Putting women and girls at the heart of everything we do | ActionAid UK

Margaret Casely-Hayford, ActionAid UK’s Chair of the Board, comes from the world of big business and is a passionate advocate for companies using their power for good. She believes that recent world events, although shocking and unjust, can be used as an opportunity to ‘define the world anew.’

As ActionAid UK launches its new strategy, Margaret shares her thoughts on success in recent years and our upcoming plans to mobilise the power of the UK public, government, business and most importantly the women and girls fighting poverty in their own communities, to deliver change for good.

What has ActionAid achieved in recent years?

I’m so proud of what ActionAid has achieved in recent years. In particular, if you take just one year, last year 2016, we responded to 24 humanitarian crisis in 4 continents, which meant we supported 340,000 people.

We have worked with 35,000 women and girls and we have enabled them to establish their rights with regard to demanding safer cities and claiming the streets. We’ve also helped 80,000 people in humanitarian situations in Lesvos and Athens and really we need to look at what’s next and raise it to the next level.

What most excites you about ActionAid’s new strategy?

ActionAid’s new strategy focusses even more on women and girls and the rights of women and girls and looks at things from their perspective.  The great thing about that is that it reminds us that woman and girls in local situations have their own ideas about what is right for their community.

Our work with local people in communities all over the world has taught us that poverty is about more than a lack of income. It is about a lack of choice and a lack of power. And that women and girls are likely to be poorer, more vulnerable to violence and more likely to be excluded from many opportunities just because they are female.

We’re putting women and girls at the forefront of our new strategy because we recognise the strength and resilience of women living in poverty and we stand in solidarity with them here in the UK.

What are the key aims of the new strategy?

Our number one aim is to raise much needed money for community work led by women in developing countries, because we’ve seen time and time again that if you put power in the hands of local people to change their own lives, you can help change their lives for good.

If we’re not prepared to ‘think big,’ we’re letting down women and girls living in poverty all over the world.”

Our second aim is to bring about long term change by influencing the people and institutions in the UK that have the power to change the systems that put developing countries and the people in them at a disadvantage. We also want to expand our humanitarian work.

Post Brexit, how will ActionAid stay relevant?

I think what’s really challenging about the changes we’ve seen in the world over the last few years and here in the UK is that we’ve seen a shift to the sort of values and behaviours that runs counter to everything ActionAid stands for. But, what is really empowering about that is that it gives us an opportunity to define the world anew.

We need to speak out and remind people of the universal values of tolerance, equality and dignity for all.

I believe that at least for now the UK will continue to lead the world’s thinking on international development. The UK has a lot of influence on the world stage, so we need to engage with the UK public and our politicians to promote public support in overseas development as critical to the government’s vision of a truly global Britain.

How do you think ActionAid should engage with big business?

I come from a corporate background and I was fortunate in having worked for an organisation that was aware of how critical it was to treat people well, to have a transparent supply chain and tread lightly on the environment. 

ActionAid published a document called Getting to Good and there were a lot of companies we could help to get to good and that wanted to do so. But there are also the organisations that are not aware that their dash for growth is actually exploitative and really treading heavily on the developing world, and we should be brave and bold to call out what is wrong in that sort of activity and try to encourage them to get to good.

What kind of organisational culture is needed to deliver big change?

My colleagues at ActionAid are talented, creative and passionate about ending poverty. Now more than ever it’s vital that we garner every shred of this passion to deliver lasting change.

As Ghandi said, “be the change you want to create in the world.” If we truly want to put women’s rights first, we have to reflect that in our own workplace too. That’s why we’re implementing stronger gender and diversity policies at ActionAid UK and we’re promoting feminist leadership among our staff.

We also want a much more digital first culture that puts digital at the heart of everything we do. Successful digital organisations are characterised by leaders who are prepared to make rapid decision and challenge the status quo and we’re prepared to move with the times and be better at this.

What’s the best way to support women and girls right now?

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