What organisation do you work for? Give a brief summary of their activities.
I work for Depaul Ireland and we support some of the most vulnerable within our society. Our focus is primarily on addressing the issue of homelessness and many of the services we have opened have been the first of their kind including low threshold services for people with long term alcohol misuse issues, active drug users, women leaving prison, migrants, and for people with enduring mental health issues.
Depaul Ireland is a cross border organisation working in Northern Ireland and in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. We employ over 280 people and have an equivalent number of volunteers. Our turnover is somewhere in the region of €10 million. Since opening our doors to our first service in Dublin just 10 years ago we have grown to deliver 15 specialist services for people who are experiencing homelessness.
Depaul Ireland is also part of a group of International charities addressing homelessness elsewhere in the UK, Ukraine, Slovakia, America and this year also in France. As part of my role I sit on the Senior Management Group for Depaul International and we seek to share information across the group in the best interest of service improvement specific to each country.
What contact do you have with other third sector bodies? How do you find that?
As an organisation we know our limitations and we work closely with other organisations that compliment the work that our staff and volunteers are doing on a daily basis and this is most definitely in the best interest of our clients. We have a strong commitment to partnership working at all levels of the organisation.
In my role I sit on a number of voluntary sector groups, in NI and ROI, with peers and this is always beneficial in terms of sharing knowledge, and also providing a wider advocacy voice for the sector. A good example of this in Northern Ireland would be the Voluntary Sector Housing Policy Forum which has a number of members and has been successful in lobbying on a range of shared issues.
CO3 has also been a tremendous support to me in my role and has exposed me to some very impressive people and the opportunity for peer support is immense and it is difficult to see where else this support could come at this level.
What’s the most unique challenge faced by the third sector compared to bodies operating in the public/private spheres?
I think there are very many similar challenges but I do think that the uncertainty we live with particularly with regards to finance is a major challenge in our sector. At the moment we have dual uncertainty with decreasing statutory income coupled with the uncertainty of voluntary income and the potential reduction in this particularly from individuals, companies and charitable foundations. All this with a backdrop of increasing need and demand. This level of uncertainty year to year makes budgeting and planning very challenging.
What do you think the general public think of the work of the third sector? Do you think they understand what it does?
In general I think that the public understand well what the third sector is about and this is evident in the generosity of the public in terms of volunteering and giving of themselves which is in my experience incredibly humbling. On top of this people still continue to give financially to causes that they feel passionately about.
That said, I think there is a general lack of understanding about the accountability that the third sector has and the requirement to have good business sense. Like any other organisation in other sectors, to be the best we can we need to have proper strategic, business and continuity planning in place. We need to manage and support our workforce and volunteers. We need to be good stewards of the money we receive and all that goes with this. Of course we need to have the highest level of quality standards in place to ensure the best possible care and support for those who come to us in need. I am not sure that all of this is fully understood, but importantly the nature of the front line work still seems to strike a chord and attract support from generous people.
What do you think is the current state of leadership is in the third sector?
Generally speaking I think that the leadership in the third sector is of a high standard. I am constantly impressed by people’s ability to do a multitude of roles under the title of just one!
Generalising again, I think that largely people in the third sector don’t see what they do as simply just a job; I certainly don’t, and feel it is something of a vocation. It is this sort of commitment which gives leaders the ability to rise to the challenges that we face, think creatively and be more prepared to take some calculated risks if we think it will improve lives of vulnerable people.
In the past people tended to go for a career in a particular sector and stay in it, but now people are transferring across sectors and bringing their skill and expertise with them. The cross fertilisation of skills and knowledge between the corporate, public and voluntary sector is a good thing for leadership I think, if it is coupled with a commitment to the vision and values of the organisation. We certainly have been very lucky and benefited as an organisation by employing an exceptional Director of Finance who transferred out of the corporate sector to the voluntary sector.
The reach of the third sector is huge and the amount of people supported on a daily basis by caring professionals and volunteers is amazing. I think the creativity within the sector is phenomenal and to see more and more people pushing the limits further to think about new ways to generate income to do even more is quite amazing. I think some of our best leaders may be found in the third sector.
Beyond funding, what is the greatest challenge a voluntary organisation faces? How does a leader manage in the absence of a profit-motive?
I think the greatest challenge is remaining true to your organisations vision, mission and values. We have undertaken a great deal of work within Depaul to invest in this area. In a time when resources are limited and need is greater you really have to dig deep and work hard to inspire others and in my opinion for us in Depaul there is no better way than through the day to day application of our values in practice. Never forgetting the individuals whose life you can have an impact on in a positive way, no matter what your role is.
In 2011 we undertook the transfer of 2 smaller organisations to join with Depaul Ireland, this was not without its challenges but also the rewards have been great. Both of these organisations had shared values and sit well within Depaul Ireland but we all need to be mindful that with pressure for further collaboration we need to ensure that we do not compromise on our values.
In the absence of profit our motivation has to be the improvement in the well being of the people we are here to support. At Depaul one of our core values is that we believe in the potential of people – what better motivation is there than that?
How do you think the concept of leadership works in a voluntary framework?
I think in the voluntary framework you have to be mindful that at times you are doing more than simply leading an organisation you are also leading a movement of people. This includes all stakeholders, not just staff and service users but those who are involved in the mission of the organisation, those who volunteer, those who donate.
In this regard communication and involvement becomes very important you need to find ways to inspire people, thank people and involve them in the mission of the organisation so that they can understand and believe that their contribution is making a difference.
Why do you think you won your award?
Mainly because someone was kind enough to nominate me and the judges were kind enough to see potential in me!
I won in the category of leader in vision and strategy and perhaps one of the things that I am most proud of is how we have collectively built a vision for Depaul in both NI and ROI. I hope that the award was recognition of the fact that within Depaul we have a clear understanding of who we are, what we are doing and why we are doing it. More than that I hope it also recognised our commitment to be visionary, innovative and creative in the interest of those most in need.
What differentiates you from other third sector organisations in your area of expertise?
Another core value in Depaul is that we believe in action over words, and as much as we value lobbying our commitment is to action and that is where our resources are expended. We also aim to talk from experience to those we meet and encourage them to visit our services first hand to understand our work. We are aim to introduce systemic change in this way.
I hope that we as an organisation have remained true to our roots, inspiried by St Vincent de Paul who was a priest 400 years ago in Paris. He broke with the conventions of the day, took risks, and aimed to reach out to the most in need, those that others struggle to work with. 400 years on we work in a very different way than Vincent and we are not a religious organisation but we are inspired by our history and background and continue to try to be innovative and risk taking in the service of those who most need us.
What has the award given you and your organisation? Is it a signal of quality?
It was lovely to receive the award. The tremendous thing about CO3 is that the focus is on Chief Officers and recognising the challenges that they deal with and providing support around that.
So, the award was given to me as the CEO but is for all of us in Depaul. I am supported by a wonderful Board and Senior Management Team who all have a hand to play in leading the organisation and creating vision and strategy for others. Also in our services we have many great leaders in all sorts of roles who are champions of our values on a daily basis. So I think an award like this is a great boost for us all and recognition of the work throughout Depaul.
I believe that it has recognised the quality of work particularly in regards to our strategic plan that everyone – staff service users, and volunteers – were involved in creating and has recognised cohesion within Depaul that we can be proud of.