• Previous Events

    "Groundbreakers events are very special and not to be missed!"

    Have a look at our upcoming and 2023 events above, and our past speakers and events below, and be sure to book your place.


    Groundbreakers events are for women CEOs in the voluntary & charity sector, including those who have stepped down in the last 2 years.

    Our Speakers talk about their personal and professional journey, sharing insights and experiences under the Chatham House Rule.

    Their talk is followed by opportunities for Members and guests to ask questions, and debate issues raised.


    For some meetings, where signposted, members can invite an aspiring woman chief executive as their guest.


    "Thank you so much for including me in last night's event, I thoroughly enjoyed Helen's talk, and it was great to meet up with colleagues existing and new. Thank you for inviting me to become part of Groundbreakers. It’s an excellent network and I'm delighted to be part of it."



    If you are a woman CEO in the voluntary sector, or recently stepped down, we'd love you to join us.

    Email our Chair, Susan Daniels, Susan.Daniels@ndcs.org.uk, to sign up to our newsletter.


    "If you are a CEO of a voluntary organisation, I do encourage you to join Groundbreakers. You will hear from some fantastic female leaders from the private, voluntary and public sectors and have the opportunity to exchange opinions and network with your peers in convivial surroundings. What could be better?"

    Susan Daniels, CEO, National Deaf Children's Society, and Chair of Groundbreakers


    Helen Stephenson CBE, guest speaker, Groundbreakers

    In May 2019

    Our Guest Speaker was

    Sarah Brown

    Chair of Theirworld, and Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education.

    About Sarah

    Sarah Brown is Chair of the global children’s charity Theirworld, and Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education.


    Since she founded Theirworld in 2002, its campaigns, advocacy and ground-breaking programmes have been rooted in the belief that every child deserves the best start in life, a safe place to learn and gain skills for the future.


    As Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education, Sarah steers an alliance of more than 100 companies determined to support the expansion of quality education.

    After a successful early career as managing director of an independent communications company, in 2004 Sarah established the Jennifer Brown Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, which carries out vital, life-saving research into the causes of premature birth.

    Helen Stephenson CBE, guest speaker, Groundbreakers

    In Nov 2023

    Our Guest Speaker was

    Helen Stephenson CBE, CEO, The Charity Commission

    Helen Stephenson CBE joined the Charity Commission as CEO in July 2017.


    Helen has extensive experience of senior leadership across the public and voluntary sectors, having previously served as Director of Early Years and Childcare at the Department of Education and Director of the Office for Civil Society.


    Helen has filled senior roles at the Big Lottery Fund and the Shaftesbury Society. She was chair of the National Childbirth Trust and a member of the Advisory Council of NCVO, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.


    Helen also became a Charity Commission board member in September 2018.

    Suzanne Ehlers, CEO, USA for UNHCR, and speaker at Groundbreakers

    On 20 September 2023

    our guest speaker was

    Suzanne Ehlers, CEO, USA for UNHCR

    Suzanne Ehlers is an established philanthropy leader with over 20 years of experience serving global populations at risk, including refugees and displaced people.

    She is currently the Executive Director and CEO of USA for UNHCR where she leads an organization that provides a platform for refugee voices and allows compassionate Americans to show their support for refugees.

    Prior to joining USA for UNHCR, Suzanne was the CEO of Malala Fund, where she worked closely with co-founders Malala and Ziauddin Yousafzai to create a world where all girls can attain an education.

    Before joining Malala Fund, Suzanne was President and CEO of PAI, a global advocacy organization that leads on protecting and promoting the reproductive health and rights of women and girls. Suzanne has held numerous board and advisory positions and, early in her career, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the C.A.R. She holds Bachelor's degree in Government from Cornell University..

    Suzanne spoke via Zoom, on 20th September 2023

    Helen Tupper, CEO Amazing If, speaker Groundbreakers

    On 23 May 2023

    our guest speaker was

    Helen Tupper, CEO & Co-founder, Amazing If

    Helen Tupper is the co-founder and CEO of Amazing If, a company with an ambition to make careers better for everyone. Together with her business partner Sarah Ellis, she is the author of two Sunday Times bestsellers The Squiggly Career  and You Coach You. Their Squiggly Careers podcast is the UK's #1 careers podcast and their TEDx talk The best career path isn’t always a straight line has over 1.5m downloads.


