Local Hero

“You feel like you’ve made a difference.” Sentebale chief executive Cathy Ferrier speaks to Cally Squires.

“Sentebale was started in 2006 by Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, to help orphans and vulnerable children. It came about as a result of a trip that Harry made in 2004, where in stayed in the country for a couple of months up in the mountains with Prince Seeiso. He was particularly struck by the situation of the children there. Lesotho has the second highest HIV infection rate in the world, and as a result of the epidemic about one in three children are orphans.

In the last 11 years the charity been working with a number of different programmes right across the country – they range from secondary school bursaries and night school bursaries for herd boys to support for community groups who are caring for orphans and our flagship programme, which provides psychosocial support for children living with HIV. We recently started working in Botswana and we have a plan to be in five sub-Saharan African countries by 2020.

Back in 2013 we decided we needed our own facilities, so fundraised to build a children’s camp. It opened at the end of 2105 and allows us to cater for four times as many children as we had previously. It’s a state of the arts kids’ camp that is built on a scared piece of land at the foot of Thaba-Bosiu mountain, which is a very important cultural area for Lesotho people.

I joined in 2012 after getting a call from our chairman Philip Green. At the time I was fundraising director at Oxfam, and Philip rang to see if I would give him advice on finding a chief executive. After chatting for an hour I was talking about all the things we could do with the charity to improve things! After that I had an interview with Prince Harry and walked across London to have an interview with Prince Seeiso. It was a very surreal day, I’d never met any princes and that day I met two.

Prior to working in the charitable sector I had a 25-year career in commerce in various international organisations. I think it is helpful to have that sort of background. Certainly when I went to Oxfam I used those transferable skills, but it did mean I had to adapt some of my leadership skills to fit in – charities are significantly less hierarchical than commerce, and much more about soft power.

Moving from Oxfam to Sentebale was very different too. Oxfam is a huge operational machine and Sentebale was small, but more dynamic. In terms of the work we were doing in Lesotho, it meant you could respond to specific needs more flexibly.

At Oxfam there were over 650,000 individual donors as well as trusts, corporates and institutions. Whereas at Sentebale we have a very close relationship with a few very important people that are close to the charity – so it’s different from that point of view too.

My days can be so different. I spent this morning talking to Prince Harry about an advocacy piece of work and then spent an hour looking at budgets, but I could be reporting to the board or talking to our chairman. In Lesotho I can be out in the field talking to young people or I could be in Singapore at a big fundraiser. There is always something different and interesting to do.

The highs of the job are the variety and getting the opportunity to go and see the programme first hand. Meeting children who we’ve worked with tends to give you a real boost. You feel like you’ve made a difference to someone’s life.

Lows can be the workload, there are times when we all have an awful lot to do and it can get stressful, but we’re a very close team so we support each other pretty well through those times..

The charity started out at Clarence House and moved to Sloane Street four years ago. We’ve had two gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show. Our 2015 garden Hope and Vulnerability, which was based around the design for the children’s centre in Lesotho, won the People’s Choice award.

Local people or businesses can support our events in the area like our Christmas carol service or take part in events like the London marathon. We had eight runners this year running for Sentebale. If people are interested in jumping on the Sentebale bandwagon then we want to chat to them and find out ways that they could support us, that would work for them too.”

Sentebale is based at 136 Sloane Street.