Twelve months in the life of Viva’s CEO

Mark StaversEver wondered what our Chief Executive’s annual schedule looks like? Mark Stavers delves into his diary.

As we enter a new financial year, I’ve been taking time to take stock, to review and to look forward. As CEO, my job is by nature demanding and diverse; my days are packed full of decisions, negotiations, report-reviewing and back-to-back diary bookings. But the joy of it is the people I meet and their stories. Here’s a taste of what my 2015 looked like.

January saw me travel to Guatemala to see for myself the impact of our partner network’s ‘I Exist’ programme which is proving life-giving to children who, with no birth certification, were previously invisible to the state and therefore excluded from all its services. While there I met a boy called Joel. I was touched how he sat and shared his chocolate with me, and how Viva was helping him to recover from sustained abuse at the hands of his father and grandfather. I will return to him later, but suffice to say that my January was lit by his kindness and courage.

In February I travelled to Delhi for the annual meeting of all the Indian networks. Bringing people together from far-flung locations is a logistical and financial challenge, but the sparking of connections and ideas, and the ensuing encouragement and refreshment for people working on the front line is invaluable. In 2016 we are committed to bringing all our 37 networks together in regional meetings – Latin America and Africa in May and Asia in October.

Hong-KongMarch took me to Hong Kong, and to a meeting with a 72 year-old Chinese Christian who measures the profits from his business deals in the hundreds of millions. He lifted my eyes and expectations to how much more we could do with more resources, and what a generous person with a great business brain can do to make the world a better place for others in very different circumstances.

In April I flew to the US to meet with the executive director of a large charitable foundation. They want to know about the ripple effects of their sowing and investment. He asked me how we could disseminate our learning more widely, so that many more organisations can benefit from the lessons we’ve learned and successes and challenges we’ve experienced. This led me to mull on the question of measuring impact when your work is helping to build the unseen, upside-down, breath-taking kingdom of God.

Joe KidmanIn May I got to spend time with one of my oldest and best friends, Joe Kidman (right), who heads up Thames Valley Police’s strategy for protecting vulnerable people. He spoke at the launch of our Doorsteps programme, which brings churches and other players together to form a creative and concerted collaboration to address the needs of vulnerable children in Oxfordshire. Alongside Joe and Viva’s Katy Thompson, Bishop Colin Fletcher championed the value of people working together across sectors and backgrounds to identify ways for churches to serve local young people.

I spent some of June in Costa Rica for a gathering of the Central American networks. I spoke with Jeanette, who works with the Guatemala network and learned that my 12 year-old friend Joel was now back in school in the morning and busy learning a trade as a baker in the afternoons, as part of an apprenticeship the network had helped arrange. The common theme of the network meetings was violence, both in and outside the home, and its horrible reality in the region.

July saw me travel to Uganda for my first visit to one of 20 Creative Learning Centres funded by the Department for International Development and run by Viva’s partner network, CRANE. The Centres have a high success rate in helping girls who have dropped out of school because of poverty, prejudice or pregnancy to re-start their education and transition back into mainstream school. I met girls who walk miles each day to get to the Centre, and I was impressed by their levels of attention, commitment, enthusiasm and engagement. I’m delighted to say we have met very demanding objectives set by the UK Government and have recently been awarded an additional £800,000 for the coming year.

JoelAugust was hard. One night when my family was away and I was at home alone, I received a Skype call from Carmen Alvarez, who heads up our work in Latin America. She told me that 12 year-old Joel had been killed. I learned that he had been knocked over as he came out of the bakery in which he was an apprentice, and my heart broke. Life is so fragile, so hard-won and so quickly lost. The cruelty of a world in which a boy is abused by those closest to him, then rescued and helped towards a new life, only to have it so brutally stolen stung me to the core. On reflection, I am coming to the conclusion that all we can do is our best. We can’t sort every problem, but we can place the children we work with in the hands of a God whose name is Love, and leave them there.

In September I stayed in the UK. In past years when Viva has experienced some financial challenges my 11-year old son Tom has responded by going to find his piggy bank and emptying it out unreservedly, putting all the coins into an envelope addressed ‘Viva’. I’ve been touched by his faith in Viva’s mission and desire to give everything he had to secure it. This September he set up a standing order from his monthly pocket money, and his ambition when he’s older is to work for Viva.

Philippines streetIn October whilst in the Philippines I came across a family who live on the street just near a project that is part of our partner network. The children sleep in a motorbike sidecar at night, and the parents on the pavement next to them. They are fed by the project. One of our party was Fe Feronda, our Network Coordinator. Her job is huge and draining; her expertise is in post-disaster collaboration and as part of this she travels extensively internationally. But in her free time she volunteers with this project. She stopped to talk to the pavement family. She knew them and they knew and trusted her. These are the heroes with whom I get to work.

November involved a trip to Uganda to interview for a new Network Consultant to work alongside Mim Friday who has played a key role in the development of our partner network CRANE. She’s brilliant, and busy, and it has been great to appoint a colleague for her. What’s been even better is the calibre of the appointee, Paul Kabunga, who brings a wealth of experience, an extended network of contacts and particular expertise in HIV and AIDS work.

As the year came to a close in December, I had the pleasure of meeting with George Verwer, the flamboyant and dedicated founder of Operation Mobilisation. As we talked what struck me was that this spiritual giant chose to ask me the most down to earth of questions: ‘How are your finances?’ This is a characteristic I’ve seen in the most God-focused spiritual leaders time after time. Common sense and practicality tell us that the work of the saints needs funds to fuel it.

India_Viva__IMG_9452_As you can see, last year gave me cause for grief and for celebration. The children with whom we work and the adults who make up our partner networks face difficulties often beyond our imagining. But where people serve, love and give sacrificially to help children we build something beautiful and powerful.

Thank you for your part in helping children living in situations of poverty and abuse to know that they are seen and loved, and to experience much longed-for change and hope.