    Helen also works as a Trustee for Working Families, a UK charity with a mission to support families and carers with their work and life commitments. Prior to Amazing If she held leadership roles for Microsoft, Virgin and BP and was awarded the FT & 30% Club’s Women in Leadership MBA Scholarship. She is also mum to Henry and Madeleine. You can find her on Instagram @amazingif.

    Helen spoke via Zoom,

    on 23rd May 2023

    Jane Portas, speaker Groundbreakers

    On 30 March 2023

    our guest speaker was

    Jane Portas

    Jane Portas is a financial expert, author of The Risks in Life series of award-winning insight reports and financial wellbeing guides, and the creator of 6 Moments That Matter, a unique life-stage approach to help people and organisations to improve fair financial futures.


    Jane talked about 6 Moments That Matter – How to live a secure and fair financial life to find out about financial life in the UK, differences in people’s financial life journeys, how financial gaps arise between men, women, and other groups, and what Covid-19 means for all of our financial futures.

    She talked about how our mindsets influence our financial life, to help us to consider the steps we can take at home, at work and in society to build a secure and fair financial future for everyone.


    Jane joined the Department of Sociology at Durham University in 2021. Prior to this she developed the Contextual Safeguarding research programme at the University of Bedfordshire for eight years. Before joining academia, she spent over ten years in voluntary and statutory agencies, researching young people’s experiences of community and group-based violence and advocating for comprehensive social care and wider safeguarding approaches that keep young people safe in public places, schools and peer groups.

    Jane spoke at Bates Wells, 10 Queen Street Place,

    London EC4R 1AG​ on 30th March 2023

    Professor Carlene Firmin MBE, speaker Groundbreakers

    On 17 January 2023

    our guest speaker was

    Professor Carlene Firmin MBE

    Professor Carlene Firmin is an applied social researcher, concerned with safeguarding young people, social justice and inequality. She has particular expertise in social care responses to abuse between young people and ham in extra-familial spaces and places. In 2015 she founded the concept of 'Contextual Safeguarding' to enhance practice and policy in this area.

    She joined the Department of Sociology at Durham University in 2021. Prior to this she developed the Contextual Safeguarding research programme at the University of Bedfordshire for eight years. Before joining academia, she spent over ten years in voluntary and statutory agencies, researching young people’s experiences of community and group-based violence and advocating for comprehensive social care and wider safeguarding approaches that keep young people safe in public places, schools and peer groups.

    Carlene spoke via Zoom,

    on 17th January 2023

    Jane Hayes, NED Hiscox Insurance, speaker Groundbreakers

    On 29 November 2022

    our guest speaker was

    Jane Hayes, Non-Executive Director, Hiscox Insurance Co.

    Jane Hayes has spent her career in the Insurance industry, beginning as a graduate trainee and spending fifteen years in Lloyds as an energy and property underwriter for a large marine syndicate. This was followed by twenty years at Zurich Financial Services, culminating as Chief Underwriting Officer for Europe Middle East and Africa, based in Dublin. Recently Jane has been part of the Lloyds Market Association as Director of Underwriting, leaving in December 2021. Jane is currently pursuing a portfolio career, and is an Independent Non-Executive Director for Hiscox Insurance Co since May 2021, and an advisor to EXL on their Global Insurance Advisory Board since November 2021.

    Jane spoke via Zoom,

    on 29th November 2022

    Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, speaker at Groundbreakers

    On 11th October 2022

    our guest speaker was

    Andrea Sutcliffe, CBE, Chief Executive and Registrar, Nursing and Midwifery Council

    Andrea Sutcliffe CBE joined the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) as Chief Executive and Registrar in January 2019. Andrea has over 30 years’ experience in health and social care.

    Before joining NMC she was the Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission (CQC). While there she led on the regulation and inspection of adult social care including residential and nursing homes and domiciliary care. Andrea was also responsible for the registration team, supporting all health and care sectors.

    Prior to that she had roles as the Chief Executive at Social Care Institute for Excellence and also Chief Executive of the Appointments Commission. She was also an Executive Director at the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for seven years.

    In July 2016, in recognition of her work in social care, Andrea received an Honorary Award of Doctor of Science from the University of Leeds. She was awarded a CBE for services to adult social care in the 2018 New Year’s Honours List.

