From the Crown Prosecution Service to Oxfam – over halfway through by Jaswant Narwal

We often speak about leadership and what it means, how we can influence and guide others and leave our mark. We talk about the ability of leaders to be able to readily transition - taking their own leadership style or brand and transferrable skills with them. But putting that into action, on a short-term secondment, in a charity such as Oxfam away from my home department the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been a real eye opener.

I’m now four months into my six month secondment at Oxfam from the CPS and time has just flown by and I find myself, on my leadership journey, at an interesting point both looking back and looking forward.

The path to leadership

As many people will have found, starting a new job through the pandemic has been a strange experience, not being able to meet new colleagues in person, trying to decipher the feel and culture of the new workplace without physically being there. Putting yourself into the right virtual meetings, navigating the structure and the governance and working out where you can add most value….and all this without your usual support network around you.

It’s been different but in a good way, I’ve learnt a lot more about myself, it has awakened some of my dormant leadership skills that haven’t been in play for a while. I’ve not had to establish myself in an organisation as quickly as I have at Oxfam - I've been in my role at the CPS for over 30 years and my reputation has naturally built over time.The secondment has allowed me the time and space to reflect, to be more self-aware, to grow and more importantly it has reminded me how important it is always to be open-minded.

I wanted to be out of my comfort zone. This wasn’t all about the big leadership stuff, the strategising, being a visionary, the big speeches but more to do with influencing, providing that senior external perspective, using my communication and advocacy skills to nudge and move discussions along, to cut to the heart of issues and ensure others were comfortable with this.

It’s highlighted how some of my core leadership skills will always serve me well, being authentic, having integrity, living by strong values, inspiring others, being creative….I’ve enjoyed being able to work closely with the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities at Oxfam, to share my own leadership journey, to support and coach managers, to provide advice and guidance to some really talented ethnically diverse staff. In short, giving back.

Sharing learnings

It’s been an honour to support and be a sounding board for some of Oxfam’s senior leaders on their journey to address inequalities. In particular, racial disparities and raising awareness of the challenges ahead in diversifying the charity and making it more inclusive – taking experiences and learnings from the CPS on how they've tackled issues over the years and continue to make progress in this area. What is evident is that such matters be it in the private, public or charity sector, fundamentally require the same response, a strong commitment and willingness to address these matters fairly and transparently and working with staff networks to do so.

One of the real positives of this experience has been to share cross sector what has worked well for the CPS, even though we are two very different organisations with different missions. I’ve been able to share some HR policies, open doors to possibilities such as volunteering, and promptly put the right people in touch with each other.

I know I will go back to the CPS with a renewed sense of purpose, a broader perspective, new insights into a different sector and a feeling I have had a bit of an adventure (although no international travel due to the pandemic). I also hope Oxfam have learnt a bit more about the CPS, such as our work on tackling violence against women and girls, how we prosecute human trafficking gangs, how we work with communities to help them better understand our work and our international efforts to tackle organised crime and fraud.

Finding synergies

What is becoming clearer is that you cannot rule out some causal link between the world of crime and the global crises of whatever kind, be it climate change, humanitarian aid, poverty, famine, exploitation of the vulnerable. What it does require is a more concerted and joined up effort to understand and address these complexities and their interplay.

We are one world. And the world is under threat from both human and natural factors. Oxfam has really helped me look at the world through a different lens, both as a domestic prosecutor and as a global inhabitant.

13 million items of clothing go to landfill every week and 95% of textile waste could be used or recycled. Oxfam’s recent campaign Second Hand September has encouraged more of us to buy only second hand - to protect the planet and help beat poverty around the world, by giving clothes a longer life to reduce waste. So, as we all start to head back to the office, it’s going to be more window shopping and less purchasing and I’ll be digging out my pre-pandemic office wear, no need to freshen up the wardrobe!

One last thing

And finally, the most unexpected thing I’ve done at Oxfam during my secondment – volunteering at the pop-up Oxfam store in Selfridges on Oxford Street. This was a great experience, although I’m more used to prosecuting shoplifters from the famous store than pricing items, helping customers and dressing mannequins.

The items of clothing that most caught my eye, two beautifully displayed vintage dresses from the 60s/70s fashion designer Ossie Clark. Ossie was killed in 1996 by his ex-lover and whose case I prepared for the Old Bailey as a young prosecutor. What a strange coincidence! Oxfam’s pop-up store is open until the end of the year on Selfridges’ 3rd floor, so why not pop by and see what you can find.