Meet Team Forward Action: Ali Walker Davies, Partnerships Director

Forward Action is made up of hard working, compassionate and dedicated individuals who have come together to work towards a better world with our charity partners. Each month, our Meet the Team series will highlight one of the talented folk that work here, getting to know what they do, what they think about, and what gets them out of bed in the morning.

This month, we’re chatting to Ali Walker Davies, Partnerships Director. Ali sits at the very heart of the partnerships process, talking with potential new partners and making sure our partner organisations get everything they need in their relationship with us to execute digital mobilisation strategies for change. Keep reading to find out why we need more women in charge, and why digital mobilisation works so well.

What do you do at Forward Action?

My role is mainly two-fold: to work with existing partners and to find new partners to build digital mobilisation programmes. At Forward Action, we talk about “partners” rather than “clients” because a great digital mobilisation programme can’t be outsourced to an agency, it has to be developed in collaboration. It’s our role to be a trusted partner in the journey of setting up digital mobilisation. Day-to-day, I make sure that all of our current partners get what they need, as well as responding to enquiries about working together, and connecting with new potential partners in the hope of starting a relationship together.

What does a typical day look like?

Imagine a Zoom screen. A never ending Zoom screen. That’s pretty much my average day. Not that I’m complaining – I love the fact that I get to speak to my brilliant colleagues and meet all kinds of interesting people every single day.

Right now I’m working out of a lovely little town called Hermanus on the Western Cape of South Africa (visiting my in-laws), so on a very good day, I get to swim in the sea before going to a co-working space. I’m an hour ahead of the team, so I have time to organise myself before our daily standup meeting, where everyone shares a little piece of their soul, and flags up anything important for the day.

Then we have our new business meeting, where we talk about any potential new partner conversations, any proposals that need sending out, and mostly about how we’re going to fit all the projects in!

A typical day is a combination of talking to potential new partners, sharing what Forward Action does and what we might be able to do together, and working with our strategists to make sure projects are going to plan and assisting with anything regarding their work with our partners.

How would you describe yourself and your role in 3 words?

I would describe myself as opinionated, inquisitive, and warm, and my role as… bringing people together.

What’s been your favourite project to work on and why?

I don’t get too involved in the projects once the work has started – our brilliant strategists take care of that. But I love to be involved in having those initial conversations.

This year, I’ve been really excited to speak to organisations like the British Red Cross and Bliss, who do brilliant work supporting parents of premature babies. That was a personal one for me, because as well as them being a lovely bunch of people, a friend of mine had a premature baby at the same time as we were kicking off our partnership. I suggested that she reach out to Bliss, and she got invaluable support at such a difficult time, so that was a special connection to be able to make.

What do you wish more people knew about digital mobilisation?

That it’s not just a fundraising tactic. If you look beyond budget lines, there’s the incredible potential of what huge numbers of people can achieve when they come together around an important mission – and that digital can help do that quicker. Digital mobilisation can drive real world change.

What’s your favourite piece of work from Forward Action?

I really love the work we do with Dignity in Dying. There’s such a clear theory of change there, and there’s a singular focus, a single ask and single campaign aim: legalise assisted dying in the UK

We use digital mobilisation to cast the campaign net really wide and then find people who are willing to go on and take higher barrier actions, such as to have conversations with MPs, or write personal letters to representatives in the House of Lords and change the agenda – it’s a really smart way of doing things, and it’s working. Change is coming.

What’s your favourite charity campaign?

Oooh, that’s such a big question! There’s so many. Instead of a campaign, can I tell you about my favourite piece of charity impact? (Interviewer: Yes.)

I worked with WaterAid in 2014 on a campaign called To Be A Girl. There were these two young girls in Madagascar who were the figureheads of the campaign – we were telling their story. Some girls of a similar age in London saw the campaign and were inspired to start selling homemade bracelets to raise money to help bring clean water to the village in Madagascar. When we saw what these girls had done, we offered to deliver their bracelets directly to the girls in the village in Madagascar. To me that was a true moment of a campaign connecting people with shared values. It was authentic and special – it wasn’t dreamt up in an office or proposed as an idea, it just happened and that was great.

Where are we most likely to find you outside of work?

I normally like to swim at London Fields Lido, near where I live. But I’ve swapped that temporarily for the local tidal pool in Hermanus. If I’m not there, you’re likely to find me at a playground in with my daughter – she’s nearly 2. I can talk at length about playground strategies – which ones have the best equipment, what times to go to avoid boisterous crowds, and the best places to go depending on wind speed and direction.

What is your hidden talent?

Crocheting – every time a friend of mine gets pregnant, I crochet them a blanket for their baby. I crocheted a cat with a bell on it for my own daughter.

What’s the one thing you would change in the world if you could?

Oh my goodness – there’s so much I’d change in the world!

If we could only do one thing right now, I’d put more women in charge. I think that would solve a lot of problems. The data from the COVID-19 pandemic shows that countries with women in charge had a lower mortality rate – so from that one can say that female leadership literally saves lives. At every level I think having more female voices can have a better and bigger impact.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to do what you do?

I think if you’re interested in partnership work – that’s working in an agency-type environment with partners or clients – being inquisitive is very helpful to understand what the challenge is that people are trying to solve, as well as what the opportunities are, and crucially, to be empathetic to what’s going on within the organisations you’re working with.

I’ve worked both agency-side and in charities, so I have experience of both and know that it can be really tricky when you’re trying to do new things in a big organisation that’s slow or reluctant to change, so I want to make sure that we are supporting our partners along the way.

Building as broad a range of experience as possible is helpful and always trying to understand what motivates the people you’re working with.

We hope you enjoyed hearing more from Ali! Click here to read more from the Meet the Team series.