Dawn Vickers is joint CEO of Phab, a network of clubs and events bringing together disabled and non-disabled people of all ages. Previously she had worked in a variety of private sector jobs, before joining the Third Sector.
Sharing the top job can work. We have an unusual model. We have two CEOs and we work in co-leadership and co-production together. My counterpart is Mik Scarlet. Mik and I have very different skills, very different experience. It’s early days, but it’s working well. We’re committed to doing this. This co-production model could be really interesting for other organisations looking at us to see what we’re going to do together.
I am an expert by experience. From a very early age, I was educated in what it’s like to be part of a family where one family member has a medical disability. I’m the sister of Craig, who has Down’s syndrome, and so I was involved from when I was a child in lots of activities that Craig was involved in. We grew up together and we did things together. I didn’t intend to become part of this world professionally. It just kind of happened.
Don’t run before you can walk. I was a managing director in a small organisation for eight years before I came into this role at Phab. I was very lucky to make a lot of mistakes, because those were the things that I learned from. I was bursting with ideas, energy, passion wanting to get things moving and trying to do too many things at once and confusing people and probably confusing myself as well.
I wrote a lot of funding applications that failed. I poured a lot of my own passion into my writing style. I would just write and write and write, and it was not the best way to do it. What I needed to do was take a step back and do more research, and really focus on how to align the organisation with the right funders and take the time to write something that was going to really appeal to the funders to want to work with us
Nothing you do is wasted. I worked for a very short period of time in the nineties for a dot com family business. The owner taught me how to code in HTML and cascading style sheets, and a little bit of editing using Photoshop. I learned a little bit about navigation and user experience and things of that nature. I would never have learned that. Those sorts of skills have never left me.
Being a mystery shopper made me a better public speaker. When I was a student, I was hired to pretend to be a mortgage customer. I’m very shy and an introvert and putting on a persona and acting a part helped me to come out of my shell a little bit more. That helped me become better at coaching and mentoring and leading the people that I work with, and also helped me to develop as a public speaker. I’ve done lots of public speaking since then, but I suppose that was the first point where I ever did it.
Everyone has something to say. I was definitely not confident when I was younger. I would be the quiet person in the room. Now, as a woman in my mid-fifties, the confidence comes through experience, but I know that just because I was quiet it didn’t mean I didn’t have something to say, and that very much helped me work with a lot of disabled people as well. Just because people don’t speak up or don’t say what they want to say or can’t speak doesn’t mean they haven’t got something to say and something to contribute that’s really valuable.
We all need to feel a sense of belonging. The true mission of Phab is to build an inclusive world, where societies and towns and places and spaces are inclusive so that all people can join in. It’s really about tackling all those problems within society, about people being lonely, people being isolated, people being ignored, people being ill, people living in poverty. Everybody’s still entitled to be included. Nobody’s too old, nobody’s too difficult, nobody’s too disabled to be included. That’s a massive mission, isn’t it?
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.