Faith in the future leaders

A promising list of hopefuls are now signed up for the 2017 Young Leaders competition. NHF chief executive David Orr tells Chris Smith this year could be the best yet.


The brightest and the best young people who want to be the future leaders of social housing are about to be put to the test.

The road to Birmingham and an electrifying final of 2017 Young Leaders at the National Federation of Housing’s annual conference starts here.

Our current Young Leader, Steve Ellard, has challenged the sector to think about the influence of technology.

As a result, his bosses at Yorkshire Coast Homes have promoted him to become leader of innovation. And it hasn’t stopped there for Steve. As well as actively engaging with the sector on social media and taking part in events, he has been featured on Sky News.

So, to respond to Steve’s challenge and ensure the outstanding success continues, 24housing and the National Housing Federation have raised the event’s profile on social media.

We’ve engaged on Twitter with candidates past and present in the build up to the event. And in a landmark moment, we launched the next stage of the competition in a live interview on Facebook with 24housing editor Chris Smith and NHF chief executive David Orr.

It came just a few hours after prime minister Theresa May called the general election. The perfect moment to talk about the future for the next five years.

Orr says the Young Leaders Experience is a vital part of housing associations reinventing themselves to meet the big demands of the future – which must be met to end the housing crisis.

“I think housing associations are in a place to again genuinely plan and reinvigorate themselves and reinvent their offer to the nation,” he says. “The way that we use the opportunity that we have right now, to have the maximum impact on the biggest number of people, depends on how well we invest in our talented potential leaders.”

The priority for housing associations is investing for the future, a core value that goes beyond bricks and mortar. Orr believes social purpose is as much about the people leading the organisations as those who use their services and live in their homes.

And that means HAs must ensure they have the skills for the future. And that’s why the 2017 Young Leaders competition matters to Orr, who clearly relishes the opportunity to engage with new ideas and find future talent.

His eyes light up straight away:  “I think Young Leaders Experience is one of the most exciting events in our calendar. It’s really important that all HAs understand their future will be defined by the talent of their present leaders and by investing in their potential future leaders.

“I think housing associations in the future will be large, complex organisations providing a huge range of services. They will have to be agile, responsive and customer focused. The people leading them will have to be digitally savvy, technologically aware and aware of the potential of talking to people in a much more engaged world. In the future it will not be enough to just provide a service and step back.

Orr is one of the competition judges, so what are the ingredients that a Young Leader must have? Orr says he is looking for strategic thinkers and candidates with good people skills.

He adds: “They absolutely need to have a vision for the future that their organisations will be trying to craft.

“General elections are an investment in the future. We’re asked to invest in a vision of the future. HAs have a huge array of assets: property and financial. But they also have a huge array of talented, creative people. We have to have a conversation [nationally] about how we house everyone. It’s not just up to old people like me to be creating that future. That has to be done by people in their 20s and 30s.”

Entrants will have to explain what HA of the future they want to invent and deliver.

Orr’s advice is simple: “Be prepared to be bold. Be prepared to say the things that we’ve done for people so far haven’t worked.”

To help them, HA chief executives must enable the millennial generation to take on the big challenges. It’s a big ask when you already have big issues to deal with right now.

Orr says being open to challenge is vital for his members: “If you as a leader are not confident, you as a leader will find the challenge of others difficult.”

He clearly is looking forward to judging the first round of presentations. Orr says: “The Young Leaders Experience is an exciting and timely place to test your leadership potential, and presents an opportunity for housing associations to invest in their people.”

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