Internet Matters CEO Carolyn Bunting is creating a culture for online lives for children & young people.
With an objective for Internet Matters to be recognised as the leading voice for young people’s online safety, Carolyn Bunting is working hard at tackling one of the biggest challenges facing parents today; protecting their child’s digital wellbeing.
Technology continues to shape our children’s lives, and often at an alarming pace. With this advancement comes an important social responsibility - to safeguard young and vulnerable people from the threats and risks to their safety and wellbeing online. A difficult and ever-evolving challenge, Internet Matters navigates this complex issue and works alongside a group of core members and corporate partners which includes BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, BBC and Google; and all are driven to protect children online.
Working with Because on Internet Matter’s latest digital wellbeing campaign, our Global CEO Sharon Richey, spoke to Carolyn about her career, the challenges of working for a not-for-profit company versus a commercial organisation and her vision and strategy for Internet Matters going forward. Continue reading to discover more…
1) Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about yourself and your career leading up to this point?
I started out with a degree in physics and when I graduated, I joined a business called Racal.
Racal was awarded one of the first licenses to run a cellular network and went on to create Vodafone; a company I stayed with for 12 years working in a variety of roles. At Vodafone I quickly moved out of engineering into marketing and product management. I then left to work with one of their distribution companies but ironically three years later the distribution company was acquired by Vodafone, so I ended back where I’d started my career early on!
My jump from physics and engineering to marketing was a natural move as I never saw myself going down the engineering route; I wanted to be on the other side of the fence - in product innovation and sales. Vodafone was a very entrepreneurial company at the time. It was a growth business going through massive development, so I had a lot of opportunities, including roles in base value management. It was quite cutting edge at the time, and I learnt a lot.
After Vodafone, I moved to Sky as a Director of Customer Marketing and I stayed at Sky for over five years, before then joining Internet Matters.
2) Was there anyone who impacted you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? What was their impact?
Many people have positively impacted me throughout my career, and continue to do so, but there are two that really stand out.
The first person was Nick Read, now Vodafone’s Global CEO. I was a leader of one of eight change programmes and had the chance to work for Nick and the UK Board. Nick had a working style and charisma which made you want to succeed for him. He was direct and inspiring. I bought into his vision for Vodafone and he made me want to succeed in the vision for the company. That for me is someone who stands out as being a true leader.
Another person who has impacted me is Stephen van Rooyen. Stephen created a culture of excellence at Sky, and there is no doubt that the skills I learnt at Sky form a huge part of the ethos that underpins Internet Matters.
3) What are the differences working for a NFP and the commercial world? Do you have a preference?
There are two aspects to this. A smaller not-for-profit organization, gives you tremendous freedom. You get to make decisions quickly, run with it and be dynamic. Autonomy is something I really love. In larger commercial organisations there is inevitably a longer and broader approval process that involves key stakeholders, which whilst necessary, can sometimes make it feel slower and less dynamic.
Another aspect is resource. Although you’re acutely conscious of money in a corporate company, you have a plethora of things around you that you don’t ever think about. Whereas in a small business, you must think of everything. From what you spend on coffee and copier paper to marketing budgets… every penny counts.
I think it’s also worth saying that working for an NFP or a charity requires you to really believe in the cause. You may not get the rewards & benefits that you would in a commercial setting, so it helps to have an underlying commitment and belief in the cause. I’m now at a point in my career where giving back matters (and feels very good).
4) Where do the great ideas come from in your organisation?
Ideas can come from anyone. For me, my ideas often come to me on the morning train commute – I think the first hour of the day is often the best one! I am out and about a lot in my role and the space away from the office is often helpful to see the bigger picture.
We also have some great agency partners who genuinely feel part of the family, and often give us ideas or nuggets that we can build from.
5) What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
What we are trying to do with Internet Matters is something that has never been done before. It’s a big challenge to bring together many corporate partners, seeking their investment and belief in the cause.
Secondly, we are dealing with sometimes very competitive corporate businesses. Businesses which wouldn’t normally engage with one another, all must sit around the table together, combining efforts for the good of the greater cause, but at the end of the day our collective objective is to ensure that no child gets hurt online, and we all work very well as one team.
6) What are the most important decisions you make as a CEO?
Business strategy. As a CEO you are responsible for the overall strategy for the business and this is challenging when a business is small, as resources are limited. In a commercial organisation you would have a team of lieutenants to help, whereas at Internet Matters we have just 10 people in total, so the responsibility of developing the overall business strategy can be difficult. Here, I rely a lot on our stakeholders to help us and we occasionally use a consulting firm to support us too.
7) Your online safety message is evolving into one that promotes a more holistic digital well-being for kids. Why the shift?
There are actually two shifts that are happening in our business:
One is that we’re moving more towards digital wellbeing and a ‘balance message’. With so many childhood, activities now being underpinned by screens and connected technology, parents are looking for an authoritative voice to help them manage the impact in the home. We need to help parents manage their child’s digital wellbeing.
Secondly, we conducted a pivotal piece of research which found that if you are a child with a vulnerability e.g. in foster care, a young carer, or you may have a disability or learning challenge; then you have a higher propensity to experience online harm.
So ours is a two-fold strategy: firstly to put more resources into supporting vulnerable children by trying to do something very specific for their differing vulnerabilities and secondly our focus is to help parents to ensure that all of our children are thriving, happy and healthy online. What we don’t want to do is to create a generation of parents that aren’t scared for their children to be online.
8) Do you think future partners you work with will become much broader to encompass the wider digital landscape?
Yes, definitely. I think that we are seeing more new issues emerging, like children’s data and fake news, and we will be seeing new technology arising (personal assistances, augmented reality, artificial intelligence is coming, etc.). Technology will continue to get faster and faster, the breadth gets wider and wider, so we need to develop our partnerships across industries to keep apace.
9) What do you hope to accomplish within the next year/3 years…?
We’ve set out a three point plan in our vision:
- We want to be recognised as the leading authoritative voice for children’s ‘digital wellbeing’
- To create a culture where vulnerable young people are routinely asked about their online lives
- Build a partnership where industry leaders prioritise the shared social goal for online safety
Ultimately we see it as creating a culture for online lives for children & young people.
10) What would you like your legacy to be?
I’d love to see Internet Matters become a leading charity in the UK. It would be great to be able to look back and think that I was at the beginning of that and look…now it’s a fully funded, sustainable big charitable business.
Quick Fire Questions
1) What 3 words (best) describe you…honest, driven, and hopefully considered.
2) The best characteristics for workplace…being open-minded, collaborative and brave. In a small business, you also need to have the ability to simply get on and do the work.
3) The best piece of business advice I’ve ever received is…do the best you can with the resources that you’ve got.
4) The last book I read was…The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. It’s an inspirational read as a parent with an autistic child.
5) The best time to find space to think at work…I go for a walk.
I'm an award-winning entrepreneur, a passionate business mentor, and I believe that great things can happen when we work together to help others.