In November we held the CFG annual fundraising dinner and as usual I said a few words. Members, corporates and even our guest speaker were so lovely about what I said that we thought it would be good to share my speech with you.
As usual our sincere thanks to our sponsors, corporate hosts, members and friends across the sector who supported the evening and made it a great success.
Back in 2016 I said that I didn’t think I had lived through a year that had troubled me more. Looking back it’s as though history saw that as a challenge, rolled up its metaphoric sleeves and said ‘hold my beer!’
Whether it’s Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate deal, shocking natural or manmade disasters or the recent election victory of the far right in Brazil – life has been volatile and highly worrying. And that’s without even mentioning the B word!
We have said that as it currently stands Brexit will be bad for charity and bad for our beneficiaries. It looks like the sector is on course to suffer all the downsides and enjoy none of the up. We have gone further and said a no-deal scenario could be catastrophic for our sector.
Fear and hardship have been capitalised upon and exploited, supposedly to give voice to the voiceless, the forgotten and the disenfranchised. But in the last two years it’s hard to see how things have improved in any sense for these groups. Do they feel any more listened to now than they did two years ago? I think not.
So it may feel very uncertain, volatile and bleak. We are living in scary times. That fear is a significant risk to us all.
A wise man once told me that fear snuffs out generosity. He was right. It causes us to be defensive, to protect ourselves to turn to blame and aggression.
So I want to urge you to take a different path.
Some of you will know but many of you will not, that I suffered a mental breakdown in 2014. I hit rock bottom and there were moments that I did not think I would ever recover.
There is much truth spoken in the old saying what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That experience was, in many ways, the making of me. But I only grew because I chose to be open, to acknowledge that suffering is a great teacher.
It’s the same for the sector. We may have to break to be reborn. And we may have to actively choose to break the mould in order to bring about the change the world so desperately needs.
Two years ago CFG embarked on a new leadership strategy; we chose to explore not just what we do within the sector but how we do it. Our aspiration is to be an exemplar of how social change organisations can be run.
We have chosen to encourage our staff to bring their whole selves to work, to be brave to seek out the skills we need to support and nurture our team better. To work more flexibly. To ask what we’re doing which disempowers our people. To do things differently.
As a leader I have chosen to model the behaviour I think is most necessary within our workplaces if we are to respond to the hate, anger and fear that exists. And that is love.
The comedian Steve Coogan said, in an interview, that the ‘edgiest word to use at the moment… [is] love’… That’s what really makes people’s buttocks clench. It’s about being vulnerable. If you are vulnerable, it’s counterintuitive, it ultimately makes you stronger.’
So my message to you this evening is choose kindness, collaboration and bravery. Choose love.
Not the flaky, fluffy, weak ‘niceness’ often mistaken for it – that’s not love. But the hard, tough, honest and open love.
Call people out for their extreme views and never allow discrimination and prejudice to be permitted because those who perpetrate it hold greater power.
Deploy all your skills in persuading people that there are other solutions.
Our sector is needed now more than ever. The things we do can and will make a positive difference if we have the courage to feel the fear and do it anyway. Have courage. Break a few things. Continue being marvellous.
My final duty is to ask you to join with me in a moment of reflection for those of all faiths or of none in remembering those who have little, those who are lost, and those who continue to need our support, both at home and all over the world. Let us remember that it is to give voice, support, love and service to our beneficiaries that we work with and within this sector.
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