    Mindy Sawhney, speaker at Groundbreakers

    On 17th May 2022

    Our guest speaker was

    Mindy Sawhney,

    Founder, Root & Branch and Co-Founder, Carestockroom.com

    Mindy talked to us about ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation’.

    Mindy co-founded carestockroom.com together with her business partner Lesley Lindberg in 2020. The business went live in February 2021 and it is the first marketplace dedicated to meeting the needs of care businesses for products, services and advice. It is particularly focused on women-led SMEs which constitute the majority of providers.

    Carestockroom is disruptive not only through being the first to operate a marketplace model, but also, uniquely, to focus on serving ‘the long tail’ of SMEs rather than the top 20 large care providers. As a digital entrepreneurs, Mindy and Lesley fail to conform to the dominant founder model – not male, not techies, not young.


    Originally trained as an economist, Mindy has 30 years’ experience advising organisations on strategy, organisation development and digital transformation. She served as Chairman of Revitalise, a CQC-regulated disability charity providing 5000 respite breaks pa to disabled people and carers. There she recruited a new SMT and Board, who together led a complete transformation of the charity’s financial performance, operating model, customer experience and culture. She is currently a NED with Oxford Health NHS Trust where she chairs the People and Leadership Committee.


    She lives in London with her husband Ben and two children. In her fantasy alternative life, she would enjoy skiing, gardening and creative writing – but normally settles for 10 minutes on Duolingo in an effort to resurrect her schoolgirl French.

    Ruth Owen OBE, speaker at Groundbreakers

    On 15th March 2022

    Our guest speaker was

    Dr. Ruth Owen OBE,

    CEO Leonard Cheshire

    Ruth became CEO of Leonard Cheshire in 2021. A wheelchair user from the age of seven, Ruth believes passionately in the importance of independent mobility in a disabled person’s life and in removing the barriers disabled people face.


    Prior to Leonard Cheshire, Ruth spent 17 years as CEO of Whizz-Kidz, a national children’s disability charity providing mobility equipment. Under Ruth’s leadership, the charity became the biggest provider of powered and lightweight manual wheelchairs for disabled children and young people outside of the NHS and a leading campaigning organisation.


    Before moving to Whizz-Kidz, Ruth forged a successful career in the private sector, in technologies, eventually setting up and running her own IT company for ten years. In 2012 She was awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to disabled children and young people. In the same year she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Hull University for her services to disabled children.


    Ruth is passionate about travel, is an avid reader of biographies and is a committed football and boxing fan.

    Yvonne Field OBE, speaker at Groundbreakers

    On 27 January 2022 we held our follow up event to our first :

    Tackling Racism: Making Change Happen

    In our follow up event we heard from four panellists:-

    • Ginny Brown CEO of Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancers
    • Yvonne Field OBE Founder and CEO of Ubele
    • Marchu Girma CEO of Hibiscus Initiatives
    • Kate Paradine CEO of Women in Prison

    This event was chaired by Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Impact and Investment at Comic Relief.

    See below for our speaker profiles for this event and more info about it.

    Read Aleema's two blogs about what was shared at both our Tackling Racism events. We'd love your feedback, and any other comments you have related to this work.

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    Getting In and Getting On was focussed on young leadership, held over zoom, on Thursday 18th November 2021

    Groundbreaker members were encouraged to invite a young woman who was looking to break into our sector or was just starting out in a charity, to come with them to the event.

    Our panel of 4 CEOs included:

