A charitable contribution
"Amnesty is like a stone in the shoe of the rich and powerful around the world.” So explains alumna Nicki Deeson (Industrial Economics, 1988) as she sums up the role of Amnesty International.
As International Finance Director, 2019 has been a particularly challenging year for Nicki. The human rights organisation found itself under intense public scrutiny following the publication of a report which described the working culture as “toxic”, alongside the revelation of a £17m hole in its budget to the end of 2020.
Ahead of giving a talk on campus later this month, Nicki explains how she dealt with an incredibly difficult and sensitive period.
Dealing with adversity
“The first inkling we had that there might be problems was in August 2018, when some of our international partners notified us that the funds which had been forecast may in reality be lower.
“We immediately put cost-saving measures in place for the last four months of last year, but unfortunately most of the expenditure was already committed and so it proved difficult for most departments to make significant savings.
”A global movement of over seven million people, with more than 200,000 members and supporters in the UK alone, Amnesty is a complicated organisation. Which when you are trying to implement vast cost savings in a restricted window can prove an almost insurmountable challenge.
“There was immense pressure on me to come up with options which were both operationally acceptable and achieved the balanced budget needed. Of course we also had numerous stakeholders who were asking the question as to how the organisation had ended up in such a situation in the first place.”
A well-travelled journey
Although her career has taken her from Bangladesh to West Africa, working in extremely challenging scenarios, this was to prove an altogether different test of the skills acquired over 25 years in the sector. The bottom line for the charity was redundancies, including in her own team. So creating a supportive environment and being inherently capable of dealing with extremes of emotion became paramount.
“Dealing with fear and uncertainty is hard for people so we made sure to put in place the support network; peer-to-peer counselling and even workshops to help people deal with their emotions. It’s essential we were able to understand different responses.
“I’ve learnt a huge amount about the different ways people process stress and how the reptilian and mammalian brain can each kick in at times they shouldn’t. Amnesty International is not the first charity to have found itself in the public eye in recent years and is unlikely to be the last, with inevitable consequences.
“The public always have a view on how charities should be run – which doesn’t always take into account the complexity of the situation. When things go wrong, as at Amnesty, this means we are always going to upset a contingent of our supporters, who sadly then vote by taking away their wallets.”
Until recently Chair of the Charity Finance Group network, Nicki hopes that the role she plays at Amnesty will help inspire a financially confident, dynamic and trustworthy charity sector.
“Although times are sometimes tough, I have loved my career in the sector and would recommend it to anyone.”
Hear Nicki share the inside track on Amnesty at our exclusive alumni event
This November Nicki will share her journey and 25 years' experience working in charity finance. Join us on campus on Thursday 21 November from 6pm and learn what happened behind the headlines at Amnesty International as well as the highlights of Nicki's well-travelled career path.