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The plight of modern slavery and the woman fighting to end it

14 October 2019 at 8:23 am
Maggie Coggan
Each year millions of people are enslaved, trafficked and exploited worldwide. It’s an epidemic that as CEO of Hagar Australia Jo Pride is fighting to end. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 14 October 2019 at 8:23 am


The plight of modern slavery and the woman fighting to end it
14 October 2019 at 8:23 am

Each year millions of people are enslaved, trafficked and exploited worldwide. It’s an epidemic that as CEO of Hagar Australia Jo Pride is fighting to end. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

When Pride came face to face with advocacy groups in her time working as an adviser to former senator Natasha Stott Despoja in the Australian Parliament, she decided she wanted a change. 

From a young age, she had a sense of justice and empathy instilled in her by her parents, who welcomed newly arrived migrants and refugees into their lives, and so a job in the charitable sector made sense as a next career step.  

Taking on the head of policy and advocacy at Oxfam Australia, Pride found a passion for the international aid sector and when the opportunity to lead Hagar Australia came up she jumped at the chance.  

Hagar works across Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Vietnam, supporting each client on an individual level to secure safe accommodation, access counselling, obtain legal support and employment. Pride says this is what it takes to ensure long-term sustainable change. 

As head of Hagar Australia, she is fighting to raise awareness back in Australia and create a sustainable organisation that carries on its work for years to come. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Pride talks about the challenges of leading a small charity, how to make the change to the charity sector, and why perseverance is important. 

How did you get involved in the charity sector?  

I grew up with a really deep sense of justice, which was one of the driving factors. My parents also seemed to always gravitate towards newly arrived migrants or international students, so I grew up around a lot of different cultures, which gave me a real curiosity about different parts of the world and an understanding that human beings are the same wherever they come from.

It was when I was working as an advisor to Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, responsible for the foreign affairs portfolio, and was engaging with some of the large international not for profits when they came to Canberra to lobby, that really set me on a path to the charity sector because I was so inspired by their work. I left the parliamentary role with a mission to get into the sector and it did take some time to get my foot in the door but once I did, I then went on to lead policy and advocacy at Oxfam for a decade and then stepped into my first CEO role with Hagar.

What was it like moving from a large international NFP to quite a small charity like Hagar? 

There are a lot more meetings that need to happen in a large NFP because of the many players and stakeholders involved in anything you are trying to do. Being in charge of a small organisation is a lot more hands on, and so the variety of work that I do on a daily basis has really given me an understanding of almost every part of our business – from fundraising, through to HR, payroll, and our program quality and the advocacy work. 

What are you trying to achieve as CEO of Hagar?

Our focus is on rebuilding the lives of women and children who have been trafficked, enslaved or abused and preventing those crimes from happening in the first place. There are 40 million people still trapped in slavery in the world today. We’re very much focused on raising awareness of this issue in the Australian community and raising funds for the work that Hager has been doing across Asia for 25 years. 

So what that means for me as CEO is making sure that we are growing and getting our message out there so that more people are becoming aware of these issues, that they are not only financially supporting us but also looking at their own lives, perhaps their own companies and the changes that they can make to help contribute to bringing these crimes to an end.

What would you say you love most about your job?

I love getting overseas to see the work firsthand, and I love interacting with some of our local staff that are working on the frontline. One of the local workers comes to mind in particular, she’s been working for Hagar for 14 years in Cambodia and she’s in charge of the care of all of our clients there. People like her are just utterly inspiring individuals who are just driven by such passion and professionalism. 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the charity sector like you did when you were working for government?

Just be really persistent, because getting into the sector can be quite competitive, which I think is quite a surprise to people in the corporate sector. People often congratulate me for what they think is the sacrifice you have to make when joining the charity sector, but I don’t think they have any idea how competitive it is to get a really great and interesting role. I would often say to even university students, just get your foot in the door, even if it’s as an administrative assistant or a volunteer, because once you’ve done that you’re building relationships, you’re learning the language that is spoken in different organisations and you’re positioning yourself well for any further opportunities that come up. I can think of countless examples of staff that have come in at that lower level and have gone on to have really stunning careers in the sector. My first contract in the sector was only a five-month project contract that turned into 10 years. Just be willing to be humble and take on whatever opportunities come your way.

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

I have two children aged 10 and eight so they do keep me really busy. I enjoy hanging out with them and watching them play sports on the weekends. I also participated in Hagar’s half marathon fundraiser in Angkor Wat last year, which is something I’d never done before, or thought I would ever do. I have never been a runner in my life and I think I had quite a phobia of running. But I really got into the training and doing the run itself was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. To see Angkor Wat at sunrise was incredible. I discovered that there is such a thing called the runner’s high adrenaline rush that happens after a big run that keeps you going for the rest of the day. I’m training for this year’s run at the moment and it’s great.  

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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