Joanna Kerr, ActionAid's international chief executive
Photo: Zute & Demelza Lightfoot/ActionAid
We can’t afford to be cautious. People should have a sense of anger.
Three days into her job as Chief Executive of ActionAid International, Joanna Kerr found herself sitting under a tree in southern Kenya, speaking with a group of Masai women.
“Masai women are generally very oppressed. But these women were formidable leaders, formidable activists. Meeting them, seeing what they’ve achieved – that was truly inspiring for me.”
And that, for Joanna, is what ActionAid is about: giving everyone the opportunity to take charge of their lives.
Joanna, who joined ActionAid in June 2010, says that ActionAid is not like other NGOs.
We’re always looking for new approaches to tackle old problems – and I believe the work we’re doing is truly different because of the way we mobilise communities to defend their own rights.
“There’s an overwhelming drive throughout ActionAid to use our influence in the most transformative ways from the grass roots,” she says. “Building movements at the community level is really the only way to achieve change that is sustainable, and respects and protects rights.”
Joanna remains “an activist by nature”, and says her personality fits well with ActionAid’s own, which she describes as “a little bit more rebellious” than other organisations.
“We can’t afford to be cautious in the demands we make,” she says. “People should have a sense of anger when they see the kind of poverty that exists, and the kind of discrimination that exists.
“I would say I am a provocateur, and yet I am very compassionate, and I am probably as fun-loving as I am hard-working. I am just really interested in people, and I invest a huge amount in connecting with the people I work with. I believe that is really critical in the work that ActionAid does – that, no matter what, we need to connect with each other as humans.”
To arrange an interview with Joanna, please contact our press team.