The post: Head of Northern Ireland, Self Help Africa
The post holder: Danny Elliot
Danny Elliott’s career in the voluntary sector has spanned more than 30 years.
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
I’ve spent 30 years working within the Voluntary and Community sector. I began my professional career with Amnesty International based in London as an Affiliations Officer while undertaking my degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at Magee Campus. I had my first experience of life in the voluntary sector at that time and when I completed my degree I was fortunate to be offered a post with Concern Worldwide as a Development Officer for three years. I moved on from Concern in 1993 and joined Save the Children Fund as a Community Volunteer Manager where I learned some great lessons as to the value of our volunteers and the crucial role they play in our sector. The challenge of working with Oxfam Ireland and working across the island of Ireland was too much to resist and I joined the charity in 1999. In 2001 I felt that the work I was doing in Development and Emergency Relief work had run its course and I joined Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association as Fundraising Director. Working for a local cause bought its own challenges and I stayed there for six years. In 2007 I had an opportunity to set up my own company Redsocks Consulting. I have now come full circle in taking up the role with Self Help Africa and it is a challenge I relish and look forward to over the coming years.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Honestly, I hated everything except PE.
Did you go on to further/ higher education, if so what did you study and where?
Yes, given that I didn’t have the qualifications to attend university I got one of the biggest breaks of my life when I was accepted for the Certificate in Foundation Studies for Mature Students which was running at Magee. It was without a doubt one of the best years of my life and, as the second youngest in the class I learned many, many life lessons along the way. I then undertook the Peace and Conflict Studies Degree which I successfully completed in 1989. I then attended Queen’s University Belfast part time and completed the certificate in Advertising Marketing and Public Relations. My third experience of university life came along in 2000 when I was selected to study at Boston College where I successfully completed the Sustainability and the Not for Profit Sector in the US.
How did you get into your area of work?
As part of my primary degree course we studied conflict and the role that global politics and the global economy played in creating the conditions for conflict in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a result of having an understanding of these concepts, I managed to secure a Development Education role in Concern which involved visiting schools, youth clubs and community groups and talking about the issues affecting the world’s poor and the impact of poverty and deprivation. Had I not completed the degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, my career would have certainly gone in a different direction.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
I began working life as a 17-year-old studying mechanical engineering and, after four years, qualified as a Tool Maker in 1981, so I can’t claim that it was always what I wanted to do. I can say however that after working with Amnesty International where we were striving to ensure access to Human Rights for everyone, I never wanted to do anything else. People measure success in different ways. For some people it’s selling cars or consumables in general, and for others, success is about delivering quality of services within our health system or the outcomes for children and young people in the education system and that’s what makes the world go around. For me it’s always been about social injustice and winning my own little battles in trying to make a difference.
Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
The most important qualification you need is that you have a passion for the sector and for wanting to make a difference.
Are there alternative routes into the job?
There are many routes into a job like mine. You just need to take the decision to take the route that leads there.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
Leadership and management, governance and strategy, marketing and communications and crucially public speaking.
What does a typical day entail?
I try to get into work for 7.30am and beat the traffic build up which can be stressful coming in from the outskirts of South Belfast. I try and get control of all my emails, be they from the staff in the Belfast or Dublin office or the staff in Uganda and address them early in the morning. Mostly though my day involves connecting with people in business, people working in companies or businesses which have a synergy with the work that we do and will have an empathy and willingness to help us in achieving our mission.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The overseas responsibility without a doubt is the most challenging and the best part of our work. I feel directly connected to the people in the field overseas and our beneficiaries and understand the responsibility that I have in terms of being both a voice for them and someone who can influence people here to help provide them with the resources they need to build sustainable futures for their families. The most challenging aspect of the job is to ensure that we are heard above the ‘noise’ of all the other competitors who are passionately attempting to deliver on behalf of vulnerable people either locally or globally.
Why is what you do important?
We make a real and meaningful difference to the lives of many thousands of people throughout Africa and we provide a lifeline for the volunteers who work in our shops across Northern Ireland.
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
Get your foot in the door with a voluntary sector organisation and then decide what the cause is that you want to deliver and the role that you want to play. Don’t stop learning. Get back to further education, participate in courses and just keep building your skills base and knowledge.
Describe your ideal day off.
Going to my cottage in the Blue Stack Mountains, near Glenties and setting off first thing in the morning for a walk with good company along the Blue Stack Way into Glenties and Ardara. A big pint of Guinness and seafood in Nancy’s Bar, Ardara, accompanied with a bit of live music. On the way back to Glenties take a walk on the Portnoo/Nann Strand and sit on the beach just watching the waves. Back to the cottage and a glass (or three) of red wine on my little slate bench which faces the West and the setting sun -perfect day.
And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?
Don’t go chasing money – chase something career wise that you’re going to be passionate about and love.