To some, Martin Edwards made what may have seemed a strange decision by turning his back on a career in law to be a charity worker. Martin talks to The Industry Leaders about his decision, his work with terminally ill children and their families, and making his bank manager cry.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
I studied Law at Oxford University, but (with apologies to lawyers) I found it painfully dull. While there, I got into charity fundraising, loved it and decided to be a charity worker. My bank manager cried, but no one else did, and I've never regretted it.
I've built youth clubs, campaigned for families in crisis and worked in overseas aid. Since 2005 I've been CEO of the children's hospice Julia's House, which has been awarded UK Healthcare Charity of the Year and ranked 1st in the UK's Top 100 Non-Profits to Work For.
What kind of work does your role involve?
Overseeing nursing care for children with life-threatening conditions, which means a huge focus on care quality. Supporting families exhausted by round-the-clock care needs. Conducting research and lobbying Members of Parliament on national policy. Recruiting wealthy donors or celebrities .... the variety of work is endless.
And because we see many children die, ensuring that as a group of staff, we support each other really well. For example, we brought in a counselling helpline long before mental health was much spoken about.
What gets you excited about your industry?
Children's palliative care is more than end of life care, and the focus should be on more than the child. It's about supporting the whole family from the point of diagnosis, which sees them catapulted into a world of 24/7 care needs, sleep exhaustion and enormous stress, with a consequent impact on the parents' health.
This is why we research the impact on families, what it costs the state, and what can help. The parents need far more respite support, but that needs long term thinking. The question no politician can answer is: 'in whose interests is it to wait for more of these parents to suffer breakdowns or to split up?'
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My former manager at Save the Children, David Richards, said to us when he left: 'For the first six months blame me. After that, blame yourselves.'
What he was saying is that many people spend years making excuses when they should rapidly take responsibility for themselves.
How do you support aspiring leaders in your field?
I mentor some leaders of smaller charities in the UK and the US, write articles and give speeches on leadership to charity and corporate audiences, and I am a Trustee of a grant-giving Foundation. I have also done some mutual mentoring with a top professional football manager.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
As well as reading specialist journals, I forensically examine serious incident reports from elsewhere in the healthcare sector to see why horrendous failures happened and what we can learn from them.
It's equally important to stay very close to service user complaints and anonymous survey feedback because that's where you will find nuggets of wisdom on how to improve service quality.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
It was an opportunity as well as a challenge. The charity helped children in Dorset, UK, but I felt we could do more, so we set out to build a second children's hospice in Wiltshire.
I looked around for help, and a key ally was the film director Guy Ritchie. Guy staged a major fundraising event and enlisted Robert Downey Jr., who he had directed in the two Sherlock Holmes movies. They raised 2/3rds of the appeal total between them, and we were soon able to open Julia's House Wiltshire. Every time I meet a child or a parent there, I'm so pleased we took the risk and made it happen.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
After providing a safety net for my children and helping out a few friends in need, I would fund a new service in Julia's House for families in crisis and research other innovative local charities who deserve some smart investment.
As the film star and philanthropist Paul Newman said: 'In years to come it will not matter what car I drove or what clothes I wore, but it will matter that I made a difference to the life of a child.'
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I'm attempting a virtual charity challenge: visiting the Seven Wonders of the World. They are virtual treks, running and walking towards sites such as the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu. Anyone can enlist at www.juliashouse.org/seven-wonders.
I also sketch. Recently I drew a pack of 'Monster Trumps' for the children at Julia's House, with ratings for the likes of Medusa, Voldemort, Gollum, a Werewolf and the Loch Ness Monster!
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
For the government to give parents of disabled children more respite, rather than waiting until a crisis before intervening and trying to mend the broken pieces.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
The Evolve to Succeed Podcast with Warren Munson, a UK entrepreneur. Warren interviews innovators and dynamic leaders in their fields. There are gems in every episode.
They are well known, but I recommend Daniel Goleman's essays and books on Emotional Intelligence, which we turn into management training at Julia's House.
How should people connect with you?
I'm on LinkedIn as Martin Edwards CEO Julia's House charity https://www.linkedin.com/feed/.
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