Interview to Terry Ryall, CEO of Vinspired, one of leading youth empowerment charity in UK

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Terry Ryal


Interview to Terry Ryall, CEO, Vinspired


The meeting back then was super and I got a lot of useful information from Terry +  an interesting and friendly conversation with  Jayne Colquhoun, Chief Operation officer at Vinspired. Now after several months, Terry was super keen to be the first ever person to go for an interview at Sharing4good. Such an honor. Terry has an incredible history of social action and youth engagement. Enjoy it…


You spent most of your entire career working with and for youth. How did you start?

I’ve spent ALL of my career working to help young people fulfil their potential. My first full-time job was as an unattached youth worker in Northern Ireland during the peak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. My job description said: ‘It’s your job to bridge the gap between Catholic and Protestant young people’!

Which are the “milestones” in your career you achieved so far that make you most satisfied and proud of your work?

Surviving both the experiences of running a safe home for young Asian women having difficulty living between two cultures and working in a residential home with young people who were physically, sexually and emotionally abused. Both were quite challenging, if not sometimes downright dangerous. I had to learn how best to handle myself and hone my negotiating skills!

Most recently, setting up and seeing vInspired develop as a unique organisation is the pinnacle of my career. Nothing will top this.

What are the small little things in your daily work that still give you motivation and satisfaction?

Seeing a tweet, email or letter from a young person to a member of my staff saying how their involvement with vInspired has changed their lives. I love hearing that young people have volunteered in a small way, then gone on to get more deeply involved and then, either set up their own enterprise or got a job as a result of their volunteering. I think the journey is really special.

I love to hear people laugh, especially when things are just ‘ridiculous’ and I really enjoy actually being with young people and hearing what they’re up to and where they’re going. Our office is littered with inspirational quotes about and to young people and I love catching one of these when I least expect it.

How is your leadership style? How do you motivate your staff?

People say I inspire them. I have a gift for storytelling and being able to convey sometimes quite hard messages in a way that’s engaging and non-threatening. I don’t think I’ve got a single leadership style, it depends on the situation. I like involving staff in planning and decision making so they feel they have a stake and I always appreciate and say thank you when people do excellent things. I don’t believe in failure or blame. I think there are things that don’t work, but then you just learn from them and move on. People like this approach and find it motivational. That’s why we’re continually innovating.

When you hire someone, which qualities are you looking for?

Now that really depends on what the job is! Some require technical skills but there are behavioural aspects that I look for: collegiate; co-operative, courageous, resilient, creative are just a few. I know everyone is different and can exhibit these behaviours in different ways so I like to have a diverse team in terms of experience, age, background, education, outlook and so on. I like a culture that is youthful in outlook, open and honest yet respectful and courteous, innovative yet realistic, fun yet serious, but bold and cheeky. I like to try things fast, drop what doesn’t work and do what does! That’s what I try and create.

Tell us now about Vinspired. How did it start?

v the forerunner to vInspiredwas originally conceived in 2006 as the result of a public Commission established by the UK Government. The Commission examined what it would take to grow significantly the engagement of young people in their communities. They came up with a number of recommendations but their main finding was that this would be better done by a youth-led charity, independent of Government. We were given 5 years to deliver on those recommendations and the independent evaluation showed that we beat the Government’s target for opportunities by 265%, no group of young people was under-represented in the young volunteers we reached and, if we only took 10% of the credit for the outcomes achieved then we had a social return on investment of £6 for every £1 invested. We knew that in 2011 the 5 year investment would end so we worked to reshape ourselves into vInspired to build on the best of what we had done and continue to meet  a real need for young people. Our mission now is to help young people discover the value of volunteering, for themselves and for others. Currently, we are doing just great!

It is often very confusing trying to define volunteerism and service. Can you explain the important changes made in the last years with the shift in focus from simply being a youth volunteering promoting agency, v The National Young Volunteers’ Service to Vinspired a more holistic Youth Empowering Organization?

We still provide a national volunteering service for young people and they have access to the opportunities provided on our website by some 2,500 charities and causes seeking young volunteers. However, we believe active engagement is much more than this. For example, young people should have a voice and a big stake in their society. There are many ways they can achieve this, not least through volunteering. The context has changed since the first 5 years. Youth unemployment has grown in the UK so we focus on skills development for work and we have a focus on youth enterprise. Young people are discovering ways in which they can solve their own problems, including their unemployment and we help many set up and try out their own social enterprises. We need young people to be economically active as well as socially active so we provide the environment, support and resources to empower them and help them find solutions. They are responding magnificently well to this challenge and I believe our country will be all the better for it.

