Chris Garner, as he steps in as CEO

180 Degrees Consulting (180DC) is an organisation like no other. It is a global community of thousands for students who volunteer their time to support charities and social enterprises to address their most pressing challenges preventing them from increasing their impact. Over the past five years, my journey with 180DC has taken me from volunteering at a branch to now leading as Global CEO. As I begin my journey stepping into this role, I would like to share the reasons behind my long-standing commitment and my vision for the future of this incredible organisation.

Looking for Purpose

When I first discovered the 180DC website, I was a second year undergraduate PPE student going through a minor existential crisis as I wrestled with a few pressing questions: 1) what should I do with my time outside of academia? And, perhaps more dauntingly, 2) what was I going to do with my life? 

I had started thinking about these questions a year earlier, when I had stumbled across a movement called Effective Altruism (EA) while researching an essay on practical ethics. EA, as I see it, is built on the very simple idea that if you want to do good, you should try and do the ‘most good’ that you can. For example, if you are going to donate to a charity addressing global poverty, then you should give it to the charity that is going to have the biggest impact with your donation.

I decided to run a half-marathon to raise money for the Against Malaria Foundation, one of the most effective charities in the world  and raised enough to provide 500 long-lasting insecticidal nets. This felt like a good start but I quickly realised that the most effective charities in the world needed resources, not time, and raising money like this was not a repeatable trick. 

Perhaps instead I could volunteer directly with charities that had resources but needed people - and there were a lot of those on my doorstep in Oxford. So I volunteered at a homeless shelter, staying up all night to ensure that everyone was safe. This still wasn’t sustainable and I couldn’t help the feeling that I could be having more impact with my time. A way to combine the EA principle of doing the most good with how I volunteered my time was still out of reach. It was then that I came across 180DC’s website and the missing puzzle piece fit into place.

Setting up 180DC Oxford to create social impact

Discovering 180 Degrees Consulting was a lightbulb moment. Here was a completely new way to donate that I had never come across before. Not with money, the direct impact of which I could rarely see, nor with time, where I felt like my hours would never be enough. With 180DC, I could donate with my mind, and create a meaningful and lasting impact to organisations trying to make the world a better place. 

Sometimes people are critical about the value of consulting (specifically consultants), but the fact that FTSE 100 companies, multi-national charities and multilateral organisations pay massive fees for services from the likes of McKinsey or BCG speaks for itself. 180DC offers a way to unlock value for thousands of social impact organisations, by solving their most pressing problems that they lack capacity or experience to address, with the best and brightest students who would likely in a few years be joining those consultancies through projects mentored by those same consultancies. Already curious about consulting, and wanting to leave a positive mark… I had to get involved.

Upon realising that my university did not have a 180DC branch, and after much deliberation with some friends, the idea of setting up a branch became impossible to forget and before I knew it, I had taken the plunge. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for, how challenging it would be, or that this was a decision that would shape the next 6 years of my life in more ways than I could imagine.

Founding Executive Team of 180DC Oxford, 2018

With the support of my executive team, our application to start a branch was accepted by then Chief Growth Officer, later Global CEO and presently a Board Member Jessica Dharmasiri! Being a branch founder and president was a whirlwind, a lot of work and learning to become comfortable with navigating the unknown to emerge on the other side having delivered results. Within a matter of months, we managed to line up training from BCG and a project with Wadadia, a Kenyan NGO that primarily works with survivors of fistula and low-income women (if you are interested in taking a further look at their work or donating the link is here. 180DC Oxford was born.

180DC as an incubator for social impact leaders

Working closely with such inspiring clients was an incredible experience, and while I knew we were making a significant difference for the NGOs, I hadn't anticipated just how profoundly it would impact both myself and the other student consultants.

As I mentioned, our first client was in the healthcare sector and the experience of seeing the impact they created pushed me to apply for a position in a healthcare public sector consultancy after university, and I have since dedicated my career to transforming the healthcare system in the UK. As well as fueling my motivation and shaping the ambitions for my career, 180DC played a pivotal role in my ability to secure a consulting position after university, even though I hadn't completed any internships during my undergraduate years. Early in your career, investing in your skills and obtaining the necessary training is crucial for maximising your long-term impact - and volunteering is one of the best ways to do this.

In its first year as a branch, over 30 students at 180DC Oxford volunteered a total of over 2000 hours as consultants. I recognised for the first time that by investing in others around me, I could massively multiply the scale of social impact we generated, locally and globally. Across 180DC’s global network in 2023, an unbelievable 975,000 hours of volunteering were delivered! 180DC attracts some of the most talented and driven students in the world to work on its projects - people who will go on to become social impact leaders across industries in the future. Harnessing that talent, passion, and drive to address challenges facing social impact organisations and thereby allowing them to continue working on prevalent social causes is the real way that 180DC makes the biggest difference in the world. Whether it is by working directly in the social sector, as entrepreneurs, continuing to volunteer after university, or just getting involved with CSR initiatives within corporate organisations, 180DC is an incubator for social impact leaders of the future. 180DC certainly had this impact on me, and the chance to enable 10,000 students a year across our global community to have the same experience is what excites me most as I step into the Global CEO role.

