Sarah O’Grady – Amnesty International UK

Sarah O'Grady photoIntroduction
Having enjoyed a career so far as a solicitor in private practice and the public/regulatory sector specialising in dispute resolution, commercial and environmental law, Sarah is also a CEDR Accredited Mediator and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. Her focus is now changing to combine these with governance expertise to advise on governance and conflict management/resolution, supporting and developing those in leadership roles and resolving disputes as a neutral third party.

What does your organisation do?amnesty candle black
Amnesty International UK is part of a global movement of over seven million people. Its vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments. It is a democratic, active membership organisation which investigates and exposes abuses, campaigns, educates and mobilises the public and lobbies governments and corporations.
Sarah is Chair of the membership, campaigning UK Section and is a Trustee of the associated Charitable Trust, which focuses on human rights education.

When and why did you become Chair?
Having been a Board member for 3 years and Vice Chair for 2 months, I took over the role of Chair in July 2013 at very short notice when the previous Chair stepped aside. AIUK was then going through a very difficult time due to an extensive staff restructure and budget cuts to enable AIUK to increase its contribution to the growth of the international movement.

What do you most enjoy about chairing?
It is a huge privilege and very rewarding to work with a very committed Board, Chief Executive, staff, volunteers and members across the organisation.
The international aspect of the role is also very interesting, especially collaborating with Chairs from other Sections across the globe. Although they have different external contexts, a lot of the challenges of chairing are very similar!
I have been leading governance reform and constitutional changes, which have involved a lot of hard work and engagement with change by a lot of people. I’m looking forward to the proposed constitutional changes being debated and decided on by the members at what will be my last AGM as Chair in April 2016.

Do you have a key tip or lesson to share with your fellow Chairs?
Chairing a membership organisation brings an additional dimension. Open, direct, clear and regular communication helps engage members and build trust.
Invest in building positive, respectful relationships with your CEO, Board and stakeholders.
Occupy “the space”. Learn how to have difficult conversations and manage conflict constructively.
Listen and be open to learning. Consider using a coach; mine has brought an external and more experienced perspective as well as being a confidential and reassuring sounding-board.

Why did you join AoC?
Its focus on chairing, the resources and learning the AoC provides are very valuable. I also enjoy networking and sharing experiences with other Chairs and Vice Chairs of organisations operating in different parts of the non-profit sector.