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Profile: On Purpose’s Rippin on training the ‘impact army’ of the future

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Published: 29 April 2022

On Purpose offers programmes to attract and develop leaders for purpose-driven businesses. Having established practices in London, Paris and Berlin, CEO Tom Rippin says Amsterdam is next on the list

On Purpose offers programmes for those wishing to develop a purpose-driven career | Photo by Frankreporter on iStock


  • Founder and CEO of On Purpose 2009-present
  • Business Development Director, RED, 2007-9
  • Engagement Manager, McKinsey, 2002
  • University of Cambridge, PHD Biophysics and Molecular biology 1997-2001
  • University of Cambridge, BA Natural Sciences 1994-7

On Purpose is a personal development organisation with a difference. It aims to attract and develop leaders for purpose-driven businesses.

It asserts that may professionals are “no longer satisfied with only creating shareholder returns and instead believe that socially and environmentally-focused business models can help solve society’s toughest problems”.  

A lot of creative thinking has spawned this enterprise. CEO Tom Rippin tells Impact Investor that their focus in on developing leaders who will transform our economy. “That requires finding a more intelligent way to work, and finding the individuals who want to create a healthy economy,” Rippin says. 

“How do we role model that way of being? We see a future where the fundamental beliefs and values on which the economic system is based will be significantly different. This means thinking about the positive and the shadow sides of values such as individualism, competition, growth, etc,” he adds. 

Tom Rippin, CEO, On Purpose, says there is a need for more talented individuals who are ‘bilingual’ in their understanding of both business and societal challenges

Rippin himself comes from a scientific and academic background, and he originally thought that he would follow that path. “I always had the idea of doing something more, something useful. I knew simply making money is not what interests me. I don’t find that intellectually stimulating.”

As a result of a pivotal conversation with a friend, his thoughts clarified and he decided to go into business and “learn how to apply commercial solutions to social and environmental issues”.


Having spent several years working for the consultancy firm McKinsey, Rippin helped develop a graduate training programme for those involved in the charity sector.  

“However, thanks to a crucial conversation with one of our later-to-be board members Christine Lloyd, I came to the conclusion that there was a more general need for talented individuals who were essentially ‘bilingual’, in the sense that they understood business but also the social and environmental worlds.”

He therefore decided to create a programme for those wishing to work in the impact space. 

Rippin spoke to a lot of people, but unfortunately did not find significant startup capital. But with two small grants of around £28,000, and a lot of “begging, borrowing and stealing”, he was able to get the business off the ground. 

He ultimately made the decision to grow the business organically. “We do have some external funding when we need what I would term growth capital, but all of our operational costs are met from our own business.” 

External funds mainly come from philanthropic organisations such as the Esmée Fairbairn and UnLtd foundations, and the social enterprise arm of Santander. On Purpose has also had some backing from high-net-worth individuals and family foundations. 

Two programmes

On Purpose’s programmes tend to be aimed at people in their late twenties to late thirties who have often had a successful career elsewhere and, for whatever reason, are now looking to move into the world of impact. 

Their ‘Associate Programme’ is a year-long programme to which individuals meeting certain criteria can apply to. Successful applicants do two six-month paid placements at a purposed driven organisation, and receive considerable attention in terms of mentoring, coaching, and training, as well as gaining from the peer group learning experience.  

There are two programmes a year with about 20 people each, which means that across all three locations of London, Paris, and Berlin, they train around 120 people per year.

Participating companies pay a salary of £23,000 per annum to associates and a fee to On Purpose, and they commit to take on two people per year.

Rippin says: “The peer group learning experience is enhanced by weekly sessions which are very important as this is a very intensive experience for those who are on our programmes. They are often working in an industry they know nothing about, and indeed working in a role which they know nothing about.” 

On Purpose also offers a ‘Pathfinder Programme’ which is run digitally and aims to enable individuals to make career decisions.

Rippin says partner companies “range from big corporates to small charities, and everything in between, but all have the characteristic of integrating social, environmental, and commercial ways of working”.  

They are a prestigious list. In the UK, NatWest, Big Society Capital, Interface, Bridges Fund Management and Big Issue Invest. In France, Danone, Adie and the Red Cross, and in Germany, they work with Social Impact Lab, Systemiq, Purpose, Avesco, and Diversicon. 

Scaling impact

Rippin says he has three priorities for the future. 

“Firstly, we really come to better understand the essence of how we develop these leaders. This army of the future. What is it they need to learn and experience, and how do you best go about providing that. If they are to help transform the organisations they will work in, and hence the economy, we need to help them transform themselves.” 

“Secondly, we work hard to apply ourselves and embrace a more radical way of working in our own organisation.” Rippin is referring to new ways of thinking about decision-making, as well as seeking to “create an organisation in which the wellbeing of colleagues is valued and facilitated”.  

“Thirdly, we [want to] scale our impact and reach more people to get the biggest ‘bang for our buck.’ This means expanding to other cities in the medium term, but first we want to make sure we are using what we have already built to reach and engage as many people as possible.”

“We moved into Paris when one of our alumni persuaded us that she wanted to start up a business there, whilst Berlin came as a result of being approached. Amsterdam is very much next on our list.”  

However, it is more than simply adding new cities. “We want to grow our impact more generally. Finding ways to engage people in our agenda who might never enrol on our programme but who can still contribute to bringing about a new economy. As well as expanding geographically, we will launch new types of programmes tailored to different audiences.” 

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