BA Social and Political Science. MA International Relations.

June 2013

Where did you Study?

I did a BA at Cambridge University and an MA at the University of Sussex a few years later

What did you Study?

The BA was in Social and Political Science and the MA was in International Relations

What year did you Graduate?

2003 from my first degree

So we can feel more intimate, three words to describe your physical appearance.

Big smile, ‘stocky’, ballerina feet

What did you do when you left Uni? Be brutally honest! If you cried into a bowl of cereal every morning & treated your local pub like your favourite Uni nightclub, say so.

I went to Romania to help run a volunteer Teaching Programme. I had been a teacher on the Programme myself the summer before. I then travelled quite a bit around Europe before going to Japan to be a teacher on the JET Programme in a Japanese State school. I lived in a city between Kobe and Osaka for two years.

What made you start Young Charity Trustees? How did you go about forming this?

A few years ago I was finding it hard to find full-time work (at least, in something I really wanted to do). I was working as a private tutor in North London, mainly for the Tamil community. I saw an ad in the paper for committee members at a charity called Centre 404 which supports people with learning disabilities and their families. After a number of months to my great surprise I was asked to be a Trustee. Up to that point I hadn’t realised that younger people could be Trustees, I thought it was for retired people. I attended a national conference for Trustees and almost no-one there was my age. As I was really enjoying my role I wanted more young people to be able to experience it so I initially set up Young Charity Trustees (YCT) as a LinkedIn group to see if there was any demand. I was also interested in charities having a wider pool of talented people from which to draw. Over time interest steadily grew and I got a few volunteers, a website and became active on the topic on social media.

Why should a graduate become a trustee?

There are so many reasons. One is that it is a great opportunity to ‘give something back’. Whatever your passion it is likely that you will find a charity that will match it. Charities really need good people with a range of skills to support them and get involved. Also, being a Trustee looks great on your CV. As there are currently very few young trustees and the average age of Trustees in the country is 57, you are likely to stand out. Being a Trustee exposes you to a wide range of situations that will develop your skills. For example you might be doing things like helping to set the Budget for the charity you are working with, helping to develop their strategy, publicizing the work of the organisation etc. It is also likely that you will have responsibility at a higher level than in a graduate job. So for example even if you are in a job that you don’t enjoy or doesn’t utilize your skills, you can stop them from become rusty via a Trustee position. Of course the most rewarding thing of all about being a Trustee is seeing the real difference the charity makes.

You got the position of Chief Executive of the Small Charities Coalition late last year (Congratulations!) – can you tell the process you went through to get this?

Thank you! My aim had been to set up YCT as a fully-fledged charity. I wasn’t looking for other jobs and I was about to move back to my home town of Brighton to live with my family as I couldn’t survive in London without a regular income. I actually heard of this opportunity through the outgoing Chief Executive. As I had spoken at a Small Charities Coalition event via YCT, I already knew a little about the organisation and felt that my skills and interests would compliment it. I would have been thrilled just to get an interview, I didn’t expect to get the role. As I was preparing to apply, the more and more that I read made me more convinced that I would fit in well here. The Trustees who interviewed me, the Chair and Chair-elect, were good enough to see my potential, even though I am very far from the finished article and still have a great deal to learn.

Are you in your dream job? What are your future aspirations?

I am! Well, I suppose my dream job if I could imagine one from scratch would be a chocolate or wine-taster. But in this role I pretty much couldn’t think of something that more closely aligned with what I believe in and how I would prefer to spend my working day. I love being able to help small charities and small charities trustees, they do work which inspires me every day. I’m finding it fascinating to be a Chief Executive, it has been a steep learning curve but I’ve appreciated all of it. As for future aspirations: nothing concrete I’d mainly like to be able to keep learning as I have a very curious mind, and to be able to champion people who I think are doing a great deal of good and who deserve more recognition.

Do you think Uni has helped you to be where you are now?

Yes, definitely. For me, Uni was never a stepping stone to someone else, it was an opportunity to expand my mind. However I was luckier enough to have lower (but still high) fees when I attended. One of the things that I think graduates should be aware of/try to relax about is to realise that just because some of the things that they learn at university may not seem directly relevant in the first part of their careers, as they progress this will change. For example, I’m now 30 years old and I think some of the research and debate skills I picked up on my Cambridge degree are only now becoming useful for me professionally. I also think that many of the extra-curricular things I did at Uni- chiefly student politics- have helped me in my career. University exposed me to a much greater diversity of (brilliant) people, which certainly helps me with networking for my current role.

Any advice for graduates who aren’t yet in their dream jobs or still battling against this rubbish economy for just an interview?

Yes, a few pieces of advice. The first one is that trite as it sounds, don’t give up. It is easy to look at people in work or in jobs that they enjoy and think that things have always been plain sailing for them. In the case of some lucky people it may be true. In the case of the majority though, including myself, it hasn’t been. When I first lived in London I didn’t have enough money for a travelcard at weekends. I filled my time with as many free things as I could. I nearly gave up and moved away but in the end I got a regular job and things started to pick up. The second is to try doing something outside of work which enhances your skills, (like Trusteeship) and crucially, allows you to meet a wide range of people. Young Charity Trustees gave me a legitimate excuse to contact all sorts of people and go to all sorts of things. Finally I’d say that one of the best practical things that you can do to inspire you is to get a mentor. I have a mentor and a leadership coach, both of whom are brilliant and I am also a mentor myself.

Finally, if you would be so kind, tell us briefly about your day ahead – or the day that you have had – just in case we might want to change our career path.

Today so far I have: – spoken to a BBC journalist who wants our help with a story.

– liaised with the Charity Commission about a quote for a press release.

– arranged to meet a number of people from other charitable organisations.

– promoted a few initiatives on social media including a ‘Women in Public Affairs’ network event I will be speaking at.

– replied to my mentee, who is on the Charityworks Programme.

Tonight I am off to City Hall for an NCVO event for Volunteers’ Week. If you would like to read a bit more about me, this is my blog

That’s it. Alex Swallow, you have been wonderful. 

Find out about Young Charity Trustees & how to become a Trustee, here:


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