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Anna-Mai | Executive Director - Jubilee Action

The Charity

Jubilee Action

Jubilee Action is a UK based charity, which supports children in various countries around the world living in difficult conditions. The organisation works with orphans, child soldiers, street children, those born into trafficking and prostitution and those traumatised by violence and conflict. 

Jubilee Action's mission is to strengthen and empower local communities, increasing their capacity to protect children facing the gravest violations to their human rights. They engage communities through various social and educational programmes in countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Haiti and Brazil.

Jubilee Action

Women in Development

Anna-Mai Name
Executive Director

Can you briefly describe your current role, perhaps a typical day?

I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day; my role varies widely. During project visits I can be teaching Child Protection or Case Management systems, in the office I can be keeping up to date with our supporters and ensuring that we are meeting our targets in line with our fundraising. I also lead on all of our projects in Brazil, and the management of one of our most complex projects in Patongo. I spend a lot of time on the phone to various donors and of course our wonderful partners and all of their staff. We often hold group discussions with our partners on Skype, as we feel this is the best way to understand the current challenges and needs. I also keep up to date regularly with other INGOs and NGOs, attending forums and events to share our findings and build on best practice. 
What were your reasons for choosing to work in the charity sector?

I have always enjoyed working with people, especially those that I felt most needed support. I started my work as a volunteer as a young teenager. I worked on a hospital radio programme, and also cooked breakfast for the homeless. When I was 18 years old, I decided to go travelling with my two best friends for a month in South America. Despite then not speaking a word of Spanish, we ended up staying much longer, enjoying so much visiting some of the rural communities in Bolivia and Peru. I returned home with a different outline on life; the poverty I saw was incomparable to here in the UK, and I just felt I needed to do something to change the status quo. Someone once gave me a notebook for my travels that read a quote from Gandhi – You must be the change you wish to see in the world. I guess I always carry that with me, whenever I feel I am losing my path, as a guide to what we must and should do if we really believe in change.

Did you find it difficult to break into the international development sector?

It is of course difficult to break into the international development sector. I worked as a volunteer for several years, working 14 hour shifts back to back as a nursing aid up in my home town of Sheffield. Even after getting my MSc from SOAS, I realised there was so little I knew and so much to learn. That is when I decided to go and work in Brazil, where I worked in the field for over six years. I was lucky that during my initial year as a voluntary worker, I was recommended for a job to start up a new children’s charity in Rio. As I say to all my interns, I do believe that hard work pays off in the end. It was definitely tough in the beginning; I lived with cockroaches for quite a while, but I loved the work as it was really working at the grassroots level and directly with the children in need.
There is often a perception amongst those in the commercial world that charity work is an easier career option, with fewer hours and targets and less stress. Do you think this is true? 

If anybody thinks this is an easy option, then they should spend some time shadowing my team! Of all the people that I know who work in the sector, I can genuinely say that most of them work incredibly hard. Usually we are doing double jobs, as we constantly deal with resource issues. The hours are long and often irregular.  During grant deadlines my team are fantastic, and my programmes manager spent her last holiday working to make a deadline – something I pleaded for her not to do. However, a small team means a big responsibility and there are few of us so it is difficult to pass work on to someone else.

What are the challenges you face in your work? What would you say are the benefits you’ve experienced working charity / International Development sector?

I guess the challenge is that you can never really switch off; I have dealt with some very serious issues recently. We lost one of our staff members to Hepatitis B and it was just so sad. It is also challenging to be tough when you need to be. There is always so much need and strategic decisions are always tough choices. You carry a lot emotionally and it took me a long time to learn how to do this without it getting me down.
The biggest benefit is definitely visiting the programmes and seeing all the changes. It is incredible to hear the stories first hand, and form relationships with the most amazing and resilient people. I learn so much from all of our local partners overseas and I am very grateful for all this learning.
A job in the development sector can often mean a more modest salary and sometimes a change in lifestyle. Do you think this is easier for a woman to adjust to these changes?

I think it is difficult for anyone to adjust to a more modest lifestyle, if they are used to earning more. However, I know lots of people who have and they have never looked back. Material items are just that after all. In some ways I think it is more difficult for women, as it is such a long career path, and it can influence your decision to have a family. Travelling overseas to dangerous locations also influences this, especially if you are a mother and few small organisations offer maternity, sick or paternity cover. 
Your work entails travel to remote and sometimes unsafe regions in the world; what advice would you give to women travelling alone? Have you always been well received?

To be honest, I have always had great experiences of travelling. Generally, if you smile and are friendly, then others are friendly too. Most cultures I work in are incredibly welcoming and supportive of what we do and they recognise the link to the work. Obviously this might be different in different country contexts, especially conflict states or regions where people live in fear which can lead to tensions. I would advise that it is always important to recognise cultural norms and respect them, even if this is in the way that you dress or the way that you speak. Try to understand why people might have different attitudes or opinions to yourself, rather than judging them for their attitudes. We all have reasons for the way we think, and some people have not had the same opportunities in regard to education, or there might be other reasons for thinking in such a way.
Do you feel there is more gender equality across the development sector today?

Gender equality remains a critical issue and obviously one that requires much more work. Sadly, I think there is still a lot of work to be done, despite some real successes by some brilliant organisations worldwide.
What qualities do you feel one needs to have a successful career in international development?

I think the most important qualities are a combination of drive, compassion and the ability to communicate with people from different contexts and cultures. The ability to listen is key, as often you need to listen to understand, and some things are very hard to understand from a western perspective. No matter how many years we live overseas you are still conditioned that way and it is important to recognise that.  

Who or what has been the greatest influence/inspiration on your career in development?

The biggest influence for me was a lady called Aparecida. She was the mother of three boys, who were taken into the care of the home that I was volunteering in. The situation was incredibly stressful; she was very ill with HIV. She was reintegrated with her children and life was very difficult, as they lived in an area which was incredibly violent. I used to speak to her almost every day. She was so anxious and she used to drive me mad with phone calls. On the day she died, I realised all she had taught me about poverty, its impact and how lives can be changed and the cycle of poverty broken.       
What advice would you give to other women considering starting a career in the field?

Whatever stage you are within your career path, you need to understand your key skill set. Every organisation essentially runs like a business, so you have to think which skills set you can offer, be it finance, HR, project management, teaching or Child Protection expertise etc. Adapting to a different culture can be very difficult and it is easy to get frustrated with what might just be cultural norms. It is very important to take any advice offered to you by your local partners in country.