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Katie Buchanan was one of the first participants of the Ignite! Creative Sparks programme which launched in 2003. The programme was originally launched as a young people’s version of our Fellowship programme, and its remit was to research and test the scope for creative development in 10-21 year olds. Katie used her award to investigate the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and is currently Head of Sustainability at Virgin Media.

How did you become an Ignite Creative Spark?

I was first approached by Nesta, ten years ago, during my second week at University, where I received an email out of the blue telling me I’d been nominated for an award. At the time I’d never heard of Nesta but when the award was explained – that I could receive up to £10,000 - my jaw dropped! I found out later that I’d been spotted by Rick Hall [who ran the programme from its inception in 2003, and through its subsequent spin out] at a Sustainable Design Award ceremony. At the ceremony I was collecting an award for a floor lamp I made out of recycled materials.

What did you use the award for?

The award enabled me to immerse myself in the world of Corporate Responsibility. It provided me with time, space and opportunities – such as attending overseas conferences, completing several Internships (including one at Futerra and another at O2), I also spent a month in China shadowing CSR Directors for large corporates.  I networked my socks off, and the Nesta backing meant I felt justified in being there alongside very senior corporate people, despite still being a student.

What impact did it have on your development?

My award helped me to reveal and develop my capacity for creative thinking,  it also helped to further my understanding of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and confirm my future career choice. By the time I graduated, I had already built up a fairly impressive CV and network of contacts putting me ahead of my peers.

This propelled me into my first job working for a sustainability communications agency where I was able to put my experience into practice. Then nearly 4 years ago I joined Virgin Media and I’m now possibly one of the youngest heads of a department in the company – something I put down to my Nesta award.  

What does the Head of Sustainability role involve?

It’s my job to facilitate and communicate progress on all we’re up to – both internally and externally. We think that everybody has a role to play in helping us achieve our sustainability goals – it’s about putting a balance into our operational decision making processes so that it simply becomes how we do business. I also lead the development of our sustainability communications and other reporting activities. This includes reporting to our Corporate Responsibility Committee, Chaired our CEO, every quarter.

Working in Corporate Affairs I have a privileged helicopter view of our business. One that’s necessary for the job I do but I enjoy working with people from all across the business – whether it’s our fleet manager, the innovations team or our various product teams. No day is the same.