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Going from Academics to NGOs by James Hanson

We caught up with former Creative Access intern James Hanson and how he went from strength to strength in the charity sector. From Greenpeace and Contact the Elderly to Diabetes UK, here is his journey…

While I was studying, like most people, I had no idea what to do with myself. I finished my under-grad in Ancient History, loved it, and decided to do an MA. I studied the literature of ancient Mesopotamia, reading myths like the Epic of Gilgamesh, trying to assess whether or not Babylonian mythology subverts the authority of kingship (it does…I think). I loved my topic and when I finished was set on a PhD.

Finances stopped me from being able to jump straight into research. So many people told me that I should take some time out to think about what I wanted, and try a few other things before committing to a PhD. I could always go back to it in a year or two.

So I took some time out, went to South America, came home and decided to see if I could find an interesting, stimulating and rewarding job. I’d always been interested in the charity/NGO sector, doing something because you believe in the cause rather than just for the money.

I’d heard about Creative Access through friends, and decided to check what was on there. People can often be a bit negative about “positive discrimination”, but when you know how little diversity there is in so many sectors (and how big pay gaps are), you realise how important it is.

I signed up, had a look at internships, and saw the Greenpeace Local Media Internship. It sounded great, Greenpeace is an amazing organisation, and the role sounded like it would let me continue doing what I love…writing, as well as learning a new skill.

During my 10 month internship, which turned into 12, I set up Greenpeace UK’s “Local Media Network”, a nationwide network of trained volunteers who worked with me to tell the stories of Greenpeace’s activists and volunteers, and amplify our campaigns to help them reach new audiences (not everyone reads The Guardian).

It was an amazing year, working with inspiring people on causes I believe in and helping Greenpeace reach out of the environmental echo chamber. I learnt so much, and found a career that I wanted to pursue.

After Greenpeace I moved on to Contact the Elderly, a small charity working to help isolated older people reconnect with their communities. I’ve been looking after CtE’s press and media for 6 months or so now. It’s been an enlightening experience, and a huge change from Greenpeace. Again, I’ve learnt so much. I’ve seen the sector from a new angle, and worked on totally different stories (from “penguins” marching down the high streets to a skydiving 81 year old).

One thing that I’ve noticed in the charity sector is the distinct lack of diversity.

Almost always you find yourself as the only person of colour in the room, which initially felt quite daunting, but I soon realised how valuable our perspectives are, particularly in a sector which is very conscious of its lack of diversity, and is trying hard to fix this. People want to hear what we think, and value our perspectives.

In September I’ll be starting a new role at Diabetes UK. I can’t wait. It will be exciting to work with a whole new set of stories, and work on an issue which affects millions, and disproportionately affects those in ethnic minority communities.

Congratulations, James. We can’t wait to hear what you’ll do next.

You can follow James on Twitter at @hendursanga