    • Dhivya O’Connor, CEO, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women: Dhivya O’Connor is an accomplished leader, with 24 years’ experience across the charity and private sectors. Growing up in India, Dhivya witnessed stark inequalities, particularly for women and girls, which has deeply influenced her commitment to championing equality and addressing social injustice. Dhivya was appointed CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in November 2023. An experienced charity CEO, she has previously led The Girls’ Network, United World Schools, the Chartered Institute of Fundraising and Children with Cancer UK. Prior to joining the non-profit world, Dhivya held various strategy, business development and leadership roles in the for-profit sector, driving innovation and growth, at GE Capital, Lloyds Bank and OctopusTravel (now part of Expedia Group). Dhivya serves as a Board Member of Book Aid International, an organisation which shares the power of books to help create a more equal world; and is Governor of a state primary school. Dhivya is also the host and creative force behind the chart-topping The Charity CEO Podcast (www.thecharityceo.com).
    • Mhairi Sharp, CEO, NET- the National Emergencies Trust: Mhairi has more than a decade of leadership experience in the charitable sector, the private sector and the armed forces. Mhairi led the formation of the NET and was formerly its COO, building its operating model and network, and overseeing a team that surged from three to more than 160 people at the Coronavirus Appeal’s height; the majority of whom were volunteers. https://nationalemergenciestrust.org.uk/mhairi-sharp/
    • Zoe Stanton, CEO, Year Here: Zoë is the CEO of Year Here, a social business that launches, grows and connects the social innovators and social ventures of tomorrow. Zoë joined Year Here bringing her first-hand experience as a social entrepreneur, having co-founded and grown the UK’s first service design agency specialising in health and wellbeing.
    • Gabby Edlin: Founder & CEO, Bloody Good Period: Gabby, 35, is an activist campaigning for menstrual equity, and the founder and CEO of charity, Bloody Good Period. Gabby was named as one of the Evening Standard’s Progress 1000 Top Changemakers andStylist’s Woman of the Week. She started Bloody Good Period in 2016 when she was volunteering at the New London Synagogue asylum-seekers’ drop-in centre, and discovered that period supplies were only provided for ‘in emergencies’. A whip around for donations of pads or tampons on Facebook turned into a charity which distributes period supplies for asylum seekers, refugees and anyone who can’t afford them, all around the UK.


    Our panel of women CEOs talked about their experience of leadership and founding/taking over as CEOs.

    The event was packed, and our speakers inspired a fantastic conversation.


    Are you a young woman thinking about a future CEO role in the charity or voluntary sector? Let us know if you would be interested in speaking to one of our women CEO members, or in joining a future event. 

    You are the next generation of Groundbreakers!

    Contact our Chair, Susan Daniels, to share your thoughts. 

    All ideas welcome!

    Julia Neuberger, speaker Groundbreakers

    On 14th March 2019

    our guest speaker was

    Baroness Julia Neuberger DBE 


    Baroness Neuberger is a writer and commentator on social issues and a well-known champion for older people. She was Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue and is a cross bench member of the House of Lords. Amongst her many public roles she was the Prime Minister’s Champion for Volunteering from 2007-09 and chaired the Commission on the Future of Volunteering from 2006-08.

    Baroness Neuberger was Vice Chair of the Government’s independent review of the Mental Health Act. She is Chair of Independent Age charity, a trustee of the Van Leer Foundation, Chair of the Van Lee Jerusalem Institute and a trustee of the Rayne Foundation, as well as a founding trustee of the Walter and Liesel Schwab Charitable Trust, in memory of her parents.

    Julia spoke at Haysmacintyre, 10 Queen Street Place,

    London EC4R 1AG​ on 14th March 2019

    Hilary McGrad, speaker, Groundbreakers

    On Tuesday 8th June 2021, 4.30-6.00pm, our Guest Speaker was

    Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust

    Hilary McGrady became Director-General of the National Trust in 2018. She's worked for the Trust since 2006, joining as regional director for Northern Ireland. Hilary later became Regional Director for Wales, and the London and South East Region, and in 2014 was appointed Chief Operating Officer, leading the operations and consultancy teams.

    Hilary talked brilliantly and very openly about her leadership role and style, her 'astonishingly brilliant team', and her strategies, communication and resilience during Covid and in response to the Trust's pre-Covid report on 'Addressing our Histories of Colonialism and Historic Slavery'.

    Dawn Austwick OBE , speaker at Groundbreakers

    On Tuesday 16th March 2021 our Guest Speaker was:

    Dawn Austwick OBE, former Chief Executive of The National Lottery Community Fund.

    Dawn gave a fascinating and in-depth talk on the theme of 'Long Distance Reflections', looking back but also ahead to the rapid changes for civil society, work, leadership and much more.

    In January 2021 Dawn stepped down from her role as Chief Executive of The National Lottery Community Fund, where she was responsible for the effective distribution of c£600m of National Lottery funding each year and for delivering the Fund’s Strategic Framework, People in the Lead.


