Judith Davey, Chief Executive of The Advocacy Project, tells us a bit about the things that are important to her professionally and personally.
What are you most proud of?
At The Advocacy Project, I’m particularly proud of the work we’ve done on diversity in governance. People say that genuinely putting service users and patients at the heart of everything we do is what’s distinctive about The Advocacy Project. It’s built into our governance. Baked in. Not an add-on. We’re not perfect, but we do try hard.
40% of our staff and 50% of our trustees have lived experience of the issues on which we work – things like mental health, learning disabilities and dementia. This gives us an authenticity and builds trust with service users, which enables us to get to the nub of their issues. The demographics of the board show that we are balanced in terms of ethnicity, age, and gender. We successfully sought permission from the Charity Commission to pay service user trustees for their service at the London Living Wage, as some people can’t easily afford to take time off work to participate. We have developed governance processes like easy read management accounts which mean that everyone can engage meaningfully in board meetings.
Outside The Advocacy Project, I’m proud of a number of things – including chairing a debate on Brexit in the House of Lords, and giving the UK observer statement on migration at the UN. And more personally, I’m really proud of my two sons and the kind-hearted men they became.
What’s been particularly important to you in your working life?
Values alignment and trust are essential for me; misalignment of values or lack of trust are deal-breakers. A number of years ago I had a successful career in the private sector working for a venture capital funded high-tech company as Vice President for Customer Services. I loved the role and was doing well – we were considered as being “best in class” in customer service according to independent benchmarks. But the culture and values did not match mine. I was the only woman on the senior leadership team, and the banter was around putting “hookers” on expenses as informal inducements to place business with us. I hated it. And they laughed at my discomfort. I left and decided to use my skills for social and public purpose, rather than shareholder value for the few. One of the best decisions I ever made.
What were your first months like as new CEO of The Advocacy Project?
When I started at The Advocacy Project, morale and motivation among the workforce was at rock-bottom. Staff turnover was over 50%. The board had diminished in size and energy over time, and many of the trustees had left. Well over three quarters of our income came from a single government contract – which was potentially up for re-tender. A lack of confident leadership and direction had led to a climate of fear and risk aversion, which paralysed decision making, with signs of a blame culture that was demoralising for our people. People’s jobs were at stake.
I took on the role of CEO with the brief to re-energise the charity through transparent, values-based leadership. Despite the risks, I could see through my research that the organisation had incredible impact and great staff. As covered in Civil Society’s Governance and Leadership magazine, over the next two years we transformed staff engagement as measured by the staff survey – confidence in senior management rose from 21% to 78%, we almost doubled our income and we reduced the dependency on the one single contract from nearly 80% to around 40%.
What’s your ‘super power’?
I have two super powers: believing in magic (or is this faith?) and having the courage to hold fast to my values.
I believe worthwhile things are possible, however great the odds are against me. If we believe something is possible, we can get others to join us. Shared endeavour can move mountains. Make no mistake – I’m not talking about being reckless and irresponsible, or about self-delusion and unicorns. Strategic analysis, quality of thinking, evidence-based decisions, proper planning, robust risk management and exceptional values-based people management skills are all required too. They’re necessary but not sufficient. Belief and courage are the key ingredients for successful delivery.
When I worked for a large and old-fashioned local authority (annual budget £1.4bn and 26,000 staff), people said we’d never manage to transform it. But we did. We went from being poor to excellent as measured by the Audit Commission, Care Quality Commission and Ofsted. I received national awards for this work.
The fuel for my inner strength comes from warmth and love from my family and friends, and my passion for social justice and equality.
What’s your working environment like?
My office in Ladbroke Grove is filled with books people have donated to us on their way to be given to people in care homes and hospitals. On the walls are postcards of dogs, and a number of paintings by people with learning disabilities. Incredibly good, beautiful and sensitive pictures. Against the wall are exhibition boards containing poems written by people across the UK, as there’s real evidence that there’s a link between creative writing and mental wellbeing, and the journey to recovery from mental health problems. On the windowsill are two cacti, an orchid and a plant that I inherited. The plants are always in the best of health.
What you probably won’t find in my office very often is me. With my trusty laptop and mobile phone, I work on trains, on buses, and in hospitals, care homes, council offices, or places like Broadmoor Hospital, the Palace of Westminster, or at other charities’ premises. My role as CEO is very much in the community, not in the office. I go to where people are: I don’t expect them to come to me. This helps me do my job better, as I see what the issues, challenges, opportunities and achievements at first hand.
What would you like your legacy to be?
My son died a few weeks ago. He was good at deep conversations and years ago he told me he just wanted people to smile when they thought about him after he’d passed. The beauty and simplicity of this inspires me. Even more so now he’s no longer here.
I want people to remember me for making a positive difference to other people’s lives – helping to create a series of small victories. Lots of small victories can add up to a massive systemic change which gives people better chances in life. Like Dunkirk – lots of small boats, lots of individual acts of courage, constancy and fortitude all came together. If we all work together and focus on achieving lots of small victories it creates an irresistible force for good.
I’d also like to be remembered as a proud mum, feminist, and curious person who loves to know about the world (hence the certificates in “odd” subjects like canine psychology and genetics). And I love to dance Argentinian Tango.