Five questions with our new Chief Executive

5 November 2018

Our new Chief Executive Dr Beverley Jacobson joined us at the start of October and already, we’ve all been so impressed with her experience, drive and passion for helping the people we support. Her personal reasons for joining Norwood are inspiring.

Here, we want to give you the chance to learn more about her. We interview Bev about her career path, why she wanted to come to Norwood, her hopes for our charity, and more.

Could you tell us about your career path leading up to your current position as Chief Executive of Norwood?

I began my career as a medical doctor in South Africa when an HIV needle stick injury significantly changed my course. It was early in the spread of the pandemic and there was an 18-month wait between an incident risking infection and knowing whether I had contracted HIV.

In a state of psychological upheaval I opted to do a Master of Business Administration at the London Business School, partly to fuel my interest in management and partly to have other career options. After a summer job at McKinsey, I was lured into the world of strategic management consultancy. This career came to an abrupt end too after my first daughter was born with group B strep meningitis and suffered severe brain damage as a result. Caring for a child with very complex needs took me out of the workforce and introduced me to the world of learning disability.

When, three children and twelve years later, I was ready to re-enter the workforce, I saw the CEO job at learning disability charity, Kisharon, advertised and cheekily applied for it.  The trustees put faith in judgement rather than experience and appointed me. It was a fantastic opportunity as it was a small enough for me to feel confident to give it a go.

I spent ten years at Kisharon during which I was on a constant learning curve discovering the intricacies of the social care system, the charity world and the Jewish voluntary sector. Fortunately, as I grew, the organisation grew with me. The turnover increased 75% and the annual voluntary income doubled. There were many new initiatives including the opening of a supported living service, an employment service, a further education programme and several social enterprises. The greatest achievement, however, was Kisharon School becoming a Free School and earlier this year, building began on the development of a new £12m state-of-the-art facility which will open in 2020 and will be able to accommodate 72 children.

Although the next few years will be very exciting for Kisharon, it felt a good time to leave as there is a very strong Board and a hugely talented executive team in place to continue this momentum.

Why did you want to come to Norwood?

I see the job at Norwood as both an exciting growth opportunity and a challenge. Also Norwood means a great deal to me personally – Norwood was here for me when I was drowning. Through Norwood I learnt to cope with my daughter’s disabilities and I learnt what support she needed to help her thrive. It took years for us both to get our lives back on track but when this happened, I was fuelled with a passion to make sure that no individuals are ever left to struggle on their own.

I feel enormously honoured to be carrying the baton of Norwood’s proud past. For more than 200 years Norwood has safeguarded our community and I intend not only to protect this position but extend Norwood’s reach to help even more people who need its support.  

What key challenges are facing charitable organisations in the UK and Jewish sector at the moment?

There are higher levels of need in the community and there is less public money available through the education and social care systems to address these.  In the Jewish community, voluntary funding has traditionally been called upon to plug this gap but this is becoming increasingly difficult as each day a new charity sprouts up in an already overcrowded field. The challenge for charities will be to focus on efficiency and to find alternative and innovative ways to fund key services.

What are your hopes for Norwood within the next five years?

I want to build on Norwood’s proud and successful past and continue to develop our services in line with the prevailing needs in the community. I want to make them accessible to an even greater number of people needing them and ensure they are at the forefront of the field. I am determined to see Norwood recognised nationally and internationally as a thought-leader.

What does ‘charity’ mean to you?

I subscribe to the Jewish view of charity – a concept called ‘tzedakah’ which translates to mean justice. It is an approach that makes it a religious obligation to create an equal society by ensuring there is communal provision for the weakest members. This is funded by voluntary donations. In Judaism there is a tradition to set aside 10 per cent of one’s earning for this purpose. The ultimate form of this giving is to empower the recipients to be able to cope on their own and to create sustainable services.