    Prior to joining the Fund in 2013, Dawn was Chief Executive of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and was previously Deputy Director of the British Museum, Project Director for Tate Modern and a Principal Consultant at KPMG. She began her career in fringe theatre.


    Dawn is Chair of the Kiln Theatre in London, a Trustee of the London Marathon Charitable Trust and a member of the Advisory Boards of the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Bath and RAND Europe. She was previously a Trustee of the Historic Royal Palaces and of the Woodland Trust. She has an MBA from the London Business School and an honorary doctorate from London Metropolitan University, and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by Queen Mary University in 2019.


    This event took place remotely via Zoom.

    Polly Neate CBE speaker at Groundbreakers

    On Tuesday 2nd February 2021 our Guest Speaker was:

    Polly Neate CBE, Chief Executive of Shelter

    Polly talked brilliantly about ‘Visible Leadership’.


    Polly is a prominent commentator in the media and on platforms as diverse as the Oxford Union and the first Women’s March London, on housing, social justice, leadership and feminism.


    She was previously CEO of Women’s Aid and, before that, Executive Director at Action for Children. She is a trustee of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk and of the Young Women’s Trust. Polly was awarded Best Charity CEO on Social Media in 2019 and can be followed on Twitter @pollyn1 and Instagram @pollyatshelter. Polly was awarded a CBE in the 2020 New Year Honours List.

    Deborah Cadman OBE, speaker at Groundbreakers

    On Tuesday 24 November 2020, 16.30 – 18.00

    our Guest Speaker was:

    Deborah Cadman OBE

    Chief Executive, West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA)

    Deborah became Chief Executive of the WMCA in September 2017, following over 30 years’ in public services.

    Previous senior roles include Head of Policy at Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, and Local Government Advisor to the Ministerial Team at the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions.

    Following roles as the Audit Commission's Best Value Service Lead Inspector for the London region, and Chief Executive for St Edmundsbury Borough Council and the East of England Development Agency, Deborah was Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council from 2011 to 2017.

    She was born and bred in Birmingham and attended the University of Birmingham. Deborah has a degree in politics as well as a Master’s degree in economics and a further Master’s degree in management practice.

    Deborah received an OBE in 2006 for services to local government. She was recently highly commended in the Chief Executive of the Year category at the Inclusive Companies Awards 2019.

    She is a trustee of the Joseph Rowntree Trust and Joseph Rowntree Housing Foundation. As a dedicated and passionate female advocate at the forefront of the public sector, Deborah recently won the First Women Award for Public Service.

    Deborah is listed in the Local Government Chronicle’s ‘100 Most Influential in the Sector’.


    Online event

    Alison Saunders CB, speaker at Groundbreakers

    On Thursday 8th October 2020

    our Guest Speaker was

    Alison Saunders CB

    Alison Saunders, CB, is a British barrister and a former Director of Public Prosecutions. Alison was the first lawyer from within the Crown Prosecution Service and the second woman to hold the appointment. Under her often controversial leadership, significant strides have also been made on modern slavery and human trafficking cases, on violence against women and girls, on the national understanding of coercive control and in the training of police and prosecutors to deal with victims of rape and serious sexual offences.


    Online event

    Amanda Mukwashi, speaker at Groundbreakers

    On Monday 27th July, we held a special online event, attended by 125 women CEOs across the UK voluntary sector:

    Tackling Racism - making change happen in our organisations.

    Our three main speakers were:

    • Amanda Mukwashi, CEO, Christian Aid (pictured)

    • Polly Neate CBE, CEO, Shelter

    • Tessy Ojo FRSA, CEO, Diana Award & Board Member, Comic Relief

    Our panel was chaired by Aleema Shivji, at the time CEO, Humanity & Inclusion UK, and now Executive Director, Impact & Investment at Comic Relief, and a member of our Groundbreakers Steering Group, who also talked about her own experience.

    Read Aleema's blog about the event here.
    Groundbreakers CEOs come from a wide range of organisations, of all sizes and geographies, causes and beneficiary groups. We know that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women are under-represented at CEO level in our sector. At Groundbreakers we want to take positive steps to support our existing BAME members, encourage more BAME women CEOs to join us, and also support future BAME women CEOs in our sector. We feel it is important to take action now and into the future, to eliminate racism, discrimination and unconscious bias in our organisations – and among our suppliers, partners and funders. We want to be champions of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our organisations, and externally too. We hope that coming together as women CEOs to discuss and share the practical steps that we can take will be a start and a catalyst for change. As women leaders in our sector we have a key role to drive this change - in our organisations, in our sector and in our wider society.

