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Cause & Effect: Anna Yearley
Cause & Effect: Anna Yearley

Anna Yearley is Joint Executive Director of Reprieve, the international human rights charity. Prior to joining Reprieve in 2016, she held various senior positions in the Parliamentary Labour Party, including Assistant Political Secretary to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Director of Political Relations for Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband.


Don’t just preach to the converted. I think there is a risk for some people in the human rights field to only speak to the people that already agree with you. Don’t be afraid to be counterintuitive. For example, we had great success working with the Daily Mail to campaign for the release of the British citizens held by the US in Guantanamo Bay.

You have to take people with you. You have to accept that other people may well have a difference of opinion with you. You have to explain your position politely, and without being patronising. I can understand why organisations may struggle with taking that approach because you feel incredibly passionate and emotional about your cause.

Fundraising isn’t a ‘necessary evil’ that sits in the corner of an organisation. At Reprieve, it’s embedded in everything we do. We have a brilliant fundraising team, but every team in the organisation really understands what the fundraising team does and really respects it. People actually relish working on fundraising applications. It’s a really nice culture that we’ve managed to create here. 

I love fundraising. I like everything in my job, but I love fundraising because it’s storytelling, it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to tell people about what you do and to give them a compelling reason to give you money. And that’s true whether it’s somebody giving you a £100,000, or £10. We get handwritten letters saying “This is my £10 from my pension. And it’s to help the boys on Death Row in Saudi Arabia.” It’s incredibly moving that somebody chooses to give their money to you.

It’s not an accident. I think it’s very common with women to feel you don’t deserve to be there. It’s not an accident. It’s not a mistake. They’ve not mixed your CV up with someone else. You are good enough to be there and you should feel really confident about that.

This is going to sound like a Miss World answer. The mission of what we do is incredible. Our team are making the difference as to whether somebody might be executed or not. And that is an incredibly powerful motivation. 

You’ve got to be motivated by the failures as well. It’s obviously great when you have success. Very recently, we had amazing news that 22 people on death row in Malawi were given clemency. But then earlier this year we had the news that 81 men were beheaded in Saudi Arabia in a mass execution. That also motivates me, because we cannot let that happen again.

Enjoy what you are doing, and really celebrate what you are doing. I grew up in a council house on free school meals. My mum worked in a supermarket and she had another job delivering newspapers. Going to university changed everything for me. I used to pinch myself when I worked in Parliament. And then when I went to Downing Street, I used to pinch myself with abundance, walking through the Number 10 door every day to go into work. It was incredible. And I’ve never ever forgotten that. But I think I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, because I didn’t appreciate it might not be forever. So, live in the moment.

Cause & Effect is a series from Hope, in which leading figures who have been involved in building and promoting good causes tell us what they’ve learned from their experiences. Interview by Michael Isaacs.

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