Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, CNN, MTV, FedEx. All huge companies, but what else do they have in common? Answer: they all started in a time of economic downturn.

A recession can mean opportunity. An opportunity to re-evaluate; to stop and think about where we are going. To re-assess our values and priorities. It can be an opportunity to take a new direction in work and life.

Back in the 1980s, John Biggs was a partner in a successful costume jewellery business. In 1989 the last big recession hit; and inevitably business suffered. In 1992 John resigned; taking his opportunity to reflect, re-evaluate and change. Heeding the advice of business management guru Tom Peters that the keys to success in the twentieth century were to get online or get to China, John booked his plane tickets.

Arriving in China with no purpose but to explore, think and look for opportunities; John met a local who invited him to speak at an English language class. He was amazed to see more than 250 people there, each paying a substantial two pounds to attend. He had already seen people practising their English at informal gatherings – called ‘English Corners’ – and realised that the appetite to learn was vast, but resources were scarce and of poor quality.

Later John took a countryside bike tour. His young, local guide explained that learning English was the dream of many Chinese people, and that just a little English had empowered her to establish a modest tour company and make a reasonable living.

John saw an opportunity. Businesses were increasingly looking to contribute to their communities beyond simply ‘donating’ and he realised that he could be the broker between good companies and good causes; enabling them to do ‘well’ and do ‘good’ at the same time. Here was an opportunity for John to use his business background to help make the world a better place.

John’s first project was ‘English Corner’, an English language magazine created with Cable & Wireless – distributed free each month to thousands of disadvantaged people in China desperate to improve their English.

John grew up with dyslexia, and as a result had developed a range of techniques for processing and organising information – a series of ‘Thinking Skills’ which he used daily.  He brokered a partnership with Nokia to run a series of thinking skills workshops in Universities across China getting young people as excited about ‘thinking’ as they were about English – Thinking Corner was born.

In 2000 John brought Thinking Corner to the UK; setting up a team delivering the programme into schools. In 2004 he started talking to Honda (UK), a like-minded business with a firm commitment to education and developing young people.

The latest chapter in the story began – the launch of ‘School of Dreams’ in 2006. Supported and funded by Honda (UK), the programme is a series of ‘Thinking Skills’ workshops for 9-13 year olds delivered by John’s team in UK schools. Along with valuable thinking techniques and skills, the programme draws upon Honda’s philosophies and real life examples of creative thinking which are behind many of its products. Closely linked to the National Curriculum, School of Dreams has been delivered to more than 150 schools, directly engaging more than 4,500 pupils and 500 teachers.

School of Dreams is designed to empower participants to use what they have learnt way beyond the workshop; with students taking their learnings into their communities. One school has run a successful anti-litter poster competition; while many are sharing their new skills with fellow pupils and teachers. Honda is doing more than just giving financially to students – it’s empowering them with the tools to go off and become ‘do-ers’.

For Honda, it’s the ideal way to support education. Sarah Fowler, Honda (UK) PR Operations Manager explains:

“Companies support education in a number of ways – in most cases through straight financial donations. School of Dreams is more than that – it engages with students and teachers to deliver something truly unique, firmly rooted in the way that Honda does things; and is ultimately more fulfilling, engaging and satisfying for all involved.”

From 3 Inspiring the younger generation to ‘go off and do’ By Richard Leonard 2009