Chief execs: they earn their pay

By Vivienne Lewis, June 6, 2014
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I have worked in the community for over 30 years and, yes, I "confess" to having been one of the well-paid chief executives before retiring. I am now a freelance consultant to the mainly, but not exclusively, Jewish voluntary sector and I know the "shocking" inside story: working 10 or 12 hour days, being on call at all times, making informed decisions that could make the difference between, if not life and death, then certainly quality of life for the person concerned, his or her family and often the community in which they live.

It is said that to understand another person's life, one must walk a mile in his or her shoes. Here are just glimpses of some of the bigger shoes and those who fill them.

Simon Morris at Jewish Care takes the ultimate responsibility for the wellbeing of some 7,000 residents and clients, and their families; the buck stops with him. He runs a multimillion pound enterprise.

At Norwood, its client group is made up of some of the most vulnerable people in the community. Its chief executive, Elaine Kerr, combines years of expertise gained in the public sector with experience in the Jewish community.

This world is really hard but very rewarding

Paul Anticoni does not just "raise money for people in other countries". He is responsible for improving the quality of life for many thousands of our fellow Jews in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who live in abject poverty.

As his predecessor, I know how it feels to have to choose between funding meals at a kindergarten and making vital repairs to the home of a Holocaust survivor. WJR has staff on the ground to ensure that all funding is used for its designated purpose and Paul is accountable to each and every donor. Like mine used to, his day could start at 3 am in time to catch an early flight to Ukraine and not finish until midnight.

Jewish Women's Aid deals with women and children at unbearable – and often unbelievable – times of crises, in a caring a professional manner, as well as trying to dispel the prevalent myth that domestic abuse does not affect all sections of our community.

The smaller charities do vital work but may have lower profiles, mainly because they cannot afford to advertise. They have to work hard to get their message across.

In the States, working in the voluntary sector is both a well respected and well remunerated career. Some of the most interesting, intelligent and educated people I have ever met and worked with have been my American colleagues. In the UK, it has neither the status nor respect it deserves.

I have never forgotten someone telling me that his daughter was not very academically inclined and might "have to do something like you do". That is where we go wrong. I am not too worried (just a little) about the calibre of tomorrow's leadership. I am, however, concerned about the next generation of Jewish chief executives.

The Jewish voluntary sector will have increasing demands put upon it – cuts in statutory funding, an ageing population. If a career in the sector is seen as a soft option, and believe me it is not, we will not attract the best people.

So, let's tell children about the voluntary sector; how hard it is, but how rewarding it is, in every sense. Let's train our professionals; pay them adequately and perhaps even generously; let's acknowledge their contribution to the community.

Publish their salaries if you wish, but remember they earn every penny.

Vivienne Lewis is former chief executive of World Jewish Relief and a consultant to the voluntary sector.

    Last updated: 12:27pm, June 6 2014