I believe in the abundant capacity of coalitions and movements to make change happen by combining what they know and do. Unlikely alliances – between progressive businesses and civil society on corporate regulation or between academics and practitioners – are my speciality. Bringing people together who come from different backgrounds, cultures, and have different mental frames for how the world works takes skill and nous.
My work to help disparate groups create a greater change together includes:
Action Research on climate change adaptation, health policy and community accountability
There is often a gulf between the work of activists and practitioners and that of academics. I help organizations bridge that gap. In the Oxfam-Monash Partnership, practitioners and academics worked together in new ways to set impact-oriented research agendas and to undertake action research. This partnership has generated joint action research on climate change adaptation in Bangladesh, health policy in South Africa, and community accountability in Cambodia. I led the development and management of the partnership for its first two years including developing a search conference for academics from multiple disciplines and practitioners from over ten countries to come together to develop joint research agendas and projects.
…the relationship with May [Research Manager] has worked extraordinarily well, being an individual who is very open to both the synergies we might have and also the differences – and being very sensitive to that. That’s assisted a huge amount.
– Monash academic quoted in an independent, external evaluation of the Oxfam Research Unit that I founded and led 2007-2011.
Oxfam Australia’s Research Strategy
In 2007 I was appointed Oxfam Australia’s first head of research with the mandate to establish a research strategy across our work in Asia, the Pacific Islands, Australia and southern Africa. The strategy hinged on being able to broker partnerships between local organizations, Oxfam and academics that could support a strong research culture and enable applied research that would inform and drive programming and public policy engagement. Over three years I led the development of partnerships with a variety of universities across disciplines such as medicine, law, economics, political science and social work, garnering over $5 million dollars of external research funding towards our aims. Within Oxfam, I also led the development of a gender justice hub that enabled better support to and connections between staff working on gender issues around the world, and a more focused and effective research and advocacy agenda across the organization. Within the Australian development sector, I led efforts to build culture and practices around ethical research and collaborative research.
It is remarkable that the ResU has been able to achieve so much, and develop such goodwill among internal and external stakeholders, in a relatively short three-year period. Given the diverse working relationships, projects and support it has had to navigate, and that its work represented a significant change in the internal culture of Oxfam, to have such a high degree of positive feedback about the work of the ResU is impressive. This achievement has been built on some solid foundations. The particular approach of the ResU Team, led by a Research Manager who has exemplified this approach, has been one of these. Many internal and external respondents said that they appreciated the ResU’s strong interpersonal skills – their collaborative spirit, accessibility, responsiveness, clear communication, critical thinking and willingness to help. The fact that they have worked successfully in different cultural contexts also points to a significant level of cultural competence.
– Independent, external evaluation of the research strategy, 2011
May is a driver of change and results. She led Oxfam Australia’s first research strategy, and brokered the successful Monash University-Oxfam partnership. She is an excellent researcher herself but also a big-picture research manager and knowledge broker for an organisation. May made a lasting impact on the Australian NGO sector, helping also to embed the first sector-wide university linkage network, which has led to the adoption of guidelines for ethical research for the Australian sector… As a colleague, she is dynamic, fiercely intelligent and collegial.
– Susan Harris-Rimmer, Griffith Law School
May is one of the smartest most dynamic people I know. Full of ideas and a highly innovative thinker she is a real ‘can-do’ person.
– Chris Roche, La Trobe University
Ending Anonymous Companies
Working with Global Witness on their advocacy strategy in late 2013 and early 2014 it became clear that some level of support from the business community
was going to significantly help defuse opposition to changes to corporate regulation. When Corelab was then working with The B Team, a business leadership group, we were able to point out the significant impact they could have on this critical issue. Since mid-2014, I have played a key role in brokering and convening partnerships and coalitions to help build support for company ownership transparency including a specific working group of business and civil society that have collaborated on advocacy and practical projects, and playing a leading role in the B20 Anti-Corruption Task Force’s work to engage business in developing business use cases for transparency.
Gooch and Global Witness have also gotten support from B Team, a group of global business leaders that includes Richard Branson and telecoms entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, that aims to catalyze a better way of doing business and campaign for more transparency. “This support is already having a transformative effect,” says Gooch.
– Charmian Gooch, co-founder of Global Witness speaking at TED Global