Beyond the comfort zone: Michael Anderson

A monthly interview with people who’ve crossed organisational and sectoral boundaries to join a new working world. Michael Anderson moved from the Cabinet Office to the philanthropic organisation the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation 

AHR Architects

By Colin Marrs

13 Feb 2015

There were not many jobs that would have persuaded Michael Anderson to give up his role as special envoy for UN development goals to prime minister David Cameron. However, when the chance to lead the UK’s second biggest philanthropic organisation – the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation – came up, he could not resist. “I was very happy in government and there was plenty left for me to achieve,” he says, “but I knew that such a good opportunity wouldn’t come around again.”

The transition was easy, he says, thanks to a “positive and friendly welcome” from staff at CIFF. But he quickly noticed a number of differences from his government role. “I no longer had access to a network of communications and influence that I had enjoyed through high commissioners and ambassadors.” 

Inspired by his experience in government, Anderson set about implementing systems to help CIFF track political risks throughout the countries in which it operates. He says: “When I arrived, there was no way of tracking those. I made sure we are plugged into the right information sources and have a system that forces us to update our assessments.”

Anderson also noticed that he had more flexibility in a number of areas. He says: “I used to turn on the radio in the morning in order to work out what I was going to have to do in the next four hours. Here, we have the luxury of being less reactive and choosing the areas on which we focus.” In addition, not having to operate within European Union procurement rules gave him a “nice feeling of liberation”.

Another advantage in his new role, he says, is greater room to think and act strategically. CIFF is currently running an 11-year programme in Kenya to eradicate parasitic worms that are transmitted through the soil. He says: “We can commit to that, whereas for governments, it is harder due to the political and budgetary cycles.”

Overall, Anderson says his move has given him a new perspective on development issues, although he stresses that the differences between the private, public and charity sectors are often exaggerated. He says: “I had a private sector background before I went into government and my view is that everywhere I have worked is about delivery and managing risk – we have to overcome the stereotypes that there is a big gulf between the sectors”. 

Read the most recent articles written by Colin Marrs - 'No child should go unseen again': Children's commissioner Anne Longfield


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