Five minutes with Natasha Clayton
Spotlight

Five minutes with Natasha Clayton

Natasha Clayton has helped rewrite the rules of the charity sector.

Farm Africa is a charity working in eastern Africa, primarily with smallholder farmers. As its former COO, Natasha led on shifting the culture to ensure the charity could support its growth and deal with the increased complexity of its work. Successful in her efforts, Farm Africa now works with twice the number of people it did six years ago.

Natasha credits the charity’s growth to bold decisions and the integration of private sector thinking into the third sector world.

“A vibrant economy is a more equal place”

The challenge is inequality. I spend a lot of time in the north but I live and work in London. There is an inequality across the country, across people, and across the elites and the ‘less elite’. I think that’s one of the challenges: how we rebalance that. Think about all women shortlists, is that the way to go? Or do we build the skills from the ground up? Do you go as far as moving government departments and staff outside of London, or do you build the infrastructure elsewhere in the country and draw people there more naturally? London is a fabulous city and it has to stay world class but it’s pricing people out at the same time as not boosting other cities.

“I would love to see the corporate world learn from the charity sector”

The charity sector is open to different sectors and different ways of thinking. Charities bring diverse views into one space – that’s something I think corporations would do well to learn. You often find that boards in the corporate sector can be an exercise in groupthink. Everybody’s come from the same background and has the same way of thinking, which can lead to weaker decisions because you’re not thinking about the wider issues – the stuff that you don’t think of but, when it occurs, can emerge as the thing that causes organisations to fail. The very best of the charity sector definitely has something to share with the corporate sector.

“The charity sector has to keep reinventing itself”

It has to do so to make sure that what it’s doing is having the maximum possible impact for the money at its disposal. There are a number of charities out there looking at things in different and innovative ways. From there, they are collaborating with others to make a bigger change overall.

“Sometimes the corporate sector dismisses the charity sector as its poorer cousin”

The best people in corporate surroundings will understand the value of charities. The charity sector has long been open to people coming in with a corporate sector background. I often suggest to new graduates looking to work in the charity space that they should work in the corporate sector for a few years and gain some strong skills and bring them with them. That can be a more effective route for them to build a career – by starting with great graduate training that the corporate sector has proven ability to provide.

“Gen Y and Gen Z are much more values-driven”

Certainly when compared to my generation. Many want a career in the charity sector but it isn’t easy. It’s not cheap to live in London and charities do not pay the level of salary that other employers do. But, it can lead people to feel like they’re doing something much more worthwhile with their life. Gen Y and Gen Z had more opportunities when they were younger than previous generations. I think that, given that opportunity and support, they make choices around values rather than making sure they have enough cash.

“The charity sector has to be innovative”

If you’re trying to make the biggest possible impact on the smallest amount of money, you have no choice but to think about doing it in a different way. I have been engaged with charities that have to do things on a shoestring so they need to invent and rethink ways of engagement.

“A vibrant economy is one where people have choices”

Where people have choices and opportunities around the work that they do but also the desire to take part in what’s happening around them. A vibrant economy has to have community at its heart. You have to be able to make personal choices in those communities. You can’t get stuck in a job you don’t want or a place you don’t want to be.

“Collaboration creates better work”

Working with others outside of your organisation inherently means that you can bring diverse people around the same table. In doing so, you can make bigger commitments to solving the issue because you are able to draw on the resources and expertise of players from across the full spectrum.

“To be truly vibrant and resilient into the future then we need to measure things differently”

Yes, money is an asset and so is profitability. But, actually, a customer base that doesn’t think you’re ripping them off completely is an asset, and a supply chain where you’ve thought about climate, social and water risks is resilient for the future. If you’ve worked with suppliers and treated them well and there’s a market shift then your suppliers will work with you rather than against you. If you want to do short-term profit measures then that’s fine but to be a successful and enduring organisation you need to be looking at issues with a long-term perspective and always considering future circumstances.

“I think if we had a truly vibrant economy then we wouldn’t necessarily need charities in quite the same way”

Charities have a role in giving a voice to those who don’t necessarily have one. So a vibrant economy needs to be built for everyone and not just through the lens of a certain group of people who already have a voice.