Sometimes we should pay it forward, not backward

I like to pay it forward by buying colleagues’ coffee in the office cafe. Here’s what I mean and why EY is going a thousand steps further…

Catriona Campbell
4 min readOct 17, 2022
Haley Joel Osment in front of a chalk board showing a ‘pay it forward’ diagram

“What are the things you enjoy the most in the office?” my colleague Lorna Culpin asked in a recent LinkedIn post. The Assistant Director of our UK Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence had just enjoyed a free tasting menu with her team at a restaurant near EY’s London Bridge HQ, and wrote that this kind of treat is “one of [her] greatest joys in returning to the office”.

Lorna’s post made me smile from ear to ear, and I instantly knew my answer to her question: paying it forward. For those unfamiliar with the age-old concept, it entails the beneficiary of a good deed repaying the kindness to someone other than the original benefactor, with the new beneficiary doing the same, and so on. Beautiful.

The idea may sound familiar. It stretches back even further than 317 BC, when used as a key plot element in the finale of Dyskolos (The Grouch), an award-winning New Comedy play by Greek dramatist Menander. It has since been applied many times, with the specific expression ‘pay it forward’ likely coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book In the Garden of Delight and later popularised by Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel Between Planets.

But if none of the above rings a bell, perhaps you watched Leslie Dixon and Mimi Leder’s poignant romantic drama, Pay it Forward, loosely based on the 1999 Catherine Ryan Hyde novel of the same name. The movie follows troubled pre-teen Trevor (Haley Joel Osment, pictured above) as he launches the titular goodwill movement. This is his noble interpretation of a school project set by the physically and emotionally scarred Social Studies teacher (Kevin Spacey) who falls for his alcoholic mum (Helen Hunt).

I’ve always loved paying it forward. One of my favourite ways of doing this is buying the coffee of whoever is behind me in the queue at EY’s London Bridge cafe. Of course, no act is truly altruistic, so it gives me immense pleasure to watch my beneficiary’s delight at learning, from the cashier, of the nice surprise. I really missed the opportunity to do this while WFH during Covid.

In Pay it Forward, the pupils are tasked with devising and implementing a plan that will change the world for the better. Trevor’s branch of good deeds does just that, starting with letting a homeless man sleep in his garage and going on to result in thousands of other acts of kindness across the world.

Now, I’m under no illusion that my cafe freebies will have any impact beyond brightening a colleague’s day, but it certainly feels great to know that I’m paying it forward within the premises of an organisation that itself does so much to make the world a better place.

This is perhaps most colourfully illustrated by our new ‘Three things you never knew about EY…’ series. In the most recent instalment back in August, we asked, “What have tents, mangroves and teaching got to do with EY?” And the answer is a lot. As part of the firm’s goal to positively impact the lives of one billion people by 2030 in the face of climate change and social inequity, our people have the chance to give their time to SDG-focused projects through the EY ripples programme,

Just a brief snapshot is: one colleague using his engineering and data analytics experience to help refugees turn plastic waste into tent insulation; a second making it simpler for businesses to invest in coastal wetland preservation; and a third teaching students in New York about entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

Participation in such projects and many others happens in the name of building a better working world, the overarching EY mission that I discuss in a previous blog. Building a better working world goes far beyond making the office a more pleasant place to be through free tasting menus and coffees on moi. It’s about being meaningfully driven by corporate responsibility and by diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As we continue to address some of the world’s greatest challenges, I’ll carry on paying it forward in my own small way. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to catch me in EY’s London Bridge cafe one afternoon. Although if this blog goes viral, I’ll have to find my caffeine fix elsewhere!

The views expressed in this blog represent my personal opinions and not necessarily the position of EY.



Catriona Campbell

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position.