Monday 26 January 2015

New blood: ACEVO leading the defence of civil society

A great AGM last week. And a decisive debate at our Parliamentary Reception. It was my departing Chair's last speech to ACEVO's annual meeting. A feisty and robust defence of our right and duty to speak truth to power. Indeed Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Communities Minister, said in his speech how ironic it is that we all pledge "Je suis Charlie" despite the fact we have a government who introduced the disgraceful "Lobbying Act" which tries to stifle our right as charities to campaign .

In my speech I said how proud I had been to support the vigorous campaign to oppose the Act and how we must continue to campaign. "Keep calm and carry on campaigning" is the rule we must follow. 

I also warned against conceding ground to the enemy and fighting battles on their terms. We must avoid the transparency trap – that we have to reveal all, and certainly more than any other sector of society. I said that was why we must reject the idea in the current NCVO consultation that, as CEOs, we ask our senior staff or our trustees to formally declare their political affiliation. No sector does this; not councils , not civil servants and, as my Chair pointed out, not even SERCO. This is where transparency comes face to face with civil liberties and the employment rights of our staff. Civil liberties must win every time. Je suis Charlie, not Je suis a member of a political party. ACEVO’s member CEOs have rightly rejected this ideas in their responses.

Charities certainly have to trumpet their impact and explain what they do. But we must also be robust in defending our right to be professional. To pay CEOs properly and not be ashamed provided – as ACEVO’s Good Pay Guide said – that trustees, donors, beneficiaries and staff agree pay is good value for money. Of course there are critics out there. But they are small in number and hard of heart. Our trust rating and standing remains extremely high. I keep in mind George Bernard Shaw’s advice: "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

We had a great turn out at our AGM. Why, we even attracted Geoffrey Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, and we had kind words from our host Nick Hurd.

This was the swansong of my chair Lesley-Anne. She has been a tremendous support and guide. An individual who represents all that is fine in a charity CEO. And she was ably supported by Virginia Beardshaw, CEO of ICan, the departing Vice Chair. They have served 6 years. And now we move to a new Chair and vice Chair; Paul Farmer of MIND and Sharon Allen of Skills for Care.

We also have 4 new trustees. They are:

Jon Sparkes - Chief Executive of Crisis. Prior to joining the charity he was Chief Operating Officer of UNICEF UK, which raises money for UNICEF’s work with children around the world and campaigns to improve the rights of children in the UK and globally. Jon led the partnership between UNICEF and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014 which raised £5m and played a significant role in fundraising for children affected by the conflict in Syria.

Previously Jon was Chief Executive of SCOPE, the national disability charity, delivering services for disabled people with complex support needs and campaigning for the right of disabled people to choice and control over their own lives. Jon was the Chair of the Disability Charities Consortium and worked closely in alliance with disabled people’s organisations.

He has wide-ranging experience across the charity sector, including as a trustee of SeeAbility, a charity for disabled people with a sight impairment, and through working voluntarily for charities. He has also worked on economic development projects in areas such as long-term unemployment, support services for lone parents, and employment improvement projects with black and minority ethnic communities.

Before working in the third sector, he was a Human Resources Director in the both the public and private sectors. He is a Chartered Companion of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), formerly a member of the Editorial Board of People Management magazine and Vice President of the CIPD responsible for Diversity. While leading Scope, Jon chaired an ACEVO working group bringing forward recommendations for voluntary sector chief executives for improving employee engagement.

Jehangir Malik - Director of Islamic Relief UK. Jehangir Malik graduated with a Law Degree in 1992. He first worked with IRW in 1991 as a volunteer-steward at the Islamic Relief Games and was later appointed to various roles including Development Director of IR USA and Deputy Country Director in Afghanistan. Jehangir engages with government departments by providing policy briefings & strategic engagement on international development and foreign policy issues while also often visiting field missions and disaster zones for fundraising and media purposes. He remains active at the UK community level through encouragement of civic engagement, initiatives for youth development and a passion for Muslim engagement on mainstream issues. In 2006, Jehangir was awarded an OBE in recognition of his 20 years of contribution to the humanitarian cause.

Kate MacDonald – Kate joined the sector three years ago as CEO of the Young People's Support Foundation, a smallish charity based in Manchester supporting more than 2,000 young people facing homelessness each year. Previously Kate worked in local government although her professional background is in the Probation Service. A theme throughout her career has been socially excluded young people and her current role has provided the opportunity to understand what a crucial role the VCS has in engagement.  She is involved in a range of partnerships both in the North West and nationally with the aim of improving delivery, campaigning and ensuring service sustainability. Kate's championing of the needs of young people is a primary reason for her other roles as a trustee for a local youth leadership charity and as a governor at The Manchester College

Rachel Kelly – An active ACEVO member, enthusiastic, passionate, grounded in reality about the work, challenges and role of the Third Sector, who believes in representing charities and voluntary organisations with smaller turnovers. Following university, Rachel spent 10 years in private sector management, training and quality, and 3 years in education before joining charity and social enterprise Reading Matters in 2009. She became Chief Executive in 2012, turning their finances around. Reading Matters improve reading, literacy and communication skills of children and young people and offer volunteering opportunities and training. Working predominantly across Yorkshire and increasingly across the UK, last academic year they supported 4600 children, improving reading ages by 13 months on average with 10 hours' support, and trained 1000 individuals. They are a relatively small charity with 5 employees, and manage 100 Reading Mentor volunteers.  Based in West Yorkshire, she has 2 'tweenage' daughters and is trustee of Canterbury Imagine, affiliated to Dolly Parton's Foundation.

Lastly, I hear from many members about continued plans for massive council cuts. I know times are hard. But as I saw from the work I did for Government recently on A+E, there are still great opportunities for our sector, and we should keep optimistic.

I used a quotation from Robert H. Schuller in my speech: “Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come”.

Maybe not spring 2015. But we’ll see…

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