Five minutes with Leon Ward

Five minutes with Leon Ward

Author, trustee and advisor, Leon Ward is a young veteran of the third sector.

Leon is an international campaigner whose work has focused on the Commonwealth and minority and marginalised groups. In particular, he has worked with LGBT youth, those in the justice system, disabled people, carers and those who are cared for.

He is a founding member of the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network. In 2015, he published the Young Trustees Guide in partnership with the Charities Aid Foundation.

“A vibrant economy is one that has no time for sector snobbery”

It’s one that has investment in all sectors and there’s no snobbery over sectors. In Cardiff, for example, there is a very strong creative arts economy, and it deserves just as much of a focus as big business, education and charity. That’s the critical thing – to ensure that in each area you have an economy that is diverse because then you attract and retain talent. If you’re state-educated and move to London to work for 10 years, you’re not giving back to the tax pot where you grew up. That’s a real problem and particularly important if you’re in one of the devolved regions.

“Right now, charities face a fundraising crisis”

Fundraising practices are in the spotlight and we are dealing with damaged public, political and media trust towards charities. That is going to cost charities in the coming years. Add to that the fact that commissioners are also expecting more for less – they want what we delivered 10 years ago for a fraction of the price.

“However, there’s an opportunity in that crisis”

The opportunity that arises is for charities to reinvent themselves and reinvent their relationship with the public. Namely, get the public to move from the perspective that the charity sector is just about delivering a bag of clothes to a shop. It is actually about services that improve people’s lives. It is in-locum government if you like. Young people come to us to get their sexual health tests, their pregnancy tests and immunisations, for example. That is a public service yet people think it’s just a charity. That conversation needs to change and maybe the fundraising crisis is a way for us to reframe that conversation.

“A vibrant economy has to embrace a lot of things”

It is an economy that is focused on delivering services and goods for the public in a way that does not damage the public, and in a way that allows employees to be part of top-down discussion that facilitates flat-level organisation. It will allow everyone to engage. It’s about employers embracing things like remote working and flexible working, and about employers trusting employees. And also the reverse: employees trusting employers because we are skeptical people and sometimes we don’t trust managers when they’re telling us stuff.

“Businesses should be allowing young members of staff to talk at boardroom or strategic level about the organisation”

If you do that then you buy their investment for the next 10 years and you buy their investment into the organisation succeeding. The charity sector has to hold the mirror up and stop being afraid to learn from what’s going on in other sectors. When it is doing it right, it should not be afraid of shouting about it and saying, ‘Look at the great things that we’re doing.’

“A vibrant economy will embrace digital”

By that I don’t necessarily mean good CRM systems, I mean allowing people to connect. One easy way for people to connect all around the world is social media. We shouldn’t be policing people for using it. The evidence shows that people are going to use their social media at work so let them get on with it. Give them a five-minute break of procrastination. If you can manage your personal life at work, you’re going to be a happier and more productive member of staff. The starting point has to be trust.

“There is an upcoming talent shortage in the charity sector”

My theory is that with the big organisations headquartered in London – which is becoming a less attractive place to live because of the expense – charities aren’t able to access all of the talent that is out there. Therein lies some of the opportunities around a vibrant economy.

“To build employer-employee trust you have to lead from the front”

It’s about chief executives and directors not micromanaging the people below them. If your line manager is constantly checking up with you and supervising you then that person will probably not allow you to work from home. Often we learn management through how we are managed so I think you start at the top and ensure that top managers do not micromanage. That should eventually filter down. It’s like letting go of the reins. If you have good staff then you shouldn’t need to be holding their hand every step of the way.

“Failing is how you learn”

You can’t design a service without the potential that it might fail. The HIV fingerprick test, for example. Back in the day when that was created, there would have been risks around that failing but now they’ve created a 60-second HIV test because we allowed people to try and to fail. We have to allow people to do that.