Major Career Transitions and Social Innovation with Tabitha Stapely

by Geekgirl, July 1, 2016

“I want people to participate with and contribute to their local community.” Tabitha Stapely, Founder and Director of Social Streets CIC and CEO of Roman Road Trust CIC, said succinctly.

Tabitha is accomplishing just that by using social technology to build tribes online that change communities. Social Streets partners with local authorities and the community itself to increase participation in local community. From local journalism and social networks to video content and brand strengthening, Tabitha is changing the way communities communicate.

Observation to Action: The Pull of Community Development

Tabitha’s journey into community development began with a personal experience.

“My local high street was dead on its feet so people shopped elsewhere. The neighbourhood had lost most of its community spaces to residential development so people socialised elsewhere. Most employment land in the area had been lost to residential too, so people worked elsewhere. Yet 14,000 people lived here. 14,000 slept here but lived outside, treating the neighbourhood like little more than an out of town motel.” Tabitha observed. In an environment like this, residents don’t take care of their community, or get the benefit of community in their lives.

Community means much more than where you live to Tabitha. “I’m a passionate about living on a human scale of living where you live in a community of diverse age, culture and income bracket. This promotes tolerance and mental/emotional wellbeing.”

Looking beyond her own residence, Tabitha recognized a ‘sleeper town’ phenomenon in many large cities like London. While the city centre itself is very well taken care of, many outlying areas areas of London become stagnant.

A Major Transition: Social Content to Social Good

Tabitha’s jump into community development was an unexpected one. With a great career at Hearst Digital working as the Acting Digital Director for Elle and Deputy Editor for Red Online, the transition into Social Streets and Roman Road Trust was a huge transformation.

Tabitha described the change as one that was both easy and hard. “I’m still using my core skills of online publishing so there was no retraining needed. But it’s a new landscape so it was like moving country and having to learn a new language, discover new social groups, new companies, new clients and set up working relationships.” She related.

Besides transitioning to work with a completely different purpose, Tabitha had entered into an emerging industry. Without a roadmap to follow, she was forced to follow her own path. “You have to be a pioneer,” Tabitha remarked, “and that requires faith and patience and the ability to try things that may not work straight away.”

Like Tabitha experienced, careers transitions can come unexpectedly. When your life’s purpose comes calling, you never know where it will take you. For women experiencing the call to a new industry Tabitha advises, “Give it time. After leaving my first career three years ago, I went through two years of keeping my options open, exposing myself to the environment I wanted to develop, gradually extending a completely new network of contacts, not knowing where this would lead me, barely earning any money, but having faith that this would yield something good as the values between my personal and work life were now aligned.”

Believing in your newfound calling and embracing its alignment in your life is the first step to being at peace with your transition. Tabitha shared honestly, “You have to remind yourself that good will come of good. If you are doing something that is aligned with your core values and that you feel passionate about, something concrete will definitely come out of it.”

Tabitha’s calling came as she had an inner transformation. “I changed my perspective on life and this led to me discovering I was a natural born social innovator.” Tabitha remembered.

“I don’t worry about things not working out because I know if this doesn’t work I’ll try something else that will help strengthen communities.” Tabitha’s commitment to her purpose is an inspiring example of how motivating a calling can be.

From Vision to Reality: Embarking on Social Innovation

Beginning her work in community development, Tabitha helped establish a local citizen-led community trust, Roman Road Trust CIC. This initiative allowed her to trial for her efforts in the sector.

“The fact that it was voluntary was liberating as it gave me permission to do what I wanted without worrying about the results.” Tabitha explained, showing future founders how beneficial it can be to test run their passion.


Image from Social Streets’ work on a promotional video for the Roman Road Yard Market. Source: Roman Koblov

Tabitha got right into her work. “In my spare time, I set up up a niche online community of place – www.romanroadlondon.com together with all its supporting social media platforms. I still have lots of ideas I want to develop around it to increase community participation but the fact that it has worked so well already gives me confidence I’m on the right track.”

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. “When once our community was digitally invisible and unheard of in London, now we are approached all the time now by people wanting a bit of ‘us’ – visitors to the shops and market, local community groups wanting to collaborate, partners wanting to invest.” These kind of results from a test run can really give entrepreneurs the confidence they need to keep moving forward.