A global network of the people who will change the world

At the risk of sounding cliche, it has undoubtedly been the humans of 180DC, our global community, that have driven me to stay for all these years. It is very easy to be cynical in the face of the seemingly never-ending existential challenges facing the world that our generation has grown up in. Interestingly however, when I recently did a strengths survey as part of an induction at my day job, the top strength that I apparently have is hope - believing the future is something good that can be brought about. I have no doubt that a big reason why this is how I see the world is because of the 180DC community, and seeing thousands of young people wanting to make a difference in the world.

There is an incredible power in connecting these people together and the ripple effect this creates through collaboration, inspiration and support is immeasurable but incredibly important. It is also undoubtedly the case that being part of a community like 180DC can be a massive boost for your career. You will meet future collaborators on impactful projects, friends and mentors that support you in making decisions and connections while being sources of inspiration and motivation.

I also think this is incredibly important because connection to a community is becoming something that is difficult to find in an increasingly individualistic and fragmented world. What I have felt since my time with the branch but only understand now, is the impact on well-being of volunteering your time for others. There’s a growing body of evidence that helping others is a key ingredient for life satisfaction. People who volunteer are less depressed and healthier, this is most significant when they do it as part of a group and connect with others. 180DC offers a way to do this in person and online with like-minded people from six continents!  

On a personal level, being surrounded by such talented, ambitious and driven people has been a source of constant inspiration for me, particularly in recent years at the GLT.

Nick, the outgoing CEO, has been an incredible mentor and taught me what a kind, thoughtful and self-composed leader who leads by example through their work and values looks like. He has raised my expectations for what volunteering means. I have had the pleasure  to enjoy the best chicken schnitzel of my life in Vienna with Bettina and the executive team, hosted James our videographer for a night out in London, experienced the chaos of Holi in Delhi with APAC Ops lead Divyam, and been wined and dined by Vee and Will in Lisbon. 

Commitment to our branch network

I believe that we are at an inflection point in our organisation’s history. We have expanded to over 170 branches across 6 continents, rolled out Monday.com as a one-stop-shop for branch executives, modernised our website and social media, and updated our service offerings to reflect the innovative projects we are doing with clients, particularly in digital transformation. 

However I recognise that there are areas that the GLT needs to do more. I want to create stronger connections between branches locally, regionally and globally. Whenever our talented and driven 180DC members come together, amazing things happen. For example, after the London Summit in February 2024, bringing 18 branches together, within a week a UK-wide case competition was planned organically. Our four branches in Belgium have some of the same corporate partners and increasing the collaboration between them can unlock local synergies by running joint events and even shared projects. I have seen amazing examples of innovative training materials and client outreach approaches and I want to increase the sharing of best practice globally. For example, 180DC Bristol have leveraged AI to automate the client acquisition process and this would be just as impactful if implemented by branches in India or Australia. So much value will be unlocked through increasing collaboration and communication between our branches.

I also want to increase the visibility and accountability of the GLT to our branches. Meeting branch executives in person, they often don’t know how to access the support that the GLT provides. I want to be more responsive to prioritising the time and resources of the GLT to supporting branches in the areas that are most important to branch executives and ensure that all branches and students can access this easily. I know from personal experience how challenging it can be to secure high-quality projects or partnerships with financial contributions to enable running a branch, but I want to be open to your ideas and for the priorities of the GLT to be steered by what will help our branches most. In order to hear those ideas and learn from you, I will be setting up a regular slot in my calendar for branch presidents to book in time to discuss the successes and challenges from their branches.

Strategic focus for the future

We are now able to focus 180DC’s three strategic priorities, enabled by scaling our impact through digital infrastructure and leveraging the value of strategic partnerships: 

  • People development: providing holistic support for our people to become social impact leaders. Ensuring that consultants and executives get hands-on experience from projects, skills from a learning management system, inspiration from our thought leadership, knowledge of opportunities in the social sector through a jobs board and connection to a network of like minded individuals through a global communications platform. 
  • Client impact: chasing our ambition for the GLT to provide up to 50% of projects completed by our global network through leveraging scalable partnerships, increasing the coverage of professional mentorship across our projects and developing innovative service offerings in digital transformation and implementation. 
  • Community building: Building a stronger community between our branches and executives through global initiatives such as the Global Awards and Case Competition, more regional summits, a clear operating model that focuses on delivering value to our branches and a global communication channel.

We will share more about each of the initiatives that I’ve alluded to in more detail over the coming months. In order to enable all of this, the GLT will be establishing an impact measurement framework tied to our 180DC’s theory of change to enable us to better communicate the incredible work that our branches are doing and the impact we create, while supporting decision-making and resource allocation aligned to where the most value is. This will also support our efforts to fundraise to increase our investment in digital infrastructure, events, programmes and people. 

Personal reflections

Stepping into the CEO role is a privilege but it comes with an immense sense of responsibility to the organisation and all of its members now and in the future. The feeling of stepping into a role that will push me to grow as a person and a leader is not always a comfortable one. However it is the same feeling shared within the 180DC community where people are challenging themselves to have a bigger impact with their time, whether they are joining as a first time consultant, a team leader, and branch executive, president or member of the GLT. We share in the experience because we believe that the world can be a better place and we want to be the people who bring this about, through our work in 180DC and long after. Thank you to everyone who is part of this incredible community and I can’t wait to work with you to take 180DC to the next level in the impact it creates for both its members and clients.

Read The Report

A year in review

Hours

of volunteer work globally in the past year

Branches

Nonprofits

assisted to date in overcoming their challenges

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