Why shared learning could be your single biggest career boost

Peer to peer learning sounds jargonous but there is a huge amount of value in it for your career and for the change you are trying to create.

To build a strong social venture you need confidence, resilience and the capacity to manage self-doubt. This means surrounding yourself with people who’ll tell you the truth, share your dreams and help you reach your goals – and dodging the people who trigger insecurity.

The concept of shared learning isn’t exactly new, but it hasn’t always been thought of as something that should be a central part of a social entrepreneur’s career development – and that’s something that needs to change. Indeed, I think engaging in peer-to-peer learning could be the single biggest boost your career can experience. 

Typically, ‘learning’ is done in a linear way with one person – in one way or another – delivering their knowledge or experience into the minds of another person or group of people. There are teachers and students. However, peer-learning is far more fluid – everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student. 

In peer networks, openness and reciprocity are key as is a willingness to put in as much as you receive. Peer learning only works effectively if you recognise that you have skills, abilities and experience which are of real value to others – and are genuinely open and willing to share them.

Everyone going through their social entrepreneurship journey has something to offer and something to learn from someone else too. In the act of passing on your knowledge, skills and experience the individual entrepreneur gains in their own personal and professional development – a win-win situation all round. 


At UnLtd, we have first-hand experience of the benefits of this approach. We’ve just completed the first-year evaluation of our Spark Awards – a programme delivered with Santander which gives small grants to entrepreneurs wanting to set up peer networks in their areas. We found that investing in peer learning means more people being supported and more skills being developed. 

For every Spark Award we give to an individual, another 20 -25 entrepreneurs are supported as a result – far more than our standard awards programme which gives grants and support to the individual to start or grow their venture. We also found that that 90% of the people we gave awards to said they benefitted both personally and professionally through delivering their project. So what kind of career benefits can you expect to receive?

Strong networks are vital at all stages of a social entrepreneur’s career and we’ve seen that through leading a peer learning project, the individual widens and strengthens their professional network. By putting yourself forward as a leader and offering your skills to others, you build your own personal value and credibility, develop trust among others and form strong relationships – it’s these networks that will help a business and an entrepreneur flourish in the future. 

Engaging in peer learning results in learning hard skills too. People become better facilitators or presenters; they learn how to bring their product to market, run events and manage teams. Coaching someone else forces you to reflect on what’s worked for you – to sharpen your thinking. These mentoring skills pay dividends when you come to build and lead your own team. Many people developing a peer-to-peer project have gone through some big learning curves. It hasn’t always been easy, but they’ve come out the other side with more confidence and better equipped to run their own venture. 

The great thing about reciprocity and peer to peer is that anyone can do it. You might already have a good idea of the skills and experience you could share but, if not, it could be worth participating in an event such as our Living It Festival where young people from all over the country came together to talk about social entrepreneurship and share their learning. Other events like the annual Oxford Jam bring people together from every level of social enterprise. If you want to participate in already thriving communities of support for social entrepreneurs you could think about joining networks like Good for Nothing or Make Sense. 

Whatever stage of the journey you are at, you have something to offer a community of entrepreneurs. Indeed, we recently supported an enterprising 14 year old to run a workshop on starting up a social venture. He wanted to share what he had learned from attending one of our residential weekends with nine- and 10-year-old budding entrepreneurs. It’s just a matter of finding the audience you can help and engaging with them in an open, collaborative manner. 

I believe that everyone has something to give and something to learn – so my question to you is: what can you offer? 

Find out more about UnLtd’s Spark programme at www.unltd.org.uk/spark