Rejecting Failure: Changing Perspective and Working It

Failure is not something Tabitha is familiar with, but not in the way you might think. The Social Streets Founder said, “To be honest, I’ve never really been tempted to use that word. But loads of things in my life have not worked. Most things in fact, if you want to be mathematical! But that’s normal.”

Tabitha related her experience with things ‘not working out’ as she recounted, “My first dot-com website in 2000 during the dot-com bubble – the first online directory of spas – was a great idea but it didn’t take off as I had no idea how to sell at that point. In my journalism career I didn’t take opportunities that I should have done because I didn’t believe in what I was writing about. Then the first incarnation of my digital agency has had to be reinvented as I hadn’t yet worked out what my niche. So my career has been choppy with lots of changes of jobs and an untraditional route to where I now find myself.”

Deep into her calling in community development, things still don’t go according to plan and Tabitha recognizes that the experience of failing is perfectly natural and shared exactly how it goes.

“The process goes a bit like this: 1. You are passionate about a new idea 2. You persuade everyone else that is amazing and get their support and facilitation 3. You launch it (usually to great reception – everyone loves a launch) 4. You realise it’s not quite working (sometimes it works for a bit then struggles) 5. You throw everything at it with huge grit and determination to succeed, often stubbornly sticking to the original format as your pride wants to prove itself right 6. It still isn’t flourishing (agh) 7. This is when you start listening to constructive criticism and start questioning some aspects of it (and your ego gets a bit bruised) 7. You let go of the original format (gutting) and during that mourning period you get space and perspective 8. You look again with fresh eyes and realise what wasn’t working 9. You choose to either amend that idea or start a new one. 10. Success! Because to me this isn’t failing. The best things develop organically from the application of your learning. Your learning is the success of the project.”

Tabitha advises all women to avoid calling your experiences failures. “Ban that word,” She counseled, “Don’t say it to work colleagues and don’t even say it to friends of family. If you indulge in the idea of failure, you will not reach your potential and the world will be less rich for it.”

The problem with failure, Tabitha explains is in the ego. “It’s only your ego and its insecurities that see things as failure. Try to look beyond your ego. Ideas rarely come out perfect and even when they have reached perfectness at a certain point in time, time moves on and it is no longer perfect.”

The idea of recognizing failure as part of the journey isn’t a new one, but Tabitha explains it in a way that is so natural and easy to grasp.

When things don’t work out, Tabitha gets to work. Write an Evaluation Report to assess the successes and weak points of your project. “When you edit it remove emotions and replace with statements of fact. You’ll be impressed with the result. You’ll be impressed with yourself. I’ve done it recently for a project that is facing one challenge after another. After doing that, I saw how much was right about the project and how good I was at assessing what needed to be changed.”

Being a Woman: Overcoming Society’s Conditioning

Tabitha remarked, “In the case of women, we are conditioned to be people pleasers from day dot and we therefore find it hard to express our opinion or actions. In my previous career this meant that I didn’t ask for pay rises, missed out on promotions, felt intimidated by bosses, and generally didn’t believe I could succeed in male dominated industries.”

For women interested in starting their own business endeavor, Tabitha advised, “Don’t try to do everything or be every role in the company. You may have to do this in the first few months, but try to move away from it as a priority. Women are adept at taking on everything and getting everything done and often measure their success in those terms. The martyrs among us might find a sense of achievement in doing this, but the risk is you won’t be able to focus on the big picture and so won’t take you or your venture to its full potential.”

Secondly, Tabitha recommends, “Get a mentor. If business school is too expensive or time-consuming, approach someone you admire in business (via Linkedin maybe) – it doesn’t have to be your sector – and ask them if they will spend two hours (no less) with you once or twice a month.” She related how men have many mentors that are built into their lives and women need to redress the balance by seeking the same skills from their own mentors.

Tabitha Stapely teaches of the importance of transition, the unimportance of the word failure, and the amazing things that innovative tech can accomplish. She is a woman with incredible vision and motivation to see it through. Follow Tabitha on Twitter to keep in touch with her remarkable work.

Where are you in your journey?

Are you in the midst of a major career transition? Or are just considering one? Tell us where you are in your journey in the comments below.