Welcome to my new feature, taking a look into the lives of my friends and family. We start with my sister, who has a fascinating story to tell from her life in and around charity. This is slightly longer than I expect most of these articles will be, because I used a lot of this for part of my work at Uni.
Imogen Hardman works with WaterAid. Before this job, she volunteered at home with Christian Aid and away in a collection of countries worse off than our own. With the release of WaterAid’s new winter campaign, I caught up with her to ask about life working in and around a charity.
- What does your job involve?
I work in the Supporter Care Team at WaterAid, there is a team of six of us who are part of a larger Fundraising and Communications team at the charity. My job involves answering phone calls and emails from supporters of WaterAid. Supporters will ring with questions about our work, to make changes to our database or to set up a donation to our work. I also monitor and respond to comments and questions across WaterAid’s social media pages. As part of the team I have the responsibility for legacies and campaigns, this means I work with colleagues across the organisation to make sure we are able to effectively communicate information about legacies and campaigns to our supporters. My job is varied and means each day is different; I interact with a wide range of staff members and an even wider range of the general public.
- What is the best aspect of working for a charity?
Ever since I visited Mozambique when I was 16, I have wanted to work for an international development charity. I saw first-hand the devastating effects of poverty and I have wanted to work for an organisation that works to change the structures that kept people like I met in Mozambique poor since then. So the best part of working for WaterAid is that I am part of an organisation that is doing this work every day. It is inspiring to see and hear about the changes and know that I am playing a small part in making this happen. I am also able to work with experts in policy and programmes work which is a great way for me to learn more about the sector and focus on what area I would like to specialise in in the future.
- Charity work can be seen as quite mundane, when are the brighter moments?
I have had many funny conversations with supporters, often they are very proud to support WaterAid and do crazy things to raise money for our work. I have spoken to people who have shaved their heads, dyed their hair bright blue, jumped out of planes and cycled around the world for WaterAid. It is fantastic!
Whilst we often work on serious issues, I have lots of fun with my team and even though our job can sometimes be stressful and we are faced with sometimes rude or angry people, my team is able to join together and have fun. We are also in a great position because we get the happy stories from our projects first and really enjoy the videos that our country offices send us from the projects. My favourite are videos of communities who are celebrating receiving clean water in their community for the first time, everyone usually gathers for the tap to be turned on and they dance and celebrate together. This makes my harder days worth it! You can see my favourite video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIoPrayaxXU.
- You’ve seen the front line of a charity (i.e. when you went abroad with Christian Aid), how does it compare to being behind the scenes?
Seeing the work of a charity in-country was really interesting as these staff members are on the front line of the work, they were the country offices and partner organisations implementing the work on the ground. Their role varies from the role of offices in the UK. Much of the focus in the UK is raising awareness of campaigns or the work of a charity to recruit more supporters, whereas the in-country offices have the role of ensuring that the money raised in the UK is spent effectively. There are often very different laws for charities in-country and complicated and varied cultural norms, so these have to all be taken into account when funding a project. This means a team of people from the UK have to work very closely with the team in the country where the project is taking place. This is of upmost importance in order for the charity to work and be as effective as possible to reach as many communities as possible.
- What is your campaign about this winter?
This winter we have a campaign which is focusing on maternal health in countries such as Tanzania, Malawi and Madagascar. This is our biggest ever fundraising appeal, we are aiming to raise £5m which will be matched by the UK Government, meaning we might be able to raise £10m. We hope to reach 130,000 mums and their families with clean water and safe sanitation. At WaterAid we believe that everyone everywhere should have access to clean water and sanitation.
This is especially important for mothers-to-be, some of whom have to collect water for themselves up until the day they give birth. For many this water is often dirty and can cause infections that are dangerous to mums and their babies. We are focusing on Kiomboi Hosptial in Tanzania, who deliver as many babies at Kings College Hospital in London, but all without a constant supply of clean running water. Throughout our campaign we will follow the midwives, doctors and patients at Kiomboi to find out their stories, often tragic stories of loss and illness. At the end of the campaign, we will revisit Kiomboi Hospital and see as they receive a supply of running water for the first time.
- How will you go about promoting and achieving it?
Our Winter Appeal, Deliver Life, is our biggest ever fundraising appeal so we are hoping to reach as many people as possible with our appeal to raise awareness and funds. We have started advertising our appeal on television, as well as on public transport. There is a whole website dedicated to the appeal and the stories from Kiomboi Hospital and the other countries we have maternal health projects. We have also been letting our current supporters know, as well as reaching more people with our posts on social media. We have partnered with The Body Shop, who are donating some of their profits to our projects this winter as well as partnering with celebrities who will also promote our campaigns with their fans. Finally WaterAid is also hoping to catch the public’s attention with our #firstbabyselfie promotion, we are asking people to share their first baby picture to raise awareness of our campaign as well as to get people talking about growing up with clean water and a safe place to go to the toilet.
- Which country has been the most rewarding to help out in?
I have volunteered in a few different countries but I spent the longest living and working in Malawi, so I think this was probably the most rewarding place to have volunteered. I lived with a rural community, working for a local community based organisation for three months and really got to know the people I was working with. This immersion in community life made it so much rewarding to see progress because I knew the people and context so well. I was also able to really get involved in long term projects and input my own ideas which made successes more rewarding. Whilst I lived in Malawi I was able to help an organisation find a new plot of land for their day care centre, being able to get involved in this from the beginning and see it through to the end was a brilliant feeling. It was also rewarding in terms of the vast experience I gained that I have been able to use when working back in the UK.
