Laura Bunt: Learning every day

Becoming CEO of a charity in 2023 is no easy feat. With the challenges facing the sector, it can be a daunting task, but it's one that Young Mind's Laura Bunt has stepped up to

It’s hard work being a CEO and being a charity CEO? Well, it’s arguably even tougher. It’s a job that some may shy away from considering the current climate, but not Laura Bunt – a leader who stepped in at the helm of Young Minds in March 2023.

Although she hasn’t always been in the charity sector, she has gravitated towards jobs that look at how to tackle social challenges; often at think tanks. “I became really interested in how you could use methods like design and creative ways of engaging people in communities.”

It was this approach – using co-production and participation – that she has taken with her throughout her career. In the early days, she was interested in influencing government and how to change government policy, something that she took into her role at Nesta, an innovation agency for social good.

She enjoyed her time there, “it was really interesting,” Bunt emphasises, but she started to become more interested in delivery and policy. “The connection between practice and real experience on the ground, that was what led me to the charity sector. “It was a way of getting closer to communities and to feel the impact of that change directly.”

Making the move into the sector, Bunt spent some time at Citizens Advice in policy and comms roles before becoming chief digital officer. From there she moved to With You, working on business development before being appointed deputy CEO.

Another big theme throughout her career, Bunt adds, is how technology is changing society and how organisations need to evolve; an advantage at Young Minds, which is a digital-first organisation. This role is a culmination of her work so far.

“It’s a real combination of my passion, my care and my commitment for how you involve people with experience of challenging decision making and designing solutions.”

A sense of responsibility

And solutions are what is needed. Bunt took on this role because she saw the urgency of the rising prevalence of young people’s mental health issues, in addition to the costof-living crisis and the way it deepens inequalities.

“It felt like there was a huge sense of responsibility, just how urgent this issue is. I really believe that young people’s mental health feels like a defining issue of our time, particularly following the Covid pandemic,” she explains.

But of course, the charity is facing its own challenges. It’s not the largest organisation out there, with an income of just over £9 million and a staff of just over 100. “We really care, we want to make a difference and so there’s the challenge of wanting to do more… but not feeling that parity of ambition.” They need to keep a handle on their own pace, she admits. “How do we recognise where we are, but keep pushing?”

That innate sense of responsibility has spread throughout the organisation and into conversations they’ve been having. Young Minds has been interrogating who it’s reaching and not reaching and who is excluded from its services.

“We want young people to feel validated, seen, supported, cared for and the systems around them are failing to do that now. We also know within that there is a huge inequality… a black young person is more likely to wait over a year for mental health support; it’s nearly twice as high as it is for a white person.

“There are many reasons for that, but what is our role within that? We know we need to do more much more to reach more black and marginalised people and that means looking at our services and how we deliver our work and support. It means really challenging ourselves, our culture and ways of working as an organisation on diversity. Thinking about me as a white leader coming into that, how do I make sure that we are changing to be more representative and a more diverse organisation?”

Learning every day

Saying is easier than doing however, and everything takes time. “I’m learning every day in a way that is more than I maybe could have anticipated before coming into this role,” Bunt admits. “But it’s amazing and demanding in all the right ways. I’m continuously reflecting and learning about my own experience and deploying all of that all of the time.”

She doesn’t have the answers and wants to be open about it. The learning is intentional. She brings that through the whole organisation, encouraging the Young Minds team to do the same. “Next year is going to be a period continuing to grow our impact and platform and awareness around young people’s mental health.”

“We’ve talked about how we can keep being closer to young people so we can grow the communities we work with. We already have a number of programmes with young people – they’re involved in our governance and decision making, part of our activist network and part of events we do in places like parliament.

“We are really trying to develop and grow those communities and young people and involve them in our work in meaningful and increasingly diverse ways.”

Part of that is using Young Minds, and her own digital expertise and experience. The charity is looking at how it can involve young people in research and co-design and how it can bring data feedback into decision making that makes insight from young people more visible. “That feels like a really important part of how we evolve as an organisation as well as how we involve young people in creating change themselves. I want us to be more relevant as an organisation.”

Digital first

One way to become, and stay relevant in the modern age is through a digital offering – Young Minds is successful with this, winning the 2023 Charity Times Award for Best Social Media Presence.

But what makes it so successful? “All our content is designed by young people,” Bunt says immediately. In some cases it’s made by the young people themselves. Workshops and sessions are created in a way where they can develop content together so the content is rooted in young people’s experience. “I think that is primarily what helps us to connect, alongside the fact there is a credibility to it,” she says.

It doesn’t stop there. Even with the current success, the digital world is changing rapidly and Young Minds is constantly looking forward, already thinking of the next way they can use technology and social media to their advantage.

With all of this going on “there’s never a dull day in the office,” Bunt laughs. “It really stretches me in a good way.”

And it’s evident she loves it. One of the highlights of her role is seeing people “be excellent”, both within her team and the young people the organisation works with. “If I think about the things I’m most proud of in my career, they are almost always about people and the way I’ve been a part of and enabled development of people who go on to achieve amazing things in their own career.”

But she’s also in the role because she believes in the work Young Minds does, and she’s excited at the influence and change it can inspire, not only in the world, but in herself and the team.

“Ultimately I’m in this work because I care deeply about social justice, equality, and for me, mental health and welfare. They come together. It’s about how you feel you can be able to influence things that affect your life. If you are struggling with your mental health, or if you’re feeling marginalised or excluded from systems then we’re not going to make any progress.”

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