By Suzanne Basra, Content & Internal Communications Manager at Ogilvy UK
Alison Hall, Account Director at Ogilvy UK's Business to Business Practice, has received an MBE for services to victims of war in Northern Uganda in this year's New Year's Honours List with her charity Seeds for Development.
We caught up with Alison to find out more about her tremendous achievement.
Congratulations! How does it feel to be acknowledged in the New Year's Honours List 2019?
It was a complete surprise and when I got the voicemail message from the Cabinet Office asking me to call them, my immediate reaction was what have I done and that I was going to be arrested. Then I was convinced it was be a scam! It was only when it was announced that I believed it. The response from everyone around me has been overwhelming. Now that the dust is settling, I am feeling immensely honoured and proud that our tiny charity (me with help from a friend) has been recognised for making a difference in a very challenging part of the world. Every time I go to Uganda I am instructed by the people there to share their stories and tell the world what happened to them. I hope that this will reassure them a bit that their voices are being heard.
How did you come to set up Seeds for Development?
It was in 2007; I was working at IBM and attended a Leadership Conference in Norway. One of the key-note speakers was a Ugandan entrepreneur and the Managing Director of a seed company. She talked about the plight of people living in Uganda who couldn’t afford to buy the seeds to grow themselves out of poverty. It was the realisation that if my tomato crop fails, I go to the supermarket whereas they could starve that triggered something inside me and I decided there and then to do something! I came up with the idea lending farmers seeds instead of giving them – micro-finance in kind. I got back to the UK and looked for a charity I could support that did that. There wasn’t one, so I started Seeds for Development. Since then we have provided seeds to more than 3,500 farmers.
Tell us a bit about the charity's work - how is Seeds for Development helping to support victims of war in Uganda?
Our goal is to kick poverty out of northern Uganda through education, empowerment and farming. As well as lending farmers seeds, we also run community projects in 6 villages. We support 5 village nursery schools and ensure each of the children (around 750) have a cup of hot porridge every day – when they might not eat anything else that day. We empower women by teaching them to make paper beads, which we buy and then sell here to raise funds. We grow coffee and support coffee farmers! And a load more projects…
Every time I visit Uganda I look for the most disadvantaged people. For example we work with a group of 50 child mothers (some as young as 12) who were abducted in the war by the rebels and forced to be child soldiers and sex slaves. Another group are HIV+ and a group of old people whose sons, husbands and brothers were massacred.
What's on the horizon for your work in Uganda in 2019?
We will carry on with our existing projects and have a few new ideas for the year. We are going to support 2 more nursery schools (paying 2 teachers and a cook). This will increase the number of children who receive an education and porridge to more than 1,000.
Our really exciting project for the year is to help a group of women start a business where they will make sanitary towels out of locally available materials – including Papyrus Grass. The women will then move from village to village selling them, whilst educating the community. Girls don’t know what is happening to them when they start their periods and they then go on to miss a week of school every month because they have no protection. There is also a ridiculously high child pregnancy rate with girls having sex in return for a lift home on a bicycle. In some cases men sell their children in return for a bottle of beer. There is a lot to do…
Any advice for anyone wanting to set up their own charity as you have done?
If you have the passion for the cause then go for it and be realistic in what you can and will achieve and do (I wasn’t but I am now). Dream HUGE and start TINY, get it right and then grow.
Don’t kid yourself that it will be easy - raising money is hard (especially if you are like me and hate asking for money!).
Always expect the unexpected and embrace the weird and wonderful opportunities that will come your way. I never for a minute thought I would be giving speeches or going to parliament, but I do both!
Finally - every day look at happy photos of the people you are helping and the smiles on their faces because of what you are doing for them. Remember that everything and anything is possible (not just in starting a charity, but with everything!).