Interview: Julie Hopes

The new chief executive of The Conservation Volunteers reveals why she left the corporate world for the third sector

Julie Hopes
Julie Hopes

Julie Hopes worked in high-powered corporate jobs for more than 20 years before undergoing a Damascene conversion late last year and joining the charity world as chief executive of The Conservation Volunteers.

Hopes' earlier career took her from RSA Insurance, where she handled corporate partnerships, to Tesco Bank, where she was a managing director - which was all a far cry from working for an environmental charity whose main mission is to reclaim open spaces for use by communities.

"I had an increasing sense that I was not using my skills for the best public benefit," she says. "I was becoming concerned about issues in society, such as large groups of people becoming isolated for different reasons. It got to the point where I felt I had to do something about it - because if you want to see change, you have to make change."

With the skills she had learned in the private sector, a host of charities might have queued up to hire her - so why did she join The Conservation Volunteers?

"I'm passionate about people and I'm passionate about the outdoors," she says. "I'm also a practical person, and this charity is about helping people create and nurture outdoor places."

Hopes cites the example of a community where the charity helped to tear down some disused garages and put up flowerbeds in their place.

"The flowerbeds were almost the least of what was achieved - the main thing was that we got groups across several generations to come together and do something," she says.

But anyone at the charity who thinks Hopes will leave the hard-nosed business tactics she learned in the corporate world at the door now that she is part of the charity world is mistaken.

"There is nothing I've been unable to take with me into the charity sector, but it's all about using those skills in the right context," she says. "I have run sales teams in the corporate world, and talking to potential funders about big projects is the equivalent. The disciplines in the charity and corporate sectors are no different and many of the processes are the same."

Hopes intends to apply the structures and disciplines she learned in the corporate world directly to the charity, although she stresses it will be done with "heart".

"There are some practices that will benefit from my commercial experience," says Hopes. "Performance management is one and reviewing business plans is another, because I know the processes that can be helpful. I think I can apply a lot of my skills, but it has to be done in an appropriate way."

Meanwhile, Hopes is no stranger to the concept of reclaiming open spaces herself. "I have done some volunteering in the past, to clear the village pond, but a big love of mine is the garden," she says. "Every day, I try to reclaim another piece of my garden from the wild."

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