By empowering youth and by working with them and for them, how does Vinspired deal with the challenge of measuring the impact of youth centered and youth based initiatives?

Being able to prove and measure impact is hugely important especially if we’re to secure long term, sustainable funding. We don’t try and measure everything but we’re really interested in the skills developed for employment, the personal development of the young person and the difference that the beneficiary community perceives to have been made. All our programmes, from the light touch ones through to the deep emersion ones are evaluated. We are also using academically tested impact measures alongside our programmes such as one to measure the impact on the development of resilience and mental toughness.

What is the Vinspired program that is giving you most satisfaction?

I love two things in particular at the moment. The first is vInspiredTalent, our full-time volunteering programme in public services especially for young people who are furthest from the labour market. Its success rate in progressing young people into education, employment or training is phenomenal. The second is Team v where we train young leaders from all over the country and give them the chance toc campaign on some of the big issues of the day such food poverty, loneliness amongst our elder citizens or youth homelessness. They all act on the same campaign within the same 6-week period so it’s easy tomeasure the impact as a result. I find the stories that the young leaders tell of their personal journeys a huge inspiration.

How is it going with IGNITER, your crowdfunding platform? Is there any links with DO SOMETHING UK, the campaigning platform of Vinspired that is based on the successful model initiated almost 20 years back in USA?

vInspired Igniter is bedding down very well. The range of things young people want to do is impressive and the response from the public is good too.I love the diversity of the projects that they want to carry out and love hearing about where their inspiration came from. I’ve contributed cash to some of these projects myself because I am afterall a member of the public who wants to see young people achieve! Igniteris not linked to Do Something, a programmeI brought to the UK from the USA, and which uses the power of online to inspire off-line action. Young people on Igniter decide what they want to do and then bid for the money, and then go and do it whereas on Do Something young people all engage in the same lighter touch campaign which uses social media to reach its audience.

How is Vinspired promoting campaigning and lobbying abilities among youth?

We offer hundreds and thousands of opportunities for young people to do good things. We have a portal at that offers opportunities from 2,500 charities and causes throughout the country. These include all sorts of campaigning opportunities. We are most concerned that young people are heard by decision-makers and people of influence so we provide lots of opportunities to ensure this happens. We gather views, carry our and publish research, survey opinion. However, we encourage young people to act and speak for themselves on matters that are of concern to them, not us!

Among peers organizations promoting youth empowerment in UK, which one do you admire most? Why?

I particularly like the British Youth Council which includes the UK Youth Parliament. Their model incorporates opportunities for young people to engage in civic life at both local and national levels. They too are youth-led but it takes quite a different form from our own, especially in its Governance arrangements. The entire Trustee Board is made up from young people.

How do you see Vinspired in 5 years time from now? Any plans to go overseas?

If today is anything to go by then vInspired will be thriving in 5 years’ time. We do have intentions to explore developing internationally but we still have plenty to get right before then. Many of our products and services have the potential to be licensed, franchised or white-labelled for other countries but they also need to be culturally relevant and culturally specific. I think this is best done through partnership development so I guess it’s ‘watch this space’!

Last but not the least after so many years working in the social sector, have you ever thought of joining elected politics? I personally think you would be terrific and it could be another way of advocating and lobbying for the causes you love most.

You are wonderful but no, I couldn’t do that. I’ve spent 35 years working to help young people fulfil their potential and I like my direct engagement in that process. I’d be a terrible politician and I’d just get exasperated. If I was to do something else I would do what I ask young people to do, focus on what you’re good at, find your passion and follow it. In this case I’d go sailing!



About Terry

Dr Terry Ryall is founding chief executive of national youth charity vInspired.  Following an extensive and diverse career working with young people (Terry started out as an unattached youth worker at the height of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, ran a hostel for young Asian women, was a director of the Prince’s Trust and is former CEO of Girlguiding UK), she laid the foundations of vInspired in 2006, leading the organisation to create more than 1 million youth volunteering opportunities.

Terry’s passion for keeping young people at the very heart of vInspired has ensured it has remained a game-changer in youth social action, despite major changes in its funding and structure over the past year. vInspired provides an innovative, exciting and wide range of ways for young people to do good things – both online and offline.

Terry loves spending time with her family, sailing, motorbikes, gadgets and brain puzzles.




Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good


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