    At this event we shared our solutions, our challenges, and where we have, and have not, made progress, on tackling racism in our organisations. We shared how we are trying to influence, enable, and perhaps even enforce, change in policy and practice, people, structures and culture, and share what we hope is working, and what is not.


    At the event we committed to host a follow-up event in 18 months’ time to hear from our members on what tangible and meaningful action we have taken. We’ll be holding this event in January 2022 and we want to hear from you. If you’re interested in sharing your experiences of tackling racism in your organisation (successes and challenges, transformative and incremental), please reach out to Aleema Shivji or Susan Daniels.

    Michelle Mitchell OBE, speaker, Cancer Research UK, CRUK, Groundbreakers

    Our Annual Summer Reception, with Guest Speaker Michelle Mitchell, CEO at Cancer Research UK, was online this year, on Tuesday 9th June 2020

    Michelle Mitchell OBE, CEO Cancer Research UK

    Michelle Mitchell OBE joined Cancer Research UK in November 2018. She was previously CEO of the MS Society, where under her leadership, there was a 40% increase in access to effective MS treatments. Before joining the MS Society, Michelle was Director General of Age UK and Chair of the Fawcett Society.


    Michelle is a non-executive director of NHS England, and has been a trustee of The King’s Fund and the Power to Change Trust.

    She has a BA in Economics, an MA in Politics and Administration and an International Executive Diploma from INSEAD. Michelle is an alumna of the Innovations in Government Programme at Harvard University JFK School and of the Strategic Perspectives in Non-profit Management programme at Harvard Business School.


    "Really good talk, super helpful & also very reassuring that we’re all in the same boat facing the same #COVID19 impacts whatever the size of our charities! Thank you @groundbreakeruk for organising." Diana Jupp, CEO PancreaticCancer UK

    Jess Phillips MP, speaker, Groundbreakers

    On 11 March 2020

    Our Guest Speaker was:

    Jess Phillips MP, Birmingham Yardley

    About Jess

    Jess Phillips is a Labour Party politician who became the MP for the constituency of Birmingham Yardley at the 2015 general election.


    Jess has committed her life to improving the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable, and spent five years working for Women’s Aid supporting and defending women. She became a councillor in 2012 through the Labour Future Candidates Programme. In this role she worked tirelessly to support residents, with her work being recognised when she became Birmingham's first ever Victims Champion.


    Since becoming an MP, Jess has continued her fight to support those who need it the most and has been appointed to the Women and Equalities Committee, the Backbench Business Committee and Chair of the Women’s PLP. Jess has earned a reputation for plain speaking since being elected, unfazed by threats and calling out sexist attitudes as she promotes women’s rights.

    At Bates Wells, 10 Queen Street Place, London EC4R 1AG

    Free event thanks to BW's support​

    Dame Cilla Snowball DBE, speaker, Groundbreakers

    On 30 January 2020

    Our Guest Speaker was:

    Dame Cilla Snowball DBE

    About Dame Cilla

    Dame Cilla is a Governor of the Wellcome Trust, a Non Executive Director of Derwent London plc and Chair of the GREAT Private Sector Council for the Department of International Trade.


    She is the former Group CEO of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the UK's largest advertising agency, where she worked for 26 years.


    Dame Cilla is also the former Chair of the Women's Business Council and the Advertising Association.


    And most importantly she is Fred, Albert and Rosie's Mum.


    At Bates Wells, 10 Queen Street Place, London EC4R 1AG

    Free event thanks to BW's support​

    Ruth Owen OBE, CEO Whizz-Kidz, speaker, Groundbreakers

    On 5th November 2019

    Our Guest Speaker was:

    Ruth Owen OBE, CEO of Whizz-Kidz

    About Ruth

    A wheelchair user from the age of seven, Ruth believes passionately in the importance of independent mobility in a child’s life. Ruth forged a successful career in the private sector, in technologies, eventually setting up and running her own IT company for ten years. For several years Ruth was a Trustee of children’s charity Barnardo’s.


