Director of Strategy & External Affairs at V•Inspired
Why do you do your job?
I’ve been fortunate to fall into a career that allows me to do a job that I love whilst also creating some social good. That’s a very motivating combination. I was drawn to V•Inspired by its mix of direct engagement with beneficiaries and supporting other charities to achieve their missions with the help of young volunteers, whilst working to ensure that young people can truly benefit from volunteering or undertaking social action.
What job did you want or think you would be doing when you were younger?
I was utterly clueless about my career path at school and university. I remember doing a careers profiling exercise in the sixth form and receiving a high suitability score for going into insurance, which surprises me now as much as it did then. At university I didn’t go near the careers office or take part in any graduate fairs, which in retrospect I can’t quite believe. I read History and Politics and interned for an MP, assuming that this would see me walk into a Parliamentary Researcher role, which it didn’t. Instead I got a three-month contract to do an admin role at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, which has developed into a 14 year career in the voluntary sector. One of my motivations for becoming a Trustee of CharityWorks and to also mentor graduates entering the sector through the scheme was to payback some of the luck I had stumbling into a career I love.
Who in the sector do you admire the most?
I am nearing the end of a year-long Clore Social Fellowship. I have been humbled, motivated, inspired and supported in equal measure by the 23 other Fellows, who come from a wide range of causes, organisations, backgrounds and roles. We’ve shared highs, lows, triumphs and tragedies and I have huge admiration for what all of them are bringing to the sector now and what they will bring in the future.
What are the three most important attributes needed to do your job?
It’s important to think strategically and to be clear that the influencing opportunities you are either creating or chasing will genuinely help you to deliver your aims. Being able to connect the dots in a straight(ish) line to a firm end-goal is really important. This leads on to number two, which is the ability to think analytically and to be able to quickly assess whether or not something presents a genuine strategic opportunity and how your aims and objectives might or might not align with who or what you’re trying to influence is key. I’m going to cheat on number three and say leadership, which obviously comprises of lots of different attributes, but the ability to take people with you, both in your own team and across an organisation so that influencing messages are aligned and are backed-up by activity going on across the organisation is crucial.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing services and projects that directly support beneficiaries, and knowing that my work is either contributing to them being able to access that service or is seeking to tackle the root causes of why they need support in the first place.
What advice would you give someone starting their career in a role similar to yours?
Build a network of peers who you can turn to for intelligence, feedback and mutual support. Remain true to yourself and act with respect and integrity – you’ll encounter people who don’t but don’t let them knock you off course. Always be clear that the policy or influencing activity that you’re doing is leading towards a clear aim that truly supports the people you’re representing, and if it isn’t, adjust it. Oh, and read one-or-two good concise daily political round-ups so that you can be on top of what’s going on just enough to see how your organisation fits into a bigger picture whilst making-out that you are a true expert and current affairs junkie…
What is the best thing that you’ve been a part of during your career?
Preventing Clinical Commissioning Groups from cutting the provision of NHS hearing aids and changing the law to increase the availability of subtitled content on Video on Demand services – the latter was a great lesson in taking a multi-channel approach to campaigning (we combined mass public campaigning with detailed policy activity and targeted government, broadcasters and regulators to maximise our chance of success) and persistence; we thought the campaign had been dealt a fatal blow at least twice but it ended up a fantastic success. Access to television was the biggest issue being raised with us by supporters (I was at Action on Hearing Loss) so it felt amazing to deliver something that people were so passionate about on an issue that they felt so excluded by.
What do you think is the biggest challenge faced by organisations like yours in the present day?
Prior to joining V•Inspired I’d worked for three large charities, and whilst there were financial challenges at all of them, I’m getting insight for the first time into just how volatile the funding landscape is for smaller organisations. The Government’s refusal to amend the Lobbying Act in line with the changes recommended by the Hodgson Review is a challenge for organisations undertaking influencing activity, both in terms of being able to properly represent the people we exist to serve and also just the administrative mess, confusion and unnecessary (but understandable) self-censorship that the Act has led to.
If you weren’t doing the job that you are doing currently, what do you think you would be doing instead?
I really don’t know – I wouldn’t have named this job in response to the same question 12 months ago!