After a 10-year journey, I recently said farewell and stepped down from my role as Chair of Trustees from Move The World. This was a charity I co-founded, and an organisation that has meant so much to me in so many ways, here are my reflections…
10 years, over 100 volunteers from 9 countries, 15 trustees, 6 employees, around £360,000 raised, 52 programmes, 42 facilitators, and over 1,100 students reached in Get Global alone… Numbers, quantifiable outcomes, return on investment, measuring impact… oh yes, that wonderful phrase… for those of you that have also found yourself in the charity sector, you will know how frustrating it is when you are asked to try and measure impact in quantifiable ways. You see, that’s the problem, you can’t, well, not really, because, for me, none of these figures really do this experience justice. None of it really is able to bring to life the impact this charity has had on me, nor do I think it does justice to the impact it has had on so many people. Working within the charity sector is a funny one, the work you do is in service of others in the hopes of making the world a slightly better place in some way. And yet, I have often found myself feeling like one of the biggest beneficiaries. This might seem strange to say, but the memories, the learning experiences, the opportunities and not to mention the friendships I have received because of Move The World have been some of the richest of my life, completely invaluable, utterly unquantifiable.
So where to start in acknowledging this experience, and giving gratitude to the many people that have played such a major role in this journey? Well, let’s go back to the beginning. I first found myself contemplating what I might do to bring together my passion for dance, my love for designing experiences, and my desire to make a difference in people’s lives when I was …6 years old. So I am grateful to my family for persisting through the hours of shows I put on and for paying the ticket prices along with neighbours and friends that would be donated to the local children’s hospital. I remember receiving a letter back once, that made me feel so proud of the small part I had been able to play in helping the lives of others.
Fast forward 15 years later, and I found myself in New York City, invited to a conference at the UN, listening to stories of social impact around the world; trying to make sense of how I could merge my professional dance career with the multitude of other experiences I had been fortunate to have and make a difference. That night, inspired, I journaled (and I still have the journal) and came up with Awareness Through Dance, a project that I hoped could bring dancers together to experience the world, and create change through our art form. It was also at this conference that I would meet a dancer from Kenya, which would become the location for our first international experience.
One year later, now living in London, I found myself on the train with my dad, sharing with him my ideas for creating a community for dancers, where they could share and connect in safe and meaningful ways. You see, the dance industry can be a tough place, predominantly young women, all seeking unobtainable perfection, and being completely absorbed by the sometimes fickle nature of the industry. I felt that if we could create programmes and experiences that might provide perspective, and opportunities to learn about ourselves and the world around us, we might become better dancers and probably better people too. So many people supported me and volunteered their time and energy to the various initiative and projects during this period. Thank you.
The biggest project I embarked on, (probably ever, before having kids) was the Kenya and Kilimanjaro trip in partnership with a charity called Giving Africa. I corralled 13 willing dancers to join me in raising £25,000 to support GA to build a school in Burkina Faso, the climb itself, the coordination of the project, and the challenge of the fundraising target (in an industry that has no money) almost defeated me. I feel so proud of all of us that took part and have so many amazing memories from that trip. I do look back and think I probably bit off more than I could chew. In fact, based on how my now husband described me on my return, it was such a big mountain to climb, in so many ways, that I literally lost half my body weight! We did it, just, but it wasn’t easy, and it took a while to recover and get the energy back to continue with this work.
This is where a rather important part of the story comes in. Claire. Claire applied as a volunteer through the ATD website, which (because I loved to build websites) made ATD look much bigger than it was (it was just me, defeated me) so at the interview, in a co-working space I used in Westminster, I basically said, look, you’re older than me, you’ve had way more experience than me doing this dance exchange work around the world, and to be quite honest, I don’t want to do this alone anymore. Would you want to do this together? The answer was a resounding, yes.
We quickly began to redesign and plan for the next experience, this time at a dance and music centre in Ghana that we found online. Yes, we googled for dance centres in Ghana and found ourselves on a video call with a Ghanian musician, Bernard Woma (may he rest in peace), who probably couldn’t believe his luck when we told him we wanted to bring 10 paying dancers to his centre for 3 weeks of classes, personal development and cultural immersion. I can’t even begin to recall all the incredible experiences and sometimes risky ones we had during that period, but showing up having not even been to Ghana before, having our fingers crossed that this guy we had sent a lot of money to was real, arriving to delayed baggage and wearing bedsheets for the first day are just a few. I am so grateful to all of the participants that trusted us and joined us on the 12 incredible trips we ended up doing to Ghana, and for the amazing friendships that have followed.
