sort out. We got it back to surplus after three years of hard work by a fantastic and committed team. However, despite many of the facilities being outstanding and the organisation transformed, it made absolutely no difference to the outcomes of the young people. I couldn’t and can’t come to terms with the care system and how young people disadvantaged through absolutely no fault of their own are predestined for failure.
Is it more or less successful than you hoped?
I’m impatient and driven which inevitably means I’m behind where I want to be. However, we are way ahead with the number of likeminded and committed individuals and organisations all determined to make a difference. Over 1,200 people have signed up and almost 30 major organisations committed to providing talent tasters - bite sized work, further education, culture and sports experiences. Our plans will triple that number and no doubt that is what we will achieve. The numbers and momentum are great but it is the individual stories and changes that matter. Where only 48% of care experienced young people went on to a job, college or university place from school two years ago, in our schools we now have 80%. It’s been a massive privilege and hugely humbling to work with such dedicated and determined people.
How many hours do you work in the week?
I’m really embarrassed to admit a consistent 70 hours plus on MCR Pathways. I may eventually need therapy (my team might say I need it now). However, it just isn’t and doesn’t feel like work. I am completely relaxed and have loads of energy. I could do with a little bit of extra sleep on occasions but have limitless supplies of the MCR values of motivation, commitment and resilience. It just needs a few hours listening to and hanging out with our young people to recharge to the max. I am amazed and inspired by their resilience given what some of them have to deal with.
10% of Glasgow City Council workers are to become MCR mentors – what difference will this make?
This will make a fantastic difference to help us reach even more young people with the caring and consistent relationships that will transform their school experience, attainment and futures. We’ve also seen as much benefit to and positive impact on our mentors. The feedback is overwhelming on how good they feel making a direct and personal contribution to someone who needs, wants and deserves it. Everyone participating gains a huge amount. I’m sure the council itself will see the benefits multiply in engagement, empathy and a deeper understanding of what our young people face. We are at the start of something very exciting and what I am certain will set Glasgow and Scotland apart.
What do you make of Nicola Sturgeon becoming a mentor?
I think it’s excellent and would be really keen she becomes an MCR one. We will have a school in her constituency. I mentor a hugely talented young person who has some major challenges to deal with. She keeps me on my toes and cuts straight through to what matters. I can certainly say it puts everything we do firmly in context and brings what needs to be done to connect effective practice with policy and vice versa. I am sure Nicola will gain a lot from the experience and make a lasting impact.
The first and most important requirement is simply a desire to help and build a positive relationship with a young person
What makes a good mentor?
The first and most important requirement is simply a desire to help and build a positive relationship with a young person. It boils down to listening, encouraging, being non-judgmental and simply turning up consistently for no other reason than you care. The purest form of mentoring has no authority and just equality. It listens and just occasionally speaks. It bridges talent with opportunity through consistency, care, compassion and a positive relationship at its heart. It’s about realizing the full potential of the young person and empowering them with the confidence and belief to make it happen. When one person mentors two lives are changed. MCR mentoring is based in school and focused on helping the young person to find, grow and use their talent. We purposely don’t share the young person’s challenges or circumstances as it’s all about their future on a positive pathway through education. When the relationship is formed, a brilliant mentor will be relentlessly positive and share the core MCR values of motivation, commitment and resilience. We are blessed to have almost 400 of these and committed to reach 1,000.
Who was your mentor or biggest role model?
I don’t have one but have had multiple influences throughout my journey so far. First was definitely my dad who showed me in his car business how to do a job well and then go the extra mile. I earned my pocket money and extra reward for an exceptional cleaning job. Mum made sure I recycled some of my good fortune to those who could do with a helping hand. These two things stuck firm. I am inspired and energised by those that have overcome insurmountable challenges and stayed true to their values. If I could have a dinner party for those living and departed, it would certainly involve Nelson Mandela, Alex Ferguson, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill, Jesus, Ghandi and Bill Clinton. What a mix with a few glasses of wine. And last but by no means least is my mentee. Given her challenges from homelessness to being a young carer, whilst trying to get As in her highers, she is inspired and inspiring.
What was the last thing you did that scared you?
Football was my first love and lucky enough to play a wee bit professionally. It meant I felt comfortable running teams (and reliving some moments by playing) with more challenged individuals coming out of rehab and related lifestyles. Sadly three members of my team died over two seasons from an overdose, suicide and a fight. I’m reminded how fragile life and choices can be but take energy from the guys that made the changes and sustained them. The choices I see some of our young people having to make does scare me when you know the consequences. I’m also ignoring any prospect of getting older and hoping medical science catches up to replace the bits that don’t quite work as they should. Some say that might be scary. After eight knee operations through various sports injuries I need a new set. Scared now that they won’t allow me to be competitive.
Is it better to work or a big charity or a small charity?
Neither is a consideration. I’ve had the benefit of setting up three organisations and leading 50 to 5,000 people. The key factor is what you are doing, the cause and how well you are doing it. If you’re driven by values and a desire to reach as many as possible without any compromise on quality and sustainability, then I find size takes care of itself. The cause and quality matter, size doesn’t.
How often do you socialise with colleagues?
I’m very much of the school of work hard and play hard. It’s such a privilege to be in a team full of committed characters and a fabulous collection of party animals. We really can turn any place into a dancefloor and grey and boring into a night to remember. What we do takes everyone on an emotional journey and we never lose sight of why we do what we do. However the major benefit in working with young people is that a laugh is just around the corner. You can only think young and sometimes act much younger.
What’s your favourite film?
Favourite is tough, but top three easy. The Matrix (first one of the trilogy especially) for complete escapism and what if debates. I love Gladiator for overcoming the odds and wee bit of natural justice. Trainspotting for raw and character.
Would your 16-year-old self be impressed with where you are now?
I think impressed that I had managed to blag my way in and through university, got a job, became the boss and went round the world. Impressed I managed to keep playing veterans football despite eight knee operations but a bit embarrassed that they need replaced and can’t straighten one now. Given I worked with cars from a very young age he would be impressed that I have owned a few fast ones along the way. A definite tick in the box that I can still be a party animal and my 16 and 18 year old kids like to hang out with me. My 11 years old is not quite sure yet. Maybe it’s my music taste. Would definitely think I’m a numpty working so much and you don’t get paid. I think on balance all good.
Which Brian Cox?
I like the Scottish actor and his films but the physicist is the preference. He is reshaping and redefining what people think of science and making in cool and much more appealing. I love the positive enthusiasm and infectious personality.