Can you hear the drums Fernando?...

Headshot of Hilary Stephenson

Managing Director

2 minute read

In this post, Managing Director Hilary Stephenson reflects on events of the past year, why we should encourage people to bring their passions and personal causes to work, and some of the ways we have been looking to make a positive impact both locally and globally.

Today, Nexer Digital turns 16 and it's customary to write a few words reflecting on where we are at as a business. Last month I was lucky enough to get together with over 60 international colleagues in London to discuss activities across the whole Nexer group. It was a great couple of days, but clearly the best part was the surprise we were going to see ABBA Voyage. Disclaimer: I have been before, and on a coach that was 90% Swedish, I was actually quite proud to stand out as the ABBA fanatic.

Related, I’m also a big Eurovision fan, which is another pretty big deal in Sweden. My love of the annual contest harks back to my Nana telling me to switch off the TV, because she had a genuine fear that lightning would come down the aerial. Roll forward to more recent years and it’s been a way to connect with some wonderful enthusiasts on Twitter and join in with the annual commentary online. There’s also the evergreen promise that "next year we will go" made by my wife as she goes to bed early while I stay up to watch the final vote, alone.

Thanks to Nexer, over the last 16 years I've enjoyed Eurovision quizzes, several "business" stays in the Pop House hotel in Stockholm and the slightly awkward situation where I got overly excited when my newish boss told me he used to live near Benny Andersson. I think I even made a couple of colleagues linger in Copenhagen airport as we landed the day after Conchita won. A particular highlight was Måns Zelmerlöw turning up as the surprise guest for a private gig at one of our conferences four years ago, and only last week I "encouraged" our work experience student Madison to use ChatGPT to write a Eurovision song.

How delighted was I, therefore, to learn that my samba drumming group had been invited to play over in Liverpool on the big day this year, to raise funds for the NSPCC! Meeting this wonderful, talented group of people just before lockdown and coming together as a band over the last few years has been an amazing experience. So, drawing together the threads of being a longstanding part of an increasingly global company, ABBA, Eurovision, Sweden, drumming and in particular the song Fernando, which features in the title of this post, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to turn some of my enthusiasm and birthday celebrations into something with a bit of impact (I also turned 50 in January and was gifted a charity donation of choice from my amazing colleagues).

At Nexer, we actively encourage our team to think about who they might work with or give something back to local communities or charities in the sectors we care about.  We call these passion days across the group and in the UK team, so far this year our volunteering has included Sam Belola appearing at the House of Commons and presenting research on Muslim Women in Sport, and Chris Spalton spending time with The Zainab Project, a volunteer-run café giving refugees and asylum seekers the transferable skills to find employment. We continue to support Diversity Role Models both as a digital partner, and myself as a volunteer, and I’m looking forward to getting back into some schools to help train new volunteers and deliver workshops. This week, Amy Czuba was part of a 300 strong team building a Barn in 24 hours for local community projects and events as part of the Leeds 2023 festival.

Now technically, Eurovision was won by Ukraine last year (stay with me...). We know the reasons why it’s in the UK instead, so it would feel wrong not to acknowledge that in some way. In Nexer, we have over 2000 colleagues in Ukraine, and I've worked with several of them over the last 16 years. And in the last 12 months in particular, I’ve collaborated on a project with my friend Nataly, herself displaced by the war in Ukraine last year when she had to move her family to safety in Israel.

It’s quite bizarre that we find time to make jokes about Eurovision and exchange niceties in project meetings, knowing what's happening to her colleagues, family, community and country. No one takes it seriously of course but the Eurovision Song Contest has made many references to war and political protest over the years (Fernando is also being about two freedom fighters in the Mexican revolution, although I get it’s no Viva La Quinta Bridgada).

So, to pull all of this together, Nexer, me and my lovely drumming band, Conundrum planned to raise money for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal on the day of Eurovision. We then got the call to say the charity place had fallen though....

It’s fair to say the day in Liverpool would have pulled a few threads together for me personally. I had also chatted with colleagues from Brazil and Colombia at that same London meeting about showing off my samba drumming “skills” at Eurovision to a few raised eyebrows.... Sadly, it just wasn't meant to be. We have decided therefore to make a donation instead, and keep Ukraine in our hearts and minds on the day. Please chip in if you can, while you're watching Loreen win, and I book for Sweden next year.

As national Volunteer's Week kicks off in June, it’s nice to be able to encourage people to bring their idiosyncrasies, passions and personal causes into work. Our workplaces are all the richer for it. This post is designed (tenuously) to show how we can think more globally, consider cultural differences and make connections, whether in our local communities, wider organisation, or for causes further afield. If you get the chance to volunteer, focus your work on social impact, and think about your place in a more global setting, it can be hugely rewarding and make a real difference.

Happy birthday, team x
A badge reading 'Fernando Squad, Nexer" with a cartoon image of a guitar and camp fire - an ABBA reference!