An introduction from our new Chief Executive Kim West

I am thrilled to be joining such a dynamic organisation and fortunate to have the opportunity to pick up from where my predecessor José Sluijs-Doyle left off. I am enjoying a running start thanks to a strong, talented team and a financially stable organisation with a clear direction. This is my first blog for African Initiatives (in fact, it is my first ever blog!) and I would like to begin by telling you a little about my background and what I hold dear.

I started my career in the private sector in Canada and worked for more than a decade for organisations such as Sun Life Financial and Kraft. Although I climbed the corporate ladder and achieved what others would consider a successful career, I realised that I measured my achievements by how efficiently my team performed without me. I was most proud when, each time I left a position, a member of my team was promoted to that role.

Quite early on, I learned how important values were to my working life and I recognised that what I enjoy most is supporting people to professionally thrive and have more opportunities available to them. Understanding what drives me was instrumental in my decision to transition into the development sector. That was fifteen years ago and I have not looked back since!

During my time at VSO International and, subsequently, CUSO International, I have had the privilege of assisting indigenous communities in Guyana and Papua New Guinea, as well as young people across the Caribbean, Indonesia and Nepal; people with disabilities; farmers, entrepreneurs, teachers and school children; co-operatives, NGO networks and local and national government officials; volunteer and staff teams from across the globe. Human beings faced with the most difficult of life challenges with energy, passion and dedication. It has been truly awe-inspiring – and humbling.

I am passionate about doing my utmost to enable genuine empowerment of people so we can make our own decisions and hold each other accountable for the commitments we make to each other.

I believe small organisations like African Initiatives have an important role to play alongside the larger development agencies. It is often easier for smaller charities to become truly embedded in the communities they work in and to really understand community group dynamics, attitudes and behaviours so they can reach the unreachable.

I also feel it can be easier for smaller charities to work in deep and meaningful partnership, minimising the imbalanced power dynamics that can exist between INGOs and local agencies because of size. Smaller charities provide a different perspective, different skills and support, and can be the catalyst for change. But not change for the sake of change; rather change that facilitates individuals to have and make choices in life, and to be able to achieve their basic human rights.

African Initiatives is one of those charities that prides itself on its close, symbiotic relationships with local partners; supporting them to do more of what they already do well and, consequently, to positively affect the lives of women, girls and people living with a disability or HIV in a holistic manner.

On paper, African Initiatives’ five-year strategic plan looks ambitious – it aspires to affect education, health and well-being, sustainable livelihoods and equal rights. What makes this achievable – and what drew me to the organisation – is the intense programme focus (northern Tanzania, the most marginalised) in order to ensure deep, lasting impact. Already, I can see that there is potential to build upon this model of profound and holistic relationships and expand into new geographies one step at a time.

As for now, my first month with African Initiatives has been focussed internally – getting to know the team and how we operate. Next month, I will be concentrating on understanding our current programmes – I will be visiting our partners, the communities we are working with, other stakeholders, our donors and supporters.

I am looking forward to beginning and developing these new relationships. I really want to get a sense of how we are perceived. I want to know what African Initiatives does that is of real benefit to them. I want to ask – what could we do more of? What could we do better? Answers to these questions will help shape my view of the future possibilities for African Initiatives. These answers will also influence operational plans, bringing clarity to our critical priorities and the milestones necessary to deliver our strategic plan.

If you are reading this blog (and thank you for staying with me to the end!), you are important to us. Please do get in touch with me if you would like to find out more about what we do – just email kim@african-initiatives.org.uk. I hope to meet you soon!