The 180DC London Summit: Proof That Doing Good = Feeling Good

Around 12pm on the 2nd of March, a hum of eager voices grew in a drawing room on the second floor of King’s College London’s Strand Campus. 50 students across 16 universities came together, united by a shared goal: social impact. That term has been used a lot before, but the students sitting in that room got a better glimpse than most at what it truly means. This summit promised not only discussions, but a journey towards consolidating the 180DC branch network in the UK.

In recent years, the 180 Degrees Global Leadership Team has increasingly been engaging in offline events. International lockdowns during the pandemic demonstrated that running a social impact organisation remotely was possible, but it also highlighted the importance of human connection. Starting in 2022, the GLT launched its inaugural Summit in Istanbul. The effects were obvious and immediate, as individuals who had been communicating over unflattering camera angles and Wi-Fi issues in hour-long bursts, suddenly had the opportunity to know each other more deeply, and more naturally, as people. Friendships were forged, workshops were had, and those who could attend left with a general feeling of hopefulness for the future and a better understanding of the path ahead. What was once a group of people connecting remotely to run the organisation had now translated into tangible friendships. 

The rate of summits quickly exceeded the annual timeframe they were initially proposed to exist in. Our second summit in Athens happened a mere eight months after the first. Smaller localised summits began to occur during this period also, with gatherings taking place in India and Australia in 2023. These signified the next stage of evolution for the GLT, as members initiated in-person, regional meetings that would build new bonds in the teams, changing our way of working together. Another, unofficial summit in Ghent drew 17 members of the GLT together less than five months after Athens. Ghent was especially valuable because it involved four local branches, who engaged in workshops and socialised with the GLT in a completely novel setting (read more about it here). Once we saw what was possible, replicating this experience on a larger scale became the logical next step. 

And so, planning for the London Summit began. The capital is home to almost a dozen members of the GLT, and the UK is one of the regions most densely packed with 180 branches. Our aims were twofold: first, to develop branches' understanding of, and relationship with, the GLT and second, to give them the opportunity to collaborate with each other in an effort to improve themselves and their consulting services.

Considering these objectives, we decided to structure the summit around three stages. Spokespeople from the GLT began by presenting its value proposition to branches and highlighting new and exciting initiatives planned for the year ahead. It was important for attendees to have a holistic understanding of what we at the GLT do. The GLT supports branches in a number of ways, both internal and external. Internally, branches benefit from the 24/7 operational support we provide, high-level consulting training and resources, global networking and professional development opportunities. External value is also crucial, as the GLT devotes significant focus to procuring paid clients, sourcing project mentorship, as well as creating and scaling strategic partnerships across universities and regions. All aspects of the GLT service offering work to maximise the social impact our branches can produce.

Next, all branches in attendance were given the opportunity to introduce themselves, talking about their structure and one aspect of their operations that makes them unique. We were inspired to see the creativity of branches in various aspects of their operations. Bath presented a comprehensive training course which drew huge success when onboarding new consultants, as it included hours of custom recorded video footage, real case studies from the past, and regular in-person training with the committee, to promote engagement and team building. The Nottingham branch demonstrated an acute focus on projects from their local area, allowing them to foster strong relationships in the community and develop a portfolio on a foundation of referrals. Edinburgh shared their particularly striking experience hosting a charity ceilidh - a night of Scottish dancing and fun which saw 300 tickets sold and £2000 for Doctors without Borders. These were only a few of the many unique avenues of social impact explored by the branches. The branches not only surprised and impressed each other (spawning a number of discussions on knowledge sharing and strategy), but also the 180DC veterans in the GLT. 

In the spirit of fostering longer-term inter-branch collaborations, branch executives were split into smaller groups for workshops and tasked with building a solution based on an aspect of 180DC’s global operations we want to improve. Branch executives brainstormed ways in which new initiatives such as the Future Leaders Program and 180DC exchange could be further developed to unify the regional and global 180DC communities.

These workshops held value beyond developing branch relationships. They allowed our UK branches to collectively build global initiatives with the GLT as partners instead of participators - a level of engagement we were thrilled to receive from our network. Such engaged participation immediately resulted in exciting possibilities, such as the possible creation of a Global Case Competition Tournament, which would see a league of branches completing cases until the top ten teams would be invited in-person to a final, battling it out and securing a donation to the charity of their choice.

Finally, the summit ended with a panel discussion with James Laughton, a PhD Candidate from the University of Sussex studying the psychological effects of prosocial behaviour. He discussed the nature of altruism and the cause that brought us all together. After all, 180DC as an organisation has not been able to rely on summits in its nascent stages. It is almost two decades old, and has seen thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of hours of work in that time. James addressed the lingering question of how this was the case. What makes us stay at 180 and why? 

Modern society is individualistic and many of its tools encourage us to think about ourselves more than others. “We know that social media divides us more than unites us”, James remarked. Yet it is also true that for most people, doing good leads to feeling good. Not a shallow hit of dopamine like those that come from scrolling on our phones, but a deeper benefit to spirit and welfare, referred to as “eudaimonia” by Aristotle. James’ research indicates that this feeling is generated when doing good for strangers, just as much as it is when doing good for loved ones. This feeling is exactly what 180DC taps into. 

Young people are finding meaningful work in the organisation which does good and feels good. In the process, 180DC is able to foster the next generation of social impact leaders, giving people the tools they need to continue doing good in the future. Keep an eye out for more articles by James Laughton on our website coming soon, digging deeper into this idea and the psychology behind this topic.

Within a few days, the ripple effect of social impact leaders connecting has been enormous. Branches in attendance of the summit have joined to launch a nationwide case competition of their own with a large-scale corporate partner. A key takeaway from the experience is not to underestimate the ingenuity of branches and the value of bringing them together. Summits have the power to make things tangible. In this case, filling a room with social-impact oriented students allowed a huge initiative to manifest organically, completely unprompted by the GLT. Although our summit saw branch executives travel across the UK for a long, yet activity-filled day of activities, all attendees left feeling energised. Our summit feedback further reflected this, with requests to have future summits be a multiple-day affair!

We would like to give a special thank you to 180DC King's College London, as the hosts of this summit. The KCL branch was a catalyst for the creation of this initiative. We are grateful for their support and enthusiasm in facilitating such an impactful gathering, as well as providing a space to collectively drive positive change and nurture the 180DC community in their mission to address global challenges.

This summit was another reminder that today’s students are passionate, intelligent, grounded, and craving ways to leave the world a little better than they found it. 180DC’s mission is more important now than ever. We wish to give students the tools to create lasting, positive change all over the world and make the process of donating with their minds as straightforward and accessible as possible. This is why we plan on running our regional summits bigger, better, more often, and in more places. We look forward to showing you what we have in store.

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