Becky Buell


How long have you been active in your field?

I’ve been active for a long time. My first job in international work was in 1985 – so about 31 years! My first job after my Master’s degree from Stanford was at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco. I worked in the media and public affairs department there. 

What influenced your move towards your work at Oxfam?

I've always been motivated by issues of social justice and human rights. The 1980s were an intense time for issues related to human rights and conflict, particularly in Latin America. I wanted to work in an area that would directly address those issues. I started working with a number of NGOs in San Francisco at that time such as Food First. I also headed up an organisation called IDEX (International Development Exchange). That job was a stepping-stone to Oxfam. 

Tell us about your work at Oxfam. You worked there for 15 years. What did your job entail?

I held a number of different job positions at Oxfam. The Oxfam in Latin America position was the Regional Representative for Central America and Mexico. Essentially, I was the director of all the programmes and operations in that area: I managed the team and the budget and helped to develop the program and the policy. It also entailed representing the region within the organisation. I did that for six to eight years. Then, Oxfam brought me back to the UK to work in the Policy department. I had a number of jobs in the Campaign and Policy department over the years. At one point I headed up the regional policy team (bringing lessons around regional policy into the global agenda). I later headed up the Programme Policy team, which was more about programme strategy and bringing the learning from the programme together around key themes that Oxfam wanted to focus on. These themes included concerning gender, economic inclusion, governance, and so on. My final job concerned innovation, and it focused on bringing new ideas and new thinking into our work.

What was the most rewarding aspect of working at a large non-profit like Oxfam?

It is an incredible learning environment. You’re constantly challenged and learning about a whole range of topics. You feel very connected to the world. Additionally, you get to meet the most fantastic people. When I worked there, Oxfam GB had 7,000 employees all over the world. Interacting with all these people gave me insight into the best side of humanity. Oxfam employees are very committed and enjoy doing really interesting work. 

What are the least rewarding aspects?

I’m sure everyone else says this as well: the bureaucracy in big organisations such as Oxfam can be pretty overwhelming. One of the great things about running my own company and having my own team is that we just decide that we want to do something, and then we go do it! We don’t have to run it through committees or write position papers. Increasingly, the larger organisations find it difficult to get certain things done because of the levels of complexity and security. There are so many issues to manage.

Why did you and Sophia Tickell decide to create Meteos?

We had both been working in large organisations and then set off on our own to become independent consultants. We wanted to get the best of both worlds – to work on something you’re passionate and excited about, but also be close to the action and work in a small team. Our idea was to create an organisation that allows us to do that, so we decided to create Meteos about five years ago.

What are the fundamental goals of Meteos, and how does your team work to achieve them?

We do a range of things. Our core offering is to run multi-stake-holder dialogues around some of the systemic challenges faced by society. We work on healthcare, finance, climate change, and environment broadly. The dialogues tend to bring together a senior group of representatives from different sectors of society to frame the challenge and come up with a set of proposals around what needs to happen to resolve those challenges. We’ve more specifically done a lot of work around access to medicines in the pharmaceutical sector, around the energy sector, and we’ve recently done a big piece around the banking sector (Banking on Trust: Engaging to Rebuild a Healthy Banking Sector). We’re taking these parts of our economy and society where there’s been a rupture in public confidence about the value of these sectors to society, in a time where we need them more than ever. How do we re-adjust these sectors so that they’re sustainable financially and commercially, but also they are serving their social purpose? That is the basic idea. We run two or three big dialogues each year. Aside from that, we have a number of other clients and people who we support with strategic support and facilitation.

Looking forward, what do you envision Meteos' impact on the sectors you operate in the next five to 10 years?

The ‘impact’ question is difficult because it’s not like we are handing out vaccines, which you can track in a more direct way. We’re working to shift ways of thinking, shift ways of communicating, and shift levels of expectation about what is possible. It would be very hard for me to say that X dialogue has resulted in Y specific change. However, we feel that we contribute to changing two things:

1) We give more influence to progressive voices within companies and governments. The people who have participated in our dialogues tend to go on to take more senior roles in their organisations.

2) We publish reports from the dialogues, and we can see a pattern of some of the ideas that come from the dialogues as being picked up in the mainstream.

For example, we have been doing a lot of work around pharmaceutical pricing and the conflict around high-cost specialty medicines and the impact of high-cost medicines on health systems. It is also about how we as a society reconcile our desire for the latest innovations in healthcare, but not having the public budgets to pay for everything we want on an equitable basis. Most of the discussion on these issues that appears in the public domain is very antagonistic, but our dialogue has modelled what a more collaborative approach might look like. We hope this will help shift the tone and terms of the debate. We launch a report this week, so let’s see what impact that has! Ideally, we will see coverage with a more nuanced view of the situation, and a recognition that there has to be a negotiated solution. Another example is the work we’ve done with investors around energy and climate change. We’re starting to see investors taking issues on board in both their public declarations and in the kind of products they offer. Meteos is part of a whole community of organisations that are working on these issues. In terms of our impact, we look at what our contribution is to accelerating a process of change

Describe a typical day

Well, there really isn’t a typical day at Meteos. We have a really nice office and a wonderful team, so the day usually starts with a cup of coffee together. We do an action plan for the day, and then we get on with it. There is a lot of writing and networking in our work so most of our time is spent in discussions with people. We try to be as low-carbon as possible, so we do a lot by phone and Skype. The dialogues bring together people at key points over the process of a year, so we do a lot of prep by email and phone with these people leading up to our workshops and dialogues. 

The Meteos Team is all female. Was this a conscious decision to recruit only women, or did this happen organically?

This has been totally organic, and I suppose there’s a re-enforcing aspect of our team profile. We get few male applications – partly because of the nature of the work we do – the reality is that facilitation, dialogue, negotiation tend to be more female-dominated roles. Also, a lot of our recruitment is done through word of mouth. Very few of our staff have come to us through recruitment and advertising. We tend to get applications from people who are friends of friends, and we also tend to hire people who are early in their careers, who haven’t quite figured out what they want to do next, and would like the challenge and the exposure they can gain from working at Meteos.

Becky Buell | Co-Founder | Meteos

Active for 31 years

CV in brief

Current roles Research Fellow in the Urban Studies and Planning Department at MIT | Board Member, Just Energy | Board Member, Foundation for Social Technology/Presencing Institute

Previously worked at Oxfam | IDEX | Food First | World Affairs Council

Studied BA from Middleburg College | MA in Latin American Studies from Stanford University | Post-Graduate certificate in Urban Planning from University College of London

Find Becky online @Becky_Buell| Meteos profile

Inspired by Becky's career? Here are some related opportunities: Meteos vacancies Employment and internships at World Affairs | Get involved with Food First Work with Oxfam

Exclusive Interview with Aisha Babalakin 28 April 28 2016