Olivia Barker

CO-FOUNDER AND UK DIRECTOR | KIDS CLUB KAMPALA

What do you do? 

I am the co-founder and UK Director of Kids Club Kampala. Kids Club Kampala is a children’s charity working in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, with the aim of bringing hope and love to vulnerable children and transforming poor communities in Uganda. We bring hope, joy and love into these little children’s lives through fun and games, football, music, dance and through supporting their basic needs. Alongside this, we feed and clothe the children and help them to get a good education. We teach them about keeping safe and run sanitation and hygiene programmes. Kids Club Kampala also works with women from the communities to help them increase their incomes and get their families out of poverty. We are also supporting vulnerable girls and helping children who have been abandoned with a safe place to live. 

How did you get there? 

I first went to Uganda in 2007 when I had just turned 18 and lived there for 6 months on a gap year programme, working mainly in schools. One day a good friend introduced me to the appalling conditions in Kampala’s slums. We found that other charities were reluctant to work in such conditions and to help the children and community living there. We decided that more needed to be done for these children and we became determined to help. So together with the now Ugandan Director of Kids Club Kampala, Sam Wambayomy now co-Director Corrie Fraser and myself decided to set up the charity Kids Club Kampala, to bring hope and love to these children living in desperate situations in the slums of Kampala. I founded Kids Club Kampala whilst at university and ran it in my spare time whilst studying and then whilst working full time for an International Development Consultancy company. In January 2013, upon receipt of some funding from Vodafone, I started working for Kids Club Kampala full time and have done so ever since.

What did you study at university and how does it help with your current job?

I studied International Development at the University of Manchester and specialised through my dissertation in Community Development and Chronic Poverty. Studying International Development not only further ignited my passion for working in a developing country but also gave me a good theoretical understanding to the context I was working in. I also gained practical skills, such as how to develop logical frames and undertake project monitoring and evaluation - which have been extremely useful tools in setting up and growing a small charity. 

What does a “typical work day” entail?

I currently split my time between London and Uganda. I honestly don’t ever have a “typical work day” but tasks can involve anything from organising fundraising events, recruiting and training volunteers, responding to enquires, undertaking publicity and communications to raise awareness about the work we are doing, budgeting, developing funding proposals, speaking at schools and community groups, collecting items for shipping to Uganda – the list is endless and no two days are ever the same! I regularly travel to Uganda and whilst I am there my main tasks include managing teams of international volunteers, preparing and running capacity building training sessions for our Ugandan staff and volunteers, monitoring and evaluation of projects and programmes, and I always make sure I take time to visit the children and take part in some of the activities.

What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your job? 

The most rewarding aspect of my job is definitely travelling to Uganda regularly and visiting the children and communities whose lives have been changed by Kids Club Kampala. Seeing children who, until a couple of years ago were severely malnourished, are now healthy, seeing children who now have the opportunity to go to school and previously had no hope of doing so, seeing a woman now able to provide for her family thanks to being a member of KCK’s women’s initiative, seeing a child who was abandoned now have a loving home to stay in – there is no greater feeling!

The least rewarding aspect is probably the sheer volume of workload. There is always more that can be done and we have a very limited budget with which to do it. It is impossible to switch off as this is not only my job but also my whole life; I am constantly busy and very rarely take time off. It is hard work but I would not change my job for anything!

What advice would you give to somebody who would like to do a similar job? 

I think the most necessary thing is to have a passion for what you are doing and to be incredibly determined to succeed. At times, running a small charity on a shoestring budget in my spare time has been very hard, but I knew that I needed to help these children and it is what pushed me to succeed and kept me going. Never give up even if it seems really hard or really stressful, and surround yourself with people who will support you when the going gets tough. I have weekly meetings with Kids Club Kampala’s co-founders Corrie and Sam and talking through weekly tasks is really helpful. Maximise your trustees, volunteers and supporter network. Don’t be afraid to take risks and always learn from your mistakes. I regularly look back over the last few months, and try to analyse what worked well and what didn’t and how that can impact us going forward. Make sure you are very organised, and plan your time around what needs doing. Make lots of lists, and spreadsheets if that helps – I like to write things down, to make sure you are on track and don’t forget what you need to do! Lastly, be committed to what you are doing; find what motivates you and how you work best. Be sure that this is what you want to do it as once you start there is no going back!

What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? 

I am very organised and good at managing my time, my resources and other people. I am a good multi tasker and can juggle lots of things at once. I am a hard worker and always make sure I see tasks through to completion. I am incredibly motivated and believe in what I am doing, I enjoy working in a challenging and busy environment. I am incredibly committed and determined to succeed in what I am doing and to see Kids Club Kampala make a difference in as many people’s lives as possible. I am extremely passionate about what I do and never miss an opportunity to share with others about what Kids Club Kampala does and how they can get involved.

What is the toughest lesson you have learnt? 

Perseverance and to not give up even when things seem really tough. It was really difficult in the beginning being taken seriously as a small charity, especially as a young woman running a charity. Sadly, it is often older, middle-aged, white, businessmen who are taken seriously or who people choose to support. That is hard to hear, but I have learnt to never give up and to have a thick skin.

What is the mistake you wish you hadn’t done? 

Not asking people for help when I needed it. Often people are more than willing to help in any way that they can, but they won’t know what you need unless you ask them! That means being vulnerable and admitting where you have made mistakes or are struggling, which I sometimes find hard to do. I am a lot better at it now!

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it? 

Finances! We have lots of big dreams and ambitions for the charity to help the communities that we work with, yet funding is our biggest obstacle. There are numerous projects that are waiting to be implemented, many more children needing to be sponsored, numerous other communities where we would like to roll out our model; yet we currently lack the finances to do so. We have managed to tackle this by developing fundraising and growth strategies, budgeting well, increasing publicity and raising awareness about the organisation, but to be honest I think this is a challenge that we will always face as the need is inexhaustible and there is always more that we would like to achieve. 

What achievements are you most proud of? 

The overall thing that I am most proud of is the incredible growth of the organisation, which we have achieved in a relatively short space of time on a relatively low budget. When we began in 2009, we were working with 200 children in one slum community, and in just five years, Kids Club Kampala has grown extensively and now works with over 4000 children, plus their families, women and the wider community in 17 different underprivileged areas throughout Uganda!

I was also honoured to receive, along with my co-Director Corrie, the Global Champion Award at the Cosmopolitan magazine Ultimate Women of the Year Awards 2013, in recognition of our work with Kids Club Kampala.

Do you have a role model, and if so, who and why?

I know this sounds cheesy, but I think my role models are the numerous women that we work with at Kids Club Kampala. Their determination and strength to overcome their situations, to not give up on their dreams despite the setbacks they may face, and their selflessness in putting their children first at all times, is incredibly inspiring.

Olivia Barker - UK Director of Kids Club Kampala

Seven years of experience

CV in brief: 

StudiedDevelopment Studies at the University of Manchester

PreviouslyHTSPE/DAI Framework Contracts

Find her online

Twitter: @oliviambarker

Internship and volunteering opportunities with Kids Club Kampala

Community Development Project

Olivia Barker with Corrie Fraser, Co-founder and UK Director of Kids Club Kampala

Olivia Barker with Corrie Fraser, Co-founder and UK Director of Kids Club Kampala