A collective effort: How EFS began 

Introduction by Binu Jacob

In March, Engage For Success celebrates 10 years since its inaugural 10 Downing Street meeting. David and Nita take us on a trip down memory lane, sharing their inspiring story of how it all began as a collective effort. They laid the foundations of a movement that today continues to go from strength to strength, fuelled by the passion and commitment of its volunteers. Ten years on, everyone in the Topic & Sector TAGs, the Area Networks, the TAG Steering Group, the Board, the Core Team and the Hubs carry on David and Nita’s work, to engage for success and inspire more people and workplaces to thrive.

A Collective Effort: How EFS Began

By Nita Clarke and David MacLeod

As a result of a massive collective effort by a huge number of individuals and organisations, Nita and I felt we were ready to write the Engage for Success government report that was published in 2009.

But, as one insider asked, ‘Would this be another report to the government that gathers dust?’ Everyone involved was determined that it would not.

We felt we needed credibility from the powers that be, an influential source for convening power and to create momentum and publicity. We needed a group to make it happen.


We knew that credibility could come from having a group of Sponsors who would encourage everyone to believe in the importance of employee engagement. We harnessed all the contacts we had made whilst researching and writing the report to get 49 CEOs to sign up to the idea.

A Sponsor Group was born! Eventually, that Sponsor Group led to a CEO breakfast summit in November 2012, attended by 25 CEOs. This was the birth of the movement.

Convening Power

In 2010, we realised that we needed to bring people together to get things moving. Who could do this better than anyone in the land?

‘Don’t be daft!’ was the response to the idea of trying for the Prime Minister! Not just daft, it was also tricky. We wrote the report during a Labour administration and now the government was composed of a Conservative-led coalition.

Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. We had a contact at No. 10 Downing Street who was willing to help.

After many meetings, papers and with the backing of the Sponsor Group, Whitehall agreed to a meeting at No. 10 in March 2011. Incredibly, the Prime Minister, David Cameron would attend. This was beyond our wildest expectations!

The PM followed up the meeting with a statement that concluded, ‘I encourage all companies to get involved in this important initiative.’


We thought an open letter signed by the Sponsor Group to be published in a major national newspaper would get the ball rolling. Which newspaper? We opted for the Times. Forty-three of the country’s most senior leaders put their names to the letter.

We then needed a website. Thomson Reuters agreed to build the website for us, and WPP agreed to develop the branding. We were told a reasonable charge for such a broad scale, fully populated website could have exceeded half of £1 million. We got it for free!

Make It Happen

We had announced the formation of a Task Force at No.10, though with no real idea who would be on it or how it would work! But, we had built credibility through our large range of supporters who could encourage people to get involved.

We had no difficulty in building the Task Force with over 50 members drawn from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. We set about defining our core purpose, our core beliefs, and the outcomes we wanted to achieve, and how to achieve them.

One pivotal decision was whether to seek huge financial contributions to fund activities and pay staff, or to draw our energy and momentum from people’s passion, commitment and belief in employee engagement.

We largely went for the latter. We felt that if we needed financial funding for a project we would seek it on a specific basis. On one occasion, we needed £10,000 to complete a study on the relationship between innovation and employee engagement. One generous subgroup member wrote a cheque for the whole amount!


In the end, creating momentum through a movement is all about the people: people who manifest their passion and belief through their creativity, energy and ownership. And, through their need to create progress.

It would be invidious to mention specific names because this has been such a massive collective effort.

The Sponsor Group.

The Task Force.

Those who contributed people and financial resources.

Those who contributed to sub-groups, or TAGs.

Those who contributed ideas and created events.

Those who offered their case studies, sharing successes and frustrations.

THEY and YOU are the ones who made, and continue to make, this happen.

No summary is complete without mentioning the loyalty of our Board over the last 10 years, our pivotal EFS Core Team led so brilliantly by Wendy, then Cathy, and now by Jo, Jo and James.

And it’s important to mention CIPD, who have embraced our movement and helped us evolve to this next stage of a true movement, which is not led from the front but rather moves from the middle.

While Nita and I had a necessary specific role in the first stage we now regard ourselves as two cheerleaders for everybody’s efforts.

Thank you. We are inspired by everyone involved and you are all appreciated by everyone whose working lives are made better through your efforts.

David and Nita

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