Martin Spray CBE was Chief Executive of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) for over 13 years before moving into a Chairman role.
Responsible for more than 600 staff and 900 volunteers who manage 3,000 hectares of prime wetland habitat across nine WWT Wetland Centres and a growing programme of UK and international conservation, is a significant task. But aside from his ‘day job’, Martin also contributes his time, experience and skills to a number of NGOs (non-government organisations) tackling conservation challenges around the world.
On the Management Board of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, Martin was instrumental in creating the next ten-year strategy to save migratory water birds and their habitats.
“I was out in Singapore for a week in January, meeting with 35 members of the Partnership including governments from 17 countries, each bringing a very different perspective on life,” says Martin. “The issues many of them face bear no relation to the UK and it’s an important reminder that one size doesn’t fit all.
"Even within our own country we have to learn to relate to a whole different set of aspirations. The needs and interests of urban Manchester or rural Gloucestershire can be poles apart, and we need to be mindful of that when thinking how best to engage. Whether that’s in conversation or anything else, as Brexit has shown.
"This is one of the great benefits of getting involved in organisations outside of your own; it’s a chance to reflect, work with a different group of people and think in a different way.”
In addition to insight that can be brought back into WWT in relation to conservation challenges, Martin also believes the personal development opportunities of being a Trustee are immense.
“Until a year ago, I was Chair of Trustees for the Marine Conservation Society. It is a small but dynamic organisation and I was able to help to improve the governance role of the trustee board and to support the CEO. They became much more involved in strategic planning as a group.
“Among other past roles I was the independent Chair of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Beauty. There were 48 on the council of partners, including representatives as diverse as the National Farmers’ Union, RSPB, various government agencies and all the local authorities involved.
“We were tasked with devising a management plan for the whole of the North Wessex Downs within three years, and there were so many different agendas around the table. But I was very aware that this plan had to come in on time, and it did.
“Juggling the time is difficult, there’s no doubt. And I’d certainly suggest that it’s best to do one at a time! But whether it’s a role on the School Governors or an NGO related to your field or indeed unrelated, I’d highly recommend taking on this kind of role.
“You’ll find you have skills you didn’t realise, and meet many different people with different objectives. It’s very easy to get stuck into your day job and not look up. Stepping outside your organisation changes your outlook.”
This article first appeared in the QuoLux™ Leading magazine, Issue 1, April 2017.