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Sarah Ireland

Current role:

Head of Organisational Effectiveness

Joined Oxfam in 2003:

2003: Country Representative, Afghanistan

2005: Regional Programme Manager, India

2006: Regional Director, South Asia

2007: Regional Director, Asia

2014: Head of Organisational Effectiveness

Key learning opportunities taken

  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Online learning opportunities
  • On the job learning

What was your first role? What were your aims and ambitions when you first started?

As I finished university I didn't really know what to do - so used my experience as a volunteer to apply for a job in a local charity - I didn't know what I wanted to do but I knew I didn't want what people expected of me - teacher, nurse etc - my development career started with me being a VSO volunteer in Bangladesh for 2 years - no substitutive for real hands on experience!

How long have you been with Oxfam for, and what sorts of roles have you been in?

I am in my 13th year - I started as Country Director for Afghanistan, then Regional Programme Manager for South Asia based in Delhi then Regional Director for East Asia and then Regional Director for Asia and my current role is in the UK as the Head of Organisation Effectiveness.

What motivated you to join Oxfam, and move to your current role?

I had always wanted to work for Oxfam - Oxfam is the gold standard for INGOs - no others are as good!

What kinds of skills, experiences and knowledge, would you say, are crucial for you to deliver in your current role?

Programme experience is a real advantage and gives credibility - really good leadership and management skills are really necessary.

What helped you get there over your career?

People believing in me - me believing in me - looking for and taking development opportunities - both content inputs to stretch my thinking but also opportunities to really reflect and learn - learning by doing too!

What is the most useful thing a manager or colleague or mentor has done to help you with your learning and your career?

I have a coach who really helps me think through things and brings external thinking and challenge - I need a manager who will back me but also be constructively critical.

Has there been a particular learning experience, or several, which contributed significantly to bringing you to where you are today? If so, could you please tell me about it a little?

Key courses which have provided context, stretch and motivation like the Advanced Management and Leadership Programme at Said and most recently the NTL programme on organisation behaviour.

What do you think are great ways to learn and progress which people don't always think about?

Mentors and coaches really support on the job learning - learning from each other is not valued so much but can be really effective. I also think online learning can enable you to access learning at low cost and you can do it in your own time.

What would be your top tips for people starting out or wanting to progress in Oxfam?

Talk to your manager and ensure that your objectives and PDP support for vision for your career path - look for opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone - keep in touch with the world outside Oxfam - get yourself a coach!

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