Leadership

27 May 2013

When I succeeded the founder of Survivors Fund (SURF), Mary Kayitesi Blewitt OBE, as the second director of the charity, I did not think that I would still be in post over four years later.

After many years as a consultant, I had no intention of leading an organisation.  However, when Mary called me in the summer of 2008 whilst I was studying in New York and asked me to consider applying for the post that she was vacating after eleven years, I had no choice but to do so. Despite undertaking a public recruitment earlier that year, the board of trustees had been unable to make an appointment. As I had worked closely with Mary as a consultant since 2004, I was best positioned to “step up to the plate”, as she convinced me to acknowledge, in her own inimitable way.

Mayr Kayitesi Blewitt OBE, Founder of SURF

It was a proposal on which I acted, and have never once regretted. Since joining SURF formally in January 2009 as Chief Executive (as the post is now called), it has been a steep learning curve but one that I have relished and enjoyed climbing. There are very few organisations of which I know that are as streamlined as SURF, but which deliver such a valuable – and valued – contribution to the lives of so many.

Over my time in post, our income has more than doubled to over one million pounds last year, and we are now helping our partner organisations to raise a similar level of funding independently of SURF. Our office in Rwanda has expanded from a team of three to ten, whilst the number of staff employed in the UK has halved to just one – the post for which we are now recruiting.

Gabo Wilson, Coordinator of SURF Rwanda, with David Russell, Director of SURF

SURF has developed new projects funded by the UK Department for International DevelopmentBig Lottery Fund and Comic Relief, enabling our principal partner organisation, AVEGA (Association of Widows of the Genocide) to establish new offices in the Southern and Northern Provinces of Rwanda. Together we have developed a new model of livelihood development which is now helping thousands of widows of the genocide out of extreme poverty.

One of the most inspiring developments in recent years has been the evolution of AERG (Association of Student Survivors of Genocide) into a professional organisation delivering support to its 43,000 strong membership, made possible through the support of SURF and our funders.

We have developed exciting new projects: in partnership with Foundation Rwanda to support women survivors raped during the genocide, and the children born to them of that rape; set up a new health clinicand maternity ward in Ntarama through the support of Network 4 Africa and inspire!africa; as well as pioneered an array of new livestock and livelihood projects (including introducing donkeys into Rwanda) with the Good Gifts Catalogue of the Charities Advisory Trust. And of course, there is our ongoing work with REDRESS, on an international advocacy campaign calling for reparation for survivors of the genocide made possible by the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

These are achievements of which I am understandably proud to have played some part.

So why then do I choose to move on? Initially I took this post making a three-year commitment, which I thought would be sufficient to consolidate the work that Mary had undertaken to establish SURF, in order to broaden and cement our funding base to initially secure the future of the organisation. However, sustaining the organisation is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It has been the development of our new programmes, and in particular our advocacy work, that has kept me engaged, motivated, and continually learning.

However, as we now approach the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in April 2014, there is a unique opportunity to take the work of SURF, and particularly this advocacy, to the next level. I am certain that there is a better candidate out there than me to do so. Which is why we are launching this recruitment process now; to try secure my successor by the end of the year to enable them to have sufficient time to maximise the potential of this landmark anniversary.

There is no other organisation of which I am more proud to have worked than Survivors Fund (SURF). We have an incredible and committed team of staff in Rwanda, and remarkably dedicated partner organisations and funders, that make our work possible. The cause of survivors is as important now, than it has ever been. There are new challenges that need to be addressed, in particular how to support the increasing number of ageing widows of the genocide, and to ensure that the many young survivors of the genocide that are graduating from education have the opportunity to secure a livelihood.

The work is hard, the politics can be complex, and the hours often long, though the contribution that can be made is pretty much unparalleled – as Survivors Fund (SURF) is the only international organisation that is holistically addressing at scale the needs of all survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. If you are up to the challenge, or know someone that might be, then please do forward on to them the call for applications, and quite possibly they may well be the perfect person to take the work of SURF forward and to strengthen SURF even further – just as I hope I have achieved in some small way, and which at first I never believed possible, when I succeeded Mary.

The application details can be downloaded here. A set of question and answers on the position can be downloaded here.

If you know anyone who may be interested in and qualified for the position, please do help us to flag up this opportunity. We hope that together we can secure the very best candidate to take forward the work of Survivors Fund (SURF).

David Russell
Chief Executive, Survivors Fund (SURF)