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Interview with Mike Robinson, Amnesty International UK

Mike Robinson, Head of Technology at Amnesty International UK takes time out from his busy day job to explain his background, the challenges he faces in his current role and why he’s coming to chase live, Hart Square’s annual leadership conference on 4th July at The Brewery, London.

Tell us about your current role!
I am Head of Technology at Amnesty International UK, a post I took over just over a year ago. The UK branch of Amnesty International focuses on campaigning and fundraising in the UK; my role is to ensure we have all the key systems (all end user devices, servers, MS Office etc) in place that enable the organisation to function.

Have you always worked in non-profit organisations?
I started my career in the private sector, but the last decade has been in the non-profit sector. Previously, I was Head of Business Systems and Business Intelligence at Action for Children.

Amnesty International and Action for Children are very different organisations:

  • Action for Children is an NFP running services for its audience, focused on delivering local authority contracts
  • Amnesty is a much more member-led organisation, its fundraising is entirely there to support its campaigning role

It’s great to work in such different dynamics and see how the NFP sector is so varied.

If you’ve worked in the for-profit sector, what’s the biggest difference you’ve seen?
The biggest difference is the speed you get decisions made; it’s much slower in the NFP sector, which seems to be an acknowledged issue. That said, it’s clear that every penny counts, so organisations are rightfully careful with how they spend their money.

What’s the biggest challenges facing your organisation right now?
Amnesty International UK has an ageing infrastructure and outdated systems; the team has been fantastic at keeping these systems working….to be honest, they’ve been a victim of their own success.

But as an organisation, we have now agreed the time has come to upgrade the core infrastructure. We need to migrate people off windows 7 and upgrade key systems, especially our fundraising system.

How will you approach this change?
The key to success is to ensure that we bring the business with us, and not impose new technology. This is as much about culture change as it is about digital transformation. We need to get staff bought in before we begin our digital transformation project.

Our leadership team have bought into this and that’s key to drive this; that’s why my role was created and is much more focused on just technology, rather than technology plus a range of other services. That focus has enabled me to make real progress in my first year, to build partnerships with the rest of the organisation and better understand what they are trying to achieve.

Equally, our leadership team know that whilst they are experts in their fields, be it campaigning or fundraising, they aren’t technology experts. They can define the goals and we can help them see the ways in which technology can better help us achieve them.

What’s the thing you’re most proud of in your current role?
I am really proud to have the organisation’s first standalone technology strategy and new policies in place and signed off by leadership team and trustees.

We now have a business case in progress with our trustees to secure the investment we need to now make that strategy real and we are getting ready for a major change in the coming months.

What’s the secret to your success?
One of the ways I have made this happen is to be much more visible. We aren’t just a back-office service anymore; I have made sure I am very visible within the organisation, communicating our successes. And again, it’s about building relationships with key teams across the organisation.

And what are you hoping to learn from www.chase.live?
I came last year when Hart Square relaunched the event for its 25th anniversary. It was extremely useful.

I love the format – short punchy Ted-style talks and lightning talks meant I could hear a lot of content in a short time…I made pages of notes! And you attracted some of the best speakers I have ever seen at a free event.

Which speaker are you most looking forward to hearing this year?
Alastair Campbell. As a campaigning charity to hear what he has to say is a great opportunity. You’ve really moved up a gear this year.

Who’s your fantasy speaker for our future events?
Brian Cox – I saw him before and for 15 minutes I briefly understood the universe – I’d like to try and understand that again!

Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us today!

If you work for a non-profit organisation and would like to attend chase live, please visit www.chase.live and book your free place today.