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The Handshake Presents: Siobhan Richards on the Invaluable Asset of a Meandering Career

The Handshake aims to attract and retain talent in The Hague by offering students and young professionals a chance to hear from seasoned practitioners in the peace and justice sector. The third edition of the Handshake with Siobhan Richards took place on October 17, 2023. Check out this page to see any upcoming editions!

Meet Siobhan Richards

The guest speaker for this edition of The Handshake was Siobhan Richards, Fundraising Officer at the Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation and one of their longest serving staff members. In her role she focuses on institutional fundraising and the operational aspects of the foundation which supports the program team to be able to accomplish their aims.

While some career paths are very linear, she highlights that others can meander, and hers falls into that latter category. She graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in Fine Arts, History of Art, Philosophy and Anthropology. With this, she aimed to work in the cultural sector, but she had worked in libraries during her summers as a student which led her to end up working for an archive. From her archiving skills and experience she moved into museum education, specifically to help with social engagement, which was strong in that sector due to the political atmosphere at that time. She ended up switching to the other side of the table – the side of the donor – as she worked for the Heritage Lottery Fund. This gave her experience and useful understanding of how donors worked.

After moving to the Netherlands, she found it difficult to continue to work in that field as an outsider to the community. She retrained as a psychotherapist and taught dance, which was a passion of hers. Due to evolving changes in the way that health insurers regard psychotherapy, she chose not to practice after she certified. Eventually she stumbled upon her current position by accident. It was initially an internship position, but she reached out anyway as a volunteer and ended up getting a permanent position. She uses many of the skills and experiences she gained throughout her unique career in her work at the Mukwege Foundation. In the past, she was able to use her psychotherapy background to support her colleagues as they work closely with survivors of sexual violence. Moreover, the perspective she gained working for a donor organization helps to guide her decisions in her role as Fundraising Officer.

Siobhan’s Advice

From her fascinating career you may already be able to guess what advice she gave us at The Handshake. She emphasized the importance of being flexible and open-minded to opportunities. Fundraising is a field that has and will continue to change as the world experiences various events which affect donors’ priorities and interests. Anticipating this and embracing it can help in navigating this field. Beyond that, she states that you can find many opportunities to do good if you look for them – being open to work in operations, support and administrative roles may be a route into an organization whose mission you resonate with. Much of the experience Siobhan gained was because she was highly adaptable and saw all her skills as transferable. Therefore, staying open and positive about what your skills might be able to bring to an organization – even outside of the confines of a job description – is also an asset. Especially in the peace and justice sector where smaller organizations with a more horizontal structure may have a specific need those skills can fill. Lastly, she shared that being receptive to opportunities is not always passive, but rather you often have to actively seek out what you want in order to get it.

Other Highlights

  • Make sure your CV is specific to the sector and role you are applying for (this might mean having several)
  • Proactive fundraising is essential but looks different in different organizations at different stages
  • Try to put yourself into the shoes of the organization that you would like to work for and find out what their needs are.
  • Ask whether it is easy to grow or get permanent employment when applying for entry positions/internships.
  • Be open to taking risks!