    Ruth joined Whizz-Kidz as Chief Executive in 2004. Ruth has led the charity to become the biggest provider of powered and light weight manual wheelchairs for disabled children outside of the NHS, and one of the leading campaigning organisations in the sector.


    Ruth was acknowledged in The Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2012, and awarded the OBE in recognition of her services to disabled children and young people.


    Under Ruth’s guidance, Whizz-Kidz aims to ensure that every disabled child has an opportunity to be something special…a kid.


    At 10 Queen Street Place, London EC4R 1AG

    Free event thanks to BW and Haysmacintyre's support​

    Sue Owen, speaker, DCMS, Dame, Groundbreakers

    On 8th October 2019

    Our Guest Speaker was:

    Dame Sue Owen, DCB, former Permanent Secretary, DCMS

    About Dame Sue

    Dame Sue Owen recently retired from the civil service, having led the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport since 2013.


    After a decade as an academic economist, she joined the civil service in 1989, spending 14 years at Treasury. She also worked in the British Embassy Washington, No 10, as COO at International Development and Strategy Director General in Work & Pensions with a £200bn budget.


    In her DCMS role Dame Sue transformed the department from 320 to 1300 people by taking on responsibility for the telecoms, digital, tech, data protection and charity sectors. She improved staff engagement from 45% to 70%, and achieved the highest rating for an inclusive culture.


    Dame Sue has considerable experience of governance, making Board chair appointments at the BBC, C4, Ofcom, Gambling commission, Information Commissioner, Sports & Tourism, as well as the national museums & galleries, Arts Council, British Film Institute, English Heritage and Lottery funding. Most recently DCMS published the online harms White Paper, and the GDPR legislation.


    Dame Sue also chaired the civil service charity, and was overall civil service diversity champion, leading a review of bullying & harassment.


    Dame Sue spoke at Bates Wells, 10 Queen Street Place, London EC4R 1AG

    Free event thanks to BW's support​

    Helen Stephenson CBE, guest speaker, Groundbreakers

    In May 2019

    Our Annual Summer Reception Guest Speaker was

    Helen Stephenson CBE

    Chief Executive, The Charity Commission

    About Helen

    Helen spoke about leadership and values in the charity sector:

    A great leader has to uphold high standards of ethical behaviour, inside and outside the organisation, and be driven by purpose.”


    These were some of the words of wisdom shared by the Charity Commission’s CEO Helen Stephenson at our 2019 Summer Reception. In an incredibly inspiring talk, she encouraged the room to lead with integrity and purpose, and emphasising the importance of showing our vulnerability:

    “It’s not just what you deliver as a CEO that counts but the way in which you do so”.


    Her words were encouraging, but not without challenge: “People in this country are longing for better leadership across the board. I’m convinced that charity leaders can lead this change.”


    Helen also challenged us to champion under-represented groups both in our teams and on our Boards, emphasising the importance of open and fair recruitment.


    Helen's inspiring words struck a chord with the whole room, and kicked off many interesting conversations on everything from diversity of Trustee boards, to whether we might face a backlash of men feeling they are starting to be left behind.

  • Other Past Speakers

    Inspirational women leaders who have shared their stories at past Groundbreakers events.

    2018 speakers

    Lady Nicola Mendelsohn CBE

    Vice President, Facebook EMEA


    Martha Spurrier

    Chief Executive, Liberty, barrister and human rights campaigner


    Lynda Thomas

    CEO, MacMillan Cancer Support


    Su-Mei Thompson

    CEO, Media Trust and EHRC Commissioner

    2017 speakers

    Dame Sara Thornton DBE QPM

    The first Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC)


    Professor Dame Sally Davies, DBE, FMedSci, FRS, Chief Medical Officer for England


    Paula Sussex

    Chief Executive, Charity Commission 2014-17


    Shaks Ghosh CBE

    Chief Executive, Clore Social Leadership, previously CEO of the Private Equity Foundation, Crisis and National Housing Federation


    Vicky Browning

    Chief Executive, Acevo (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations), and previously Charity Comms

    2016 speakers

    Dame Helen Hyde DBE

    Chair, Education Committee of the National Holocaust Commission, and Headteacher at Watford Grammar School for Girls


    