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We are recruiting for a Mission Director, A Fairer Start.

About the role

Nesta is on a 10-year endeavour to close the gap in school readiness between those born into disadvantage and the national average across the UK. As Mission Director for A Fairer Start, you will lead this mission, and your success will have a positive impact on the lives of millions.

Between now and 2030, we will need you to lead the way on answering questions such as “does giving families more money improve early childhood development?”, “how can we support parents/ caregivers in their role as their child’s first teacher?”, “how can we make sure young children with additional needs get identified and helped fast?”, and “how can we get policies adopted that make the UK the best place to be for someone under the age of five?”.

To do this, you will have a lot of talented people to help you. Our strength at Nesta lies in our unusual blend of skills: you will directly manage a team of around 20 people, but you will also be able to draw in additional cross-Nesta capabilities in data analytics, experimentation, arts & culture, design and technology, behavioural science, policy-making, communications and venture-building.

And you will be part of a collaborative group of peers driving social impact. You will report to Nesta’s Chief Programmes Officer and work closely with the AFS Deputy Directors, Chief Practices Officer, Practice Directors and other Mission Directors.

Our AFS strategy:

You will be responsible for implementing and evolving our mission strategy. Centering on parents and families, our work focuses on improving parents capabilities through parenting and income support, and reducing pressures through policy interventions and local service improvements. Specifically, we aim to:

  • Adapt, test and scale effective parenting interventions to support early learning in the home, for families experiencing disadvantage;
  • Evaluate the impact of income support on parenting and child development outcomes, and increase public and political acceptability for family income support;
  • Improve early detection and signposting through technological innovation, advanced data and measurement approaches, and strengthened local services;
  • Influence policy across England, Scotland and Wales, making the case for further investment in early years and helping alleviate pressures on families and services;
  • Build new ventures and invest in early-stage ventures that can help families and service providers support child development.

We do this by partnering with local authorities and parenting programmes, designing and testing solutions at the pilot stage, running large-scale trials, building new ventures and investing in early-stage businesses, and working directly with policy-makers.

A top candidate will have relevant leadership, technical and subject-matter skills. However, we do not expect you to be exceptional at all of these; we’re interested in people with different backgrounds and strengths, and will help you grow on the job.

Leadership skills:

  • An inclusive leadership style and a track record of managing highly engaged, high-performing teams;
  • Experience developing and delivering team or organisational strategies, and making strategic tradeoffs in collaboration with others;
  • A flexible and pragmatic approach to portfolio management, willing and able to change approach in response to a changing social and political context while keeping the long term goal in sight, while bringing your team along with you;
  • A commitment to including the voices of those affected by issues we work on - from children and families, through to practitioners.

Technical skills:

  • Experience working in multidisciplinary teams that draw on different disciplines to design and evaluate practical solutions to complex problems;
  • An excellent understanding and practical experience of applied experimental research and the interpretation and use of quantitative and qualitative evidence;
  • An appreciation for the different contributions of policy, venture-building and applied research, and an ability to spot opportunities to drive impact at scale leveraging these different mechanisms for change;
  • Exceptional partner and stakeholder management skills.

Subject matter knowledge:

  • An excellent understanding of early years research, policy and practice - preferably with deep expertise in child development, parenting and home learning environment, and/or the policy, political and economic context surrounding childcare/family policy;
  • Demonstrated experience developing or influencing public policy, preferably in the early years.


Impact and portfolio strategy:

  • Implement, monitor and evolve an ambitious strategy to close the gap in school readiness between children experiencing disadvantage and the national average;
  • Design and deliver a coherent portfolio of projects to achieve this goal, which is grounded in evidence and practice and makes the most of Nesta’s resources and capabilities (including our investments, venture-building, policy, and applied research, data science, arts and design capabilities);
  • Influence local and national government, translating evidence into applied insights for policy and practice, and modelling the economic costs of action and inaction;
  • Forge strategic partnerships with academic, commercial, public sector and third sector organisations, with whom we can design, test and scale solutions;
  • Collaborate with Nesta’s communications team to increase the profile and reach of our work, and expand public and political acceptability for scaling early years support.

Team and organisational leadership:

  • Ensure all team members have clarity of purpose and role, are highly engaged, and are supported to develop professionally;
  • Support team wellbeing, engagement and motivation; create a nurturing team environment that enables team and individual development and wellbeing;
  • Create and champion systems and norms for collaboration within and across teams, identifying and resolving any challenges proactively;
  • Manage team and financial resources effectively, with a focus on value for money;
  • Play an active role in senior leadership - modelling our values, championing org-wide priorities, and helping navigate tradeoffs in pursuit of our 2030 strategy.

What we offer

Salary: £90.9k-£116k plus array of benefits, including health cash plans, dental insurance, the ability to buy and sell annual leave, eyecare vouchers and more.

Location: This role is based in Central London, Blackfriars, hybrid working arrangement.

Term: Permanent.

Hours: This is a full-time role but we offer a range of flexible working arrangements and encourage our people to take advantage of them. Many do.

Reports to: Chief Programmes Officer.

Closing date

Applications for this post closed 8:00am on Monday 24th April 2023