30 Sep 2021
Roisin Wood, new Chief Executive of the Foundation shares her insights on going full circle (almost)..…..
My proclamation that “I’m not taking another CEO role” was turned on its head last year; when the opportunity to become CEO at the Community Foundation appeared I knew I couldn’t say no.
Near the beginning of my career, I joined the Community Foundation as a Programme Officer under the Peace II Programme. I worked primarily with the reintegration of political ex-prisoners and their families, as well as development projects in the centre of communities to encourage peacebuilding, guided by the vast experience and knowledge of Avila Kilmurray.
After meeting my husband, I then traded in the beautiful rolling hills of Northern Ireland for the bright lights of London, where we lived for 18 years. I worked in various roles and organisations, always supporting communities and campaigning for change and, for the last ten years in my position as CEO at Kick It Out, embedding equity, diversity and inclusion in English football.
I have always kept up to date with the affairs of Northern Ireland and followed the Foundation’s work, watching it grow and continue to support the VCSE sector. My passion for the work of the Foundation has never dimmed, and I am honoured to now be in a position to continue that journey.
Day One as the Foundation’s CEO was exciting and bizarre in roughly equal measure, as I walked into an almost empty office. I eventually met all of the team and Trustees and seeing their evident passion and commitment was great. It was clear that this is more than a job or trusteeship to them; they believe in the power of the Foundation to make a positive difference and strive to make this difference happen.
When I first joined the Foundation, Peace funding was the main focus of our work and it is critical that the Foundation continues its work in this area, incorporating all of the different and emerging communities.
However, it is important to acknowledge that the organisation has gone from strength to strength and now supports a vast range of causes with grants and programmes. For example, in March 2020, within just 24 hours the team had set up an emergency Coronavirus Fund which grew to £7 million to support over 1,000 communities. I was not surprised to learn about the team’s flexibility, expertise, collaborative approach and dedication to support communities where the need was immediate. The many learnings for us as a funder from this period include a genuine need to be more agile, less bureaucratic, and more engaged with not only the sector around need, but also our grant recipients through such conduits as our grantee network.
We have also scaled up our donor network to encourage more philanthropy and I will always remain proud of the generosity of the people of Northern Ireland.
It is not only the Foundation that has changed since I moved back home. Northern Ireland itself has developed new and vibrant communities and we are in a great position to learn from one another, explore new cultures and traditions, and to use our voice to help find solutions to contentious issues, such as Brexit and peacebuilding. Having a Community Foundation that includes all of our society and that can support, empower and where needed speak for those that are excluded, is one of the key building blocks to our DNA.
There remain significant challenges and no one can predict the full extent of the fallout from the pandemic, not only on our physical and mental wellbeing, but also on the economy, our society, the environment and the future of our young people.
Covid appears to have magnified the already profoundly damaging effects and impact of digital exclusion. Sometimes, tech suffers from a poor image and has been described as ‘damaging’ to society. However it has significant potential to bring about positive change in all sectors, and we must challenge these understandable fears and preconceptions so that we can use it for good. We must address the digital poverty that exists so that we can all benefit from its positive impact.
I believe Climate Change/ Justice is one of the most critical challenges we all face. We cannot indeed must not, be scared about engaging with this challenge – I am only at the beginning of my journey in this area, but we must all try not to be overwhelmed or feel that it’s too big a challenge to tackle individually, otherwise, we will never achieve the required level of engagement to undertake this critical work. Similar to the work in the area of inclusion, our engagement with tech for good and climate justice can only succeed by building strong alliances with all other strategic stakeholders and communities. Challenges such as poverty, inequality and human rights will remain rightly at the forefront of our work, as we strive to work together with others to find solutions and balance.
We recognise the complexity of our society, but the Foundation needs to remain a relevant and impactful funder in Northern Ireland. For over 40 years the Foundation has connected people who care with causes that matter and we want to continue this legacy. Together, we will help build thriving communities by supporting peacebuilding, giving a voice to communities who are not heard and encouraging innovation.
We need to challenge, campaign, engage and demand more for all of the communities of which we are a part. These essential discussions are needed to address honestly the issues previously mentioned, in order that we can strive for the positive future of an inclusive, peaceful and strong N Ireland.
Having returned home after almost two decades, it may seem as though I have almost come full circle; however, in many ways, the journey is only just beginning, and I am honoured to be a small part of this crucially important organisation.
To speak to the Community Foundation contact Kirsty Mcmullen, firstname.lastname@example.org