- What methods do you think are the most successful when trying to raise money for a cause?
I personally believe when you are trying to raise money for a charity you have to make the cause seem relevant and relatable to the individual’s life. If you can understand or put yourself in the position of the person you are donating to its much easier to envision how your money would help. I think it is also crucial to show progress and the positive stories of how donations have helped to change the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. This way you realise that you can make a difference but also don’t get fatigued or made to feel hopeless, I think that this is especially important when raising money for international development work as the people you are supporting are from such different situations. Also, there are many high profile campaigns, from Live Aid to Comic Relief that always seem to projecting an image that everyone still needs our help. I think this can sometimes cause people to think that donations aren’t making difference.
I think the best example of a successful fundraising campaign was by Save the Children and the TV advert they put together called, Most Shocking Second a Day, it was to raise money for the Syria Crisis Appeal and compared the life of a child in the UK and a child living in the war in Syria. I thought it was powerful because it makes what sometimes seems so far away, seem much more relatable. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBQ-IoHfimQ)
- What can we do to help stop suffering across the world?
I think that there are many ways to stop suffering but the most important thing to do is to fight against the structures that are keeping many people in poverty. These structures include a lack of access to essential resources such as water and shelter, lack of access to healthcare and education as well as no chance to make money. These are often caused by a variety of different factors such as those that are environmental, governments not being to provide these services and disasters such as war or extreme weather. Sometimes money can help solve these problems so donating to a cause you believe in can be very effective, you can lobby our government to ensure that they are doing everything they can to stop things such as climate change and tax dodging which affect some of the world’s poorest people first and worst, or additionally you can take action yourself. You can do this by living a more environmentally friendly life, such as recycling or not over consuming; also you can make sure you only buy from companies that treat the world’s poorest communities ethically. There are many ways to help stop suffering in the world, even just sharing the work of your favourite charity can help raise awareness of the suffering many living in poverty face.
- Are there any countries you want to visit, and why?
I would love to visit all the countries in the world! But realise that this isn’t possible, however I have never visited a country in South America so I would like to visit somewhere there next. I think it would be extremely interesting to visit Brazil, as it is a country that has such massive inequality. There are many really rich people in Brazil and they have a thriving and growing economy however many people still live alongside this in extreme poverty. There is a big gang culture and many cultural norms that I have never experienced before that I think would make it such an interesting place to visit. I think it would be very difficult to see such an inequality and would be hard to see the real Brazil as it has such violence but I would still love to visit nonetheless and of course try and see the rainforest!
- Why did you have a desire to work for charities?
As I mentioned earlier I was interested in working for a charity ever since my visit to Mozambique at 16. It was an eye opening experience for me as I had never been to a country remotely like Mozambique but I fell in love with the people and the culture that I experienced. I met a local man who told me a story of aid, this story had a massive impact on me and made me determined to work for a charity that made an effective and sustainable change to the lives of people living in poverty. He told me about how a European government had chosen to send some aid to Mozambican farmers. So they sent 6 tractors on a ship all the way to the port in Beira, Mozambique. However they didn’t realise that ships docking Beira would have to pay a port tax, the ship didn’t see why they had to pay the tax as they were donating tractors, but the port authority insisted as all ships docking had to pay the tax. This went backwards and forwards many times and a compromise couldn’t be reached so the ship turned around and dropped the tractors in the ocean before returning back home. I was so shocked by this story and there were so many things wrong with this to approach sending aid that I decided I wanted to work for an organisation that took a different more community led approach and I knew that many charities focused on sustainable development.
- How can people get involved with charities?
The charity sector, just like many other areas can sometimes be difficult to break into with many more people looking for jobs than jobs available. However if you are passionate about a topic and willing to work hard in jobs that might not be the ideal then I think it is possible to develop a career. I also volunteered for a variety of charities both home and abroad which gave me a broad understanding of how charities operate and helped me to make contacts across the sector that have been really useful when looking for paid work. I think you need to research charities and decide which fit with your beliefs and ethics and keep an eye out on the jobs advertised and then try and get experience of the skills that are often listed as this really helps when applying. Most of all though I think you have to have passion for the cause.
- How do you encourage people to help out, and does their generosity really help?
I think as I mentioned before many people feel drawn to help out with issues that they can relate to, this is why in the jobs I have had before and in my current job when I talk about poverty and the issues facing the world’s poorest communities I try to make as many parallels between our lives in the UK and the lives of those living in poverty. I also believe that whilst money does make a massive different to the lives of the worlds poorest people there are also other ways of making a difference. One is to join a campaign and raise awareness of the structures that are keeping people poor, these campaigns and awareness raising are also equally effective and make a difference.
I definitely believe that people’s generosity makes a massive difference and in my current job I often speak to people who are giving the very little that they have to our work and I am constantly humbled by their generosity and selflessness. This generosity has meant that we have been able to halve extreme poverty, which is classified as people living on less than $1 a day, by half in the last 15 years and I truly believe that in the next 15 years we will eradicate it. I believe that people are becoming more aware of the issues people living in poverty face and the new Global Goals signed by world leaders in New York in September will mean that the public’s generosity twinned with a changing public opinion on global aid and development will make a massive difference to reducing worldwide poverty.