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Ever wondered how Advantaged Thinking first came about?

Ever wondered how Advantaged Thinking first came about?

The Advantaged Thinking story begins in 2006 at a reception for a Foyer Federation poetry competition at Foyles bookshop.

One of the young Foyer poets expressed their dream that night “to start living again, to have a good life”. The Foyer Federation’s CEO at that time, Jane Slowey, and Director of Innovation, Colin Falconer, were in the audience to spot the germ of an idea: if we knew the ingredients for a good life, shouldn’t they form part of the deal for everyone?

The origins of the Foyer model in France were rooted in the question of transition – how to shape an alternative induction into adulthood for those with the least access to opportunities to build a good life. Why not start with what ‘good’ should like, rather than just respond to and ‘fix’ the bad?

“… to start living again, to have a good life”
Young person at a Foyer poetry competition (2006)

The fruits of that night’s thinking immediately sparked more aspirational language and programme design. A research trip to the States in 2007 to explore the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets framework led to new Foyer Federation programmes: Working Assets – focused on social action employment – and Healthy Transitions, which introduced life coaching into Foyer practice. These were early efforts to advance a positive focus on investing in young people’s assets.

In 2009, this asset-based approach found a distinctive identity in Open Talent. It fused strengths-based practice with the asset-based community development model, sustainable livelihoods approach and the ethics of good youth work that underpinned the original Foyer ethos, forming a single challenge: how can society invest equally in every young person to find their talents for life?

Open Talent was not always an easy sell. At the time, deficit-based provision still went largely unquestioned.

The juxtaposition between ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘advantaged’ thinking was developed to respond to people’s doubts. It captures the differences between two approaches: problem-focused systems that, in seeking easy fixes to disadvantage, further disadvantage and stereotype the people they seek to help; and systems designed to explore those assets and advantages that can enable people and communities to shape their own solutions.

This systems-change focus became the theme for a TEDx talk on opening young people’s talents that Colin Falconer delivered in Greece in April 2011. This speech attempted to rebrand the narrative of ‘disadvantage’ into an Advantaged Thinking adventure to find the “people, places, opportunities, deal and campaign” to develop young people’s talents. The 7 Tests of Advantaged Thinking followed over the next year, laying strong foundations for Advantaged Thinking DNA to grow through and beyond the Foyer network.

This Advantaged Thinking journey was celebrated at the Foyer Federation’s 10 year anniversary event in 2021, which brought together people from Australia, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, and of course the UK in a positive, energising exploration of the movement and best practice.


an illustration of two bikes riding along

Jane Slowey received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Birmingham in 2014 to recognise her leadership for Advantaged Thinking in the charity sector, before sadly passing away in 2016.

Since leaving the Foyer Federation in 2015, Colin Falconer continues to promote the power of Advantaged Thinking at innovation consultancy InspireChilli and Chair for the award-winning youth-led organisation We Belong.

The Foyer Federation and its network of Foyers promote and progress Advantaged Thinking approaches, including building a Home for Advantaged Thinking that reaches throughout and beyond the housing and youth sectors. This website is an invitation to be part of the community as it grows its positive impact in the years to come.

While it is not known what became of the young poet who started this story, his dream to ‘have a good life’ has offered inspiration to countless others and sparked a positive change in the world.

The Evidence page

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The Evidence

Advantaged Thinking isn’t just a nice idea: it’s a proven approach with more than 10 years of evidence to back it up.