A Decade Of Challenging The Status Quo In The UK: A Conversation With Rachel Smith

Look back and ahead with Rachel Smith, the executor director of GlobalGiving’s UK office, on a milestone anniversary.


Rachel Smith

UK Executive Director, GlobalGiving

Who She Is:

Rachel co-founded GlobalGiving UK and leads the organisation to make a genuine and sustained difference in people’s lives. She is passionate about challenging the status quo and exploring new ways of working. Previously, Rachel worked for local government, in retail sector marketing, and as an archaeologist specialising in later prehistory. She holds an MA from Cardiff University in archaeology and a post graduate diploma in management from Birkbeck University. She has been involved in the voluntary sector, with a particular fondness for fundraising, from a very young age—she organized her first fundraising event (a local coffee morning) at age seven!

Q: You’ve been a part of the GlobalGiving office in the UK since it opened in 2008. Tell us about your proudest moments?

 
A: I joined right at the beginning when we were just two staff setting up the organisation from scratch in a new country. My journey has gone in parallel with the organisation’s. Sometimes, I think it seems a long time to have been with one organisation, but honestly it has been continuously rewarding and challenging learning experience. It has allowed me to focus on a complex problem: how to mend the broken system of aid and development that is still unable to truly put people and their communities first. We have kept our UK- based team small and nimble so we can innovate and adapt. I’m so proud of the team—colleagues past and present—their energy, determination and creativity. Just one example that stands out is the team’s work to create and develop an online, practical fundraising training programme (now called the Accelerator and delivered remotely to hundreds of nonprofits globally each year). This has enabled nonprofits to raise funds for their communities, whether in Mexico, Nepal, or Uganda. We were recognised for this initiative by Nominet in 2012 winning the top award for social technology initiative—that was indeed a proud moment!

Q: Tell us about your background.

 
A: I always surprise people when I tell them that I am an archaeologist by training and started my career examining communities and cultures from the past. I specialised in understanding how societies interacted, built systems, used objects and materials to create identities and then looked at what we can learn from this evidence. My transition to the not-for-profit space—and in particular philanthropy and community-led social development—translates into a fascination with people and how societies develop a proactive passion to innovate, facilitate, and better connect resources to meet community priorities.

Q: What have been your biggest learning moments in leadership?

 
A: I am someone that seeks out opportunities to learn. I’m excited that I now lead our global strategy on evidence and learning so we can keep innovating our model through evidence and share our learning and practice to transform how other philanthropists, funders, and development actors work. Our aim is to transform the system to accelerate community-led change. We have a lot to learn, and we cannot achieve this alone.

Q: Tell us about a key lesson you’ve gained with GlobalGiving.

 
A: A key lesson for me has been the value of collaborative partnership. GlobalGiving is a partner to many: nonprofits, companies, institutions, development innovators and even individuals that are looking to support trusted local causes. Over the past 10 years, our UK team has built countless partnerships. I’ve learned that to be effective as a partner you need to be open, humble, inquisitive, determined, and reliable. You also need a shared vision for what you want to achieve together and have a deep understanding of the others context, motivations, and values.

Our longest running corporate partner, Dentsu Aegis Network, partnered with us for eight years on innovative volunteering programmes. Why? Because we built rapport and personal connection, held an open approach to challenges as well as successes, and ultimately shared a belief that local communities should be central to social change and should be given access to tools, resources, and expertise. I’ve also learned that working with others generates new ideas, new opportunities, and new perspectives that are vital for us to continue to be relevant and responsive.

Q: What excites you most about the next 10 years?

 
A: The world is ever-changing and rapidly so; 10 years from now many things will be different. When we started GlobalGiving in the UK, crowdfunding wasn’t even a term so who knows what the next big thing will be! I expect that continuous innovations in technology will provide new opportunities for GlobalGiving to adapt its model. New technology provides huge opportunities to connect people in new ways, simplify processes, scale access to data to build greater knowledge and trust.

We need to continue to consider how philanthropists understand and play a role in supporting community-led development.

Supporting community-led development for GlobalGiving includes exploring new ways to communicate impact and new products that can engage and connect donors to doers. I’m inclined to think that we need to re-emphasis real human connection, considering more strongly the power of networks and partnership to achieve our mission.

Q: What is your team doing to prepare for the future?

 
A: Starting in 2019, we are investing more in identifying, testing, sharing, and scaling methodologies that can strengthen accountability to community priorities. We have a great opportunity to influence others to transform their practices through demonstrating how GlobalGiving works, developing extensible tools, working with and showing others how they can make practical changes to shift the power to communities. We need to be bolder, to share our evidence and learning openly, and to focus on making targeted systems changes.
 
Featured Photo: Secondary Education for Girls in Burkina Faso by Africa School Assistance Project

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