Benaifer Bhandari joined Hopscotch Asian Women’s Centre as their Chief Executive in November 2018, prior to this she worked various roles at the breastfeeding support charity La Leche League GB. Benaifer speaks with Nicholas Ogden and Pro-Marketing about working at Hopscotch Asian Women’s Centre where their mission is to enable BAME women to actively participate in society and make informed decisions that enable them to achieve their aspirations. Additionally Benaifer, kindly offers interview tips, and shares her views on how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed/adapted fundraising.
Tell me about yourself, how your career started and what you do at Hopscotch Asian Women’s Centre?
I started as CEO in November 2018 and it was a monumental moment for me. As a BAME woman, the door to CEO roles doesn't always open easily and I fell in love with Hopscotch in my preparation for my interview. It's a remarkable organisation that is built on compassion and sound governance practices. My previous charity, La Leche League GB, was the same. I served here as a trustee and as a director of the accreditation department. This involved heaps of international work, including complex policy writing which would serve the very different parts of the world where mothers breastfeed.
Now at Hopscotch I have the privilege of working with colleagues who are experts in their own fields of health and social care, domestic violence, employment and welfare advice. We also have experts working with older and young BAME women.
It's inspiring to be surrounded by such high skill levels and keeps me motivated to keep Hopscotch going fiscally and keep our work growing. We have an excellent reputation locally for being a one stop shop for women who need specialist BAME support, and we are now expanding around London to be able to share our knowledge and skills to help even more isolated and underserved women and girls.
How do Hopscotch Asian Women’s Centre differentiate themselves in the market?
We are unique in the holistic approach we have. We run services which, individually, may be replicated elsewhere, but our centre puts all our services together and we work with each service user at her pace, according to her ability and motivations and working with the barriers she in particular faces. We move her seamlessly between services as she feels ready to disclose her needs and at all times being respectful of what it means to be a disadvantaged BAME woman in London.
An example is a service user (B) who came to us seeking urgent support after surviving domestic abuse. Our advocate was there for B in her hour of need and in the weeks and months to come, making sure she was safe, fed and plugged into the statutory bodies needed. Our welfare advocate stepped in, as needed, for the housing and welfare issues which came up. In time B was able to express her desire to work (which previously she hadn’t been allowed to) and our employment development team supported her in improving her English and helped her work on her CV writing and interview skills.
Eventually B was ready to step into the job market and chose to interview with our own Homecare service and was successful! She is now working flexibly as a care worker and having her own income for the first time in her life. Our Better Employment advisor is now working with her to develop her skills further with workshops which B can attend around her care work, so that she avoids the in-work poverty trap so many Londoners face and can start to dream big and live the life she deserves.
How big is your team and what advice would you give anyone applying to be part of the team?
We have a 23-person office-based team and 50 incredible care workers. We are nearly always recruiting, as grant funding comes in and we are always looking for more care workers to join our expanding Homecare service. We have a great social media presence where you will find all our opportunities and our website www.hopscotchawc.org.uk also has lots of information on how to apply. Always consider getting in touch first, have an informal chat with us so we can get to know you even before we’ve received your application. That’s a sure way of getting us excited to receive your email.
How would your team describe you?
This is awkward to respond to! OK, so we are accredited by various bodies like the Care Quality Commission and Advice Quality Standard. Here are bits from our last Matrix (Employment auditors) report:-
- “Leadership and management is another area of strength. A number of staff and partners commented on the fresh energy and new approach brought by the new CEO”
- “Increased networking, and with a background in counselling, an in depth understanding of women, but also how working with them can bring stresses”
- “A breath of fresh air, loads of new ideas, already adding things to our programme”.
- “The new composition of the Board has led to a timely review of Hopscotch’s vision, mission and objectives. Staff described being given relative autonomy; but it was also clear that there is a structured framework of meetings now in place at both manager and practitioner level to oversee performance”
- “I think we have finally got there in terms of managing things, the right level of oversight”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t always listen to your teachers. Absorb the positive things one or two of them said to you over those 12 years. The horrid things said to you consistently are all about them and not you. You will find yourself attracting inspiring people soon enough and they will help you find your passion for working with those in need.
When you interview someone for your organisation, what is the first thing you notice about a person and what does it tell you?
Their smile and their answer to “Why Hopscotch?” Both tell me how comfortable they are expressing their connection to our charity and how they might fit into the family vibe we work hard at maintaining.
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has changed or adapted fundraising?
It has put Hopscotch and our many peer organisations at risk of closure. Through sheer hard work we have fundraised crisis money to be able to keep going until March 21 – but what happens when that money runs out? How do we replace the losses incurred in Homecare, our social enterprise, because of C-19? How do we continue our important work of reaching women who are unreachable by others? This uncertainty has meant a more ferocious fundraising strategy has been needed, including spending a lot of time thinking of creative ways to raise unrestricted income.
What advice would you give to someone looking to make a move into a not-for-profit organisation from another sector (especially during this pandemic)?
It’s not for everyone – you need to have a combination of empathy, determination and big picture vision. If this is you, there are lots of great platforms where jobs are advertised and then for charities like Hopscotch who cannot afford these platforms, call directly or go to the website and apply! There is crisis funding around, there are programmes starting or extending their run, so there are jobs out there right now – mostly only for the few months until the funding runs out, but it’s a great way to start.
For those who can, I always say the best way to test the water and find out if the third sector is for you, is to volunteer.
If you were not working for a charity or not-for-profit organisation, what would the dream be?
I would work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds for whom either school let them down or isn’t the right place. I home educate my lads, so I have experience of another – non-institutional – way of learning where children are empowered and motivated and have the time to learn important skills like conflict resolution and socialising with people of all ages and abilities.
Any final words of advice for people looking to progress their career in the charity sector?
The charity sector is filled with people who have to manage strict governance and tight finances, but who also think outside the box. Part of that is having the capacity to hire those who are passionate and have skills beyond academics. It’s a beautiful place to grow as a person, navigate life with like-minded people and have the opportunity to give hope – which could be directly to those in need or it could be indirectly by helping the organisation flourish.
The third sector is surprisingly fast-paced, as funding comes and goes, needs fluctuate and people who care move about at quite a speed!
Find your passion, work out what sector that fits into and then find the organisation that understands the needs of that sector. Volunteer with them until they have the space to take you on and then fly!
Thanks for your time, and as a little treat for all of our readers - do you have any guilty pleasures you can share with us?
I am known for my views and actions against patriarchy but LOVE ‘Say Yes To The Dress’. Sshhh, don’t tell anyone!