If you haven’t been to Ghana, it is the most amazing, friendly and colourful country I have been to. The Woma family and the entire community of Medie had made us feel so welcome, that when it came time to think about the next chapter for Awareness Through Dance (now that both Claire and I had started to pursue other careers outside of dance) we knew we had to continue doing work with these wonderful partners in someway.
Sat around a table, in the sweltering sun, designing learning experiences to help children build skills and confidence to make a change, Claire, Jacque and I (eventually) came to a decision for our new name; Move The World. A phrase that had been a part of us from the beginning, it was printed in big letters across our T-Shirts as we summited Kilimanjaro 4 years prior. The following months saw us re-brand, gain charity status in the UK, set up a Board of Trustees and design a curriculum based on our learning to date that we thought would be valuable to the educational journey of children in Medie. Emmanuel, our first employee in Ghana, was instrumental in building partnerships, recruiting facilitators and piloting our new Get Global programme, he too is someone whom we could not have done this without.
We were now an education charity, responsible for fundraising, designing and delivering programmes to empower the next generation of global citizens. We knew that if these young people were going to stand a chance at addressing the complexity of the challenges we face locally, nationally and globally today, the traditional, by-rote learning methods in place were not going to cut it. We felt that providing an interactive, experiential learning programme to teach about global themes and create spaces for children to grow in confidence and social skills could be our small part in enabling a better future for us all.
My role, now Chair of Trustees also required a different type of attention and focus. We had responsibilities, employees, beneficiaries, and funders’ money, and I found myself learning quickly how to facilitate board meetings, create budgets, develop growth strategies and manage a team. This would not have been possible over the years without the ongoing support our of trustees, those that were there at our founding, and those that have joined us since.
The biggest achievements in recent years have been establishing a delivery team in Ghana, led by the incredible force of nature that is Lawrencia, that now delivers tens of programmes across 16 schools in Medie. And also the success of our Lovers and Bluffers fundraising events; dressing up, playing casino games, and raising huge sums of money for such a small charity, has been rewardingly fun hard work!
In November 2019, my life changed forever; I found out I was pregnant, much to my surprise and delight, and unfortunately had to miss a trip to Ghana with the team. I, unfortunately, have not been able to get back to Ghana since and with two children, and a global pandemic later, I found myself at a crossroads. I had been able to support the charity through choppy waters; closed schools, and limited fundraising options, and had been supported through 2 maternity leaves by the team; yet it no longer felt possible to give the same amount of time, energy and attention to this wonderful work. I was stretched, exhausted, and having to force myself to consider the reality that I couldn’t do it all; that I needed to prioritise and that at this point in my life; my kids and my family come first.
Having sat with these questions for months, I finally shared with Claire my intention to step down at the beginning of this year, sitting on a bench at a windy cafe in Franshoek South Africa. After years of such an intense relationship that interweaved friendship, relationships, marriages, work, and charity this was not an easy conversation. We had been through ups and downs, as any pair working so closely together goes through, and I knew that in leaving, I was putting both her and the charity in a potentially vulnerable position. But I also had faith that it no longer needed me; it had proved that when I hadn’t been around whilst on maternity leave, and my hope was that Claire would choose to continue this journey without me; thank god she is!
In my diary back in 2010, I wrote that I wanted to start something that would survive beyond my involvement. I felt like that would be an indication of sustainability, and of it being about the service of others and not about me! I feel proud that in doing this, I am also making that wish come true. But that wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion and ongoing hard work that the team put in on a daily basis. Claire is the heart and soul of Move The World and has put her life into this vision for the last 8 years. Caroline, started as a participant on a trip, became a volunteer, and is now an invaluable member of this team. Her loyalty, attention to detail, and solid pair of hands have been unwavering support throughout the last two years. And Kellie, who will be taking over as Chair of Trustees, has been there for the last 4 years providing her with calm, reflective, and sometimes provocative questions as we’ve sought to steady the ship and get through the tricky times. I have no doubt she will continue to do this in her new role.
So there you have it, a long and winding story of hard work, dedication, joy, sweat, and at times a lot of tears – that of course feels much more coherent in retrospect than it did in each of the individual moments. Stepping back, has not been an easy decision, Move The World is what I would call my first baby, but I guess I am learning, now I am a parent, that there comes a time when stepping back is the right thing to do. Thank you to everyone for the ongoing support as I have pursued my crazy ideas. I can without a doubt say that this experience has been an absolute honour.