Kirsty Marrins: Five charity women who inspire me

With International Women's Day taking place on 8 March, our columnist focuses on five women she admires

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, I want to pay homage to five women in the sector whom I greatly admire. These women are determined, passionate, visionary and driven. They have integrity, they live their values and they are true leaders. The sector is privileged to have them.

Vicky Browning, chief executive, Acevo

I’ve known Vicky for about ten years and first met her when I became a member of CharityComms, where Vicky was then director. For years Vicky has been a leading figure and force of nature in bringing together organisations and people to improve the sector's reputation, and the way charities respond to criticism and being challenged by the media. She first took the lead on this at CharityComms when she set up the Understanding Charities working group to help build a cross-sector narrative that would outline the values that unite our diverse sector. She later worked with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations on the Constructive Voices initiative. What I love about Vicky, and what makes her a true leader, is her unique ability to articulate exactly what the sector is thinking and feeling, while actively doing something about it. Vicky is not just talk – she takes action.

Mandy Johnson, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition

I have to declare that I’m a trustee of the SCC, but Mandy would have made this list regardless. In just over six months as chief executive, Mandy has become a regular fixture in sector press news, and has been invited to speak on Sky News and numerous BBC slots to represent the views of small charities, which make up the majority of our sector. Less than four months into the role, Mandy was voted one of the top 30 Social CEOs in the Social CEOS Awards – deservedly so, because she uses social media to have conversations with our members, peers and as a way of being transparent.


Recently, along with our chair Julia Kaufmann, Mandy was invited to have a private audience with Prince William. She spoke passionately about how vital small charities are to the country, particularly at a local level, and how mergers and collaboration are not interchangeable words. Mandy will not rest until small charities are given the recognition they deserve – from the public, infrastructure bodies, big charities and the media. It was this determination that led to Mandy producing the SCC’s first advert, which encouraged people to donate to local charities at Christmas.

Carol Akiwumi, consultant, trainer, trustee at the Institute of Fundraising and former chair of Black Fundraisers UK

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of Carol until she sat on a panel last July at the IoF's Fundraising Convention ,where the topic was Women Leaders in Fundraising. And boy did she make an impression. Diversity in the sector is an issue whose time has come. Many of us talk about diversity – or the lack of it – but few of us do anything about it. As Carol said in a recent magazine interview: "No matter how well-meaning the sector is, fundraising diversity will not happen unless those who can effect change actually do." Carol is helping us all challenge our unconscious biases and getting us to see that diversity will add a broad range of perspectives and experiences to our organisations – and this, in turn, would help us to engage a wider supporter base, increase income, ensure sustainability and ensure we are reflecting all of our beneficiaries.

Deborah Alsina MBE, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK

It’s been a heck of a few years for Deborah in terms of achievements and accolades. In 2016 she was awarded an MBE in recognition of her service to bowel cancer patients. In 2017 she was awarded Charity Chief Executive of the Year in the Third Sector Awards, and she’s been in the top 30 Social CEOS Awards list since their inception in 2013. This year it was announced that Deborah would lead Bowel Cancer UK after a successful merger of Beating Bowel Cancer. Eight years ago, Bowel Cancer UK faced the real possibility of closure, but under Deborah’s leadership the charity has achieved its highest-ever income level and is developing a ground-breaking programme of research. Deborah sadly lost her father to bowel cancer in 2007 and joined the charity shortly after when she was appointed director of service and strategy. A year later she was appointed chief executive. You have only to follow Deborah on Twitter to see how absolutely dedicated she is to the cause and how she actively engages with the charity’s supporters, people affected by bowel cancer, peers, health professionals and so on. Deborah lives and breathes the cause.

Lucy Buck, founder and chief executive of the Child’s i Foundation

I have known Lucy for years and no amount of words on paper could ever do justice to the impact the charity has had on the lives of children in Uganda and the admiration I have for her. Lucy quit her career in TV production and set up the Child’s i Foundation in 2008 after volunteering to work in a baby orphanage in Kampala. Hundreds of babies are abandoned every week in Kampala alone and Lucy was determined that they would not grow up as orphans, because once you’re in the care system it’s almost impossible to get out of it. Lucy set up Malaika Babies Home to provide temporary emergency care for babies and children up to two years old. The social workers at the charity work to reunite these children with their extended families within six months or, if this isn’t possible, find them adoptive parents. Lucy and her team have worked tirelessly over the past ten years to make families, not orphanages. They are now working with orphanages in Uganda to repurpose them and realise their vision of every child growing up in a loving family and consigning orphanages to the history books.

If you’d like to meet more inspiring women,  read my 10 inspirational women in charity digital from last year.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant and a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition

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