Changemakers: Shaks Ghosh

Voluntary sector CEO whose work focuses on social change through developing leadership skills


Developing good leaders is everything to Shaks Ghosh. Around 15 million people in the UK volunteer with charities on a weekly basis. As Chief Executive of Clore Social Leadership, Ghosh supports the leaders of those not-for-profit organisations, essentially working to equip the 800,000 paid staff in the UK social sector with the skills they need to have impact.

She seems destined to have been a leader in the sector. From her childhood in Calcutta to her first job as an urban renewal officer at Leicester City Council in 1981, changing society has been her life’s work – for which she was awarded a CBE in 2015.

Following 10 years as CEO of Crisis, one of the UK’s biggest homelessness charities, she led the establishment of the venture philanthropy charity the Private Equity Foundation, now known as Impetus. In 2008 she took the reins at Clore Social, part of the Clore Duffield Foundation, which was named after the British financier, property magnate and philanthropist Sir Charles Clore.

“My school was run by Irish nuns,” Ghosh says. “They were my first role models – incredible women who travelled across the world, were passionate about girls’ education and who role-modelled strength. I was surrounded by these women who did good work in a very humble way. They were the people I wanted to be.”

She is also her parents’ daughter: Her Indian father gave her impatience and her German mother, her compassion. Both were “mad” environmentalists and debates around the dinner table on saving the earth were commonplace. But Ghosh veers away from her parents when it comes to the ‘how’: “They would always put the environment first,” she says. “I would always put people first.”

‘The challenge for leaders is a change in motivation. Greed and accumulation of wealth can no longer be the driving forces behind progress’

The impatience is as much a virtue as it is a vice. “I’m impatient for change,” she says. “I want social justice and I want things to be better.” She doesn’t “love everything” about the business sector, saying she would prefer it if the “incredible people, incredible minds and incredible talent” put all their efforts into making the world a better place.

She cites climate change, inequality and migration around the globe as huge issues that our children will have to solve. But she believes business can be a power for good, which means two things: “One, by walking gently on the planet, because businesses in general take more than they give. Two, by being in service to humanity. We’ve seen a huge increase in wealth for a small group of people. The change has to come fast now. If we don’t solve inequality, business won’t have a role to fill.”

The challenge for leaders coming through, for her, is a change in motivation. Greed and accumulation of wealth can no longer be the driving forces behind progress. “There are too many examples of businesses who won’t even pay their basic taxes! If this generation of leaders can make businesses a bit more like charities, what a good place the world could be.”

Ghosh says that the charity sector is this country’s most valuable asset. “We have 15 million people who serve humanity, for love. Like everybody else, I carp and moan about the charity sector but then I travel abroad and I realise that we have a jewel – 75% of the population volunteer in an informal way, and 98% of the population regularly use charities. In the US, for instance, it’s very church-based. But in the UK, you get lots of support from individuals, from philanthropists and the state. We should be proud of that.”

In 2018 Clore Social Leadership ran five leadership programmes in Hull, training 150 social leaders. Rather than bring them to London for training, Clore went there instead. “We said let’s get the leaders together and support them with the skills they need to be better leaders. You go to a small place like Hull and you think everybody would know everybody. What’s been really interesting is how isolated a lot of the leaders are, but by going through joint programmes they’ve started to do great collaborative work.

“The other thing I’ve seen is a real confidence. Everywhere I go now I meet people who say they’ve done a Clore Social programme and it’s transformed their life, and that in everything they’re doing they feel so much more confident. It’s been a joy.”

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In the same year, Clore Social Leadership ran an incredible women’s leadership programme and another for armed forces charities. “We also launched our online social leadership courses,” Ghosh says. “Democratising leadership means reaching one million social leaders, and digital is our friend in this endeavour.”

Many of the leaders she has helped were sceptical at first, viewing leadership as an elite thing that CEOs do. The Clore Social model – of democratising leadership – smashed that preconception. “We say that if you’re in the charity sector, you’ve already taken the first step into leadership”, Ghosh emphasises.

“It’s all about culture change. At the beginning, in Hull, we were nervous about using the language of leadership. Now, if you go to any participating charity in Hull, they will put their hands up and say they are leaders.”

One of the biggest benefits of a Clore Social programme, she says, is the network that people gain. “None of us alone can make social change. It’s always huge and complicated. But together we can.” Her own career has not come without sacrifices. “Salary, for a start!” she says. “But my work is my life.

“To anyone who wants a life in the sector, I would say that you need to be resilient and very strong. Build your network. Know the sacrifices you will have to make. And then explore all the many, wonderful jobs you can do to make a difference to the world. What’s not to love about that?”

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