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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Chief Encounters: Mark Ballard on selling out his 16-year-old self

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The new director of Save the Children in Scotland is proud to be working to help children from Paisley to the Philippines

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

My children demanding breakfast / help with finding their homework / more food for the guinea pigs / mediation in sibling disputes.

What’s the best thing about working for Save the Children?

The power and leverage that comes from being part of the world’s largest charity dedicated to supporting children to have a healthy start. This means that we are working everywhere from Paisley to the Philippines, and can draw inspiration and strength from those relationships across the world.

What turns you into the office Victor Meldrew?

Just how many staplers and hole punches seem to magically appear when there is an office stationery amnesty – so why is there never one around when I need it? I don’t believe it!

Mark Ballard
Mark Ballard

What do you procrastinate over?

My expenses. Despite every effort, and promising long suffering finance officers that I will do better in future, I will always be found the day before the deadline scrabbling through a pile of dog-eared Edinburgh to Glasgow return tickets as I try to get my claim in on time.

When was the last time you socialised with colleagues?

When I worked for Barnardo’s trips down to meetings at our London head office generally meant an opportunity for the devolved nation teams to slope off to the pub and compare notes after the day’s work was done. I was glad to see this tradition being maintained when I attended my first Save the Children UK-wide team meeting last week.

Is the third sector a calling or an accident?

Born of frustration! After being (unexpectedly) elected as an MSP in 2003 I was really saddened by the way third-sector organisations, who were doing fantastic work on the ground, all too often missed the opportunity to secure policy and legislative change through the Scottish Parliament. Most of my career since then has been spent supporting third sector organisations to improve the way they lobby and influence politicians and civil servants, especially through effective third sector coalitions. It is also what lead me to write, with Robert McGeachy from Camphill Scotland, the Public Affairs Guide to Scotland (all good bookshops only £19.99)

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

I worked as a hospital porter as a summer job when I was at university, and got given the jobs the regular porters didn’t want to do. Taking dead bodies down from the wards to the hospital mortuary was never fun.

What’s the most important thing that needs to happen to improve the lives of children living in poverty in Scotland?

The thing I find most scary about the educational attainment gap – the gap between how well children from the poorest backgrounds and wealthiest background are doing at school – is how early the gap opens up. By the time they start school children from the wealthiest backgrounds can already be almost a year ahead. If we are going to improve the lives of children living in poverty in Scotland we need to give children more support in their earliest years.

Would your 16-year-old self be proud of where you are today?

Hmm, I worry that he might think I was a bit of a sell-out, having gone all corporate NGO in my old age. But I hope secretly he would be a bit proud that I was still trying to change the world, even if I was no longer locking myself to things as a direct action protester.

Is this a rung on the ladder to success or your final destination?

I tend to stay where I am until I feel I have made all the difference I can make in a role.

What does your perfect weekend look like?

Being out walking or cycling in the countryside with my family on Saturday and Sunday, with a cinema trip one evening and a good curry and a pint or two on the other. But true success is when I get all my ironing done by Sunday night so I am not having to worry where my next shirt is coming from during the week.

What are you most proud of?

Playing a leading role in the charity coalition that successfully secured a set of amendments to the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 that have transformed the support available to care experienced young people in Scotland. Oh, and, together with our coalition partners, being recognised for our campaigning work in this area with the Cracking Campaign Award at the Scottish Charity Awards in 2014.

What is your favourite film?

I’m an 80s indiekid at heart, so it has to be one of the John Hughes trinity of high school films – Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink or my absolute favourite Some Kind of Wonderful. The moment in Some Kind of Wonderful where true love triumphs over looks and status (ie when Watts is given the diamond earrings) always makes me blub.

If you were your boss would you like you?

I think she would find me rather disorganised and over critical at times, but she’d know I would always eventually deliver.

Which Brian Cox?

The Scottish charity champion, democratic socialist and former rector of Dundee. How can you not choose the only actor to play both Hannibal Lecter and Leon Trotsky in major films?