What inspired you to join Raleigh International? Had you already heard about the organisation’s work with young people?
I think there are three things that really struck me about Raleigh and really align with my interests. One is that we have a youth focus. It’s a core value of mine that all young people have great potential and our job should be to empower and work with young people to help them realise that potential.
The second is that Raleigh combines its commitment to young people with development work. All the work I’ve done as an academic and since then, with the UN and with governments, has been about development and removing obstacles to development. So I have a deep commitment to, and understanding of, development. And I think Raleigh offers a really unique combination of youth and development.
The third point is around the concepts of diversity, tolerance and multiculturalism. I think what Raleigh is doing – taking young people from different backgrounds to different contexts, cultures and environments and enabling them to learn from each other while helping others – shows there’s real value in bringing different people together. I think that a lot of the trouble we’re seeing in the world today is just because people no longer have the experience of tolerance, multiculturalism and diversity. So the work Raleigh is doing to promote those values is really important.
Finally, I know a lot of people who have been on Raleigh, people with very different lives. But they all say volunteering with Raleigh was an absolutely transformative experience for them. So I know that Raleigh is getting something right and I’d like to be part of it.
What are you hoping to bring to the role of Chair?
I think Raleigh needs to think about how to boost its international profile. I think there are opportunities for us to do this, for example out in Scandinavia and North America, but also in the countries where we already work. I hope that what I will be able to bring is an ability to grow Raleigh’s international profile, fundraising and donor base by utilising my network and helping to build new relationships.
The Board of Trustees at Raleigh is really interesting. I especially value the representation of youth on the Board. However, I think there may be a gap around the private sector. The current global environment for development is about engaging with the private sector, so I think trying to bring in one or two carefully selected representatives of the private sector would also be an interesting thing to do.
There are huge challenges for the development sector currently and particular difficulties for the charity sector in the UK. However, any change also presents opportunities. What opportunities do you see for Raleigh and what might Raleigh’s role be in the future of the development sector?
We all know that, both in the UK and globally, the big challenge is that development budgets are under massive pressure.
I think Raleigh has a role to play in terms of advocacy and demonstrating that there are smart, effective ways to deliver development outcomes. Our work with young people is a perfect example of that.
The Global Goals for Sustainable Development also provide a very clear mandate for Raleigh’s work and I know we have embedded this in our new strategy. People now seem to understand that for too long development has been about handing out to young people. But it’s now about helping to make young people self-confident and giving them the ability to make a difference themselves, which is the Raleigh approach.
Increasingly our world leaders – as has already happened in tech and elsewhere – will be millennials and in this generation of young people there’s massive potential for the future. I think that provides an important opportunity for us.
The other thing making the case for our approach to development is simply the demographics of the world. While in Europe the population is ageing and shrinking, in many developing parts of the world young people are the majority. For development, we’ve got to make sure young people are mobilised. Otherwise the risk is that youth aren’t engaged. And there’s clear evidence that where you have disengaged youth, where you have large numbers of young people who are not gainfully employed, then there can be a causal relationship with the risk of conflict, not to mention a loss of potential. So we’re not just doing this because it’s fluffy and we think it’s nice to empower kids, we’re doing it because we’ve got to help guard against the alternative.
What do you think the new strategy says about the ambition and the direction of Raleigh?
The strategy is a nice mix of continuity and change. But I think one of the most important things it does for me is show that what Raleigh has done is transform itself from an organisation focused just on exposing UK youth to other environments through expeditions, to a development charity which is focused on mobilising youth from various parts of the world to deliver development goals.
There are clearly challenges ahead for Raleigh as this strategy demonstrates quite an appetite for change and takes a bold approach. But I took the job because I believe in the direction we’re taking and I think we need to work really hard to get it right. That’s challenging and exciting.
Tell us a bit about your important work at the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF).
Basically, GCERF is a global fund and my job is to raise money, to manage money and to spend money. Violent extremism is killing lots of people, it’s displacing lots of people, and it’s a clear hurdle to development. We issue grants to local communities, but very specifically to try to build resilience against violent extremism. We’re trying to raise awareness of what works when someone or a community is going off the rails, what can be done about it, how to create alternatives so that they can do something more constructive with their lives.
So where I think our work overlaps with Raleigh is that our approach is absolutely about youth. Around 70% of GCERF grants go to young people. This is about empowering people and communities to be resilient, to be stronger, to be successful. We do it in different ways, we have different goals, but I think the tools and the principles we are using are actually quite similar.
Was there a moment or a person in your life which set you on the path you have been on with your career?
I would have to say my father. My father was born in India but moved as a refugee to Pakistan, leaving everything behind. He lived in a refugee camp and then came to the UK in the 1950s. He opened a sweet shop. He went through difficult times, getting stabbed, racist attacks, and all the rest of it. But he kept going.
Sadly, he has now passed away. But I like to think he would take a little bit of pride from the fact that his son has got an MBE and is now chairing a very venerable UK charity. This is an immigrant success story – the kind you won’t hear about. He is the person who inspired me to have ambition, who told me you can be whatever you want to be – just work hard.
And that’s what I think Raleigh is about. We don’t take it for granted that the young people of today will develop the world, but we know that if they are pointed in the right direction, if they are empowered, then the young people can achieve anything and build a better future.
Finally, what’s your message to the Raleigh family and for young people who are currently thinking of applying to volunteer with Raleigh?
My message would be to all of the people who are working and volunteering with Raleigh, no matter what you do, where you work for Raleigh in the world, or for how long you’ve been here or how long ago you volunteered, it is my genuine belief that the work you are doing is making a real difference to our world.
That’s a privileged position. To be able to go to bed at night and think, what I contributed to today will make a difference. I think that’s genuinely important. So let’s all take full advantage of this unique opportunity.
And to young people who are thinking about volunteering I would simply say that I’ve never met anyone who has given up their time to go abroad with Raleigh who didn’t say it changed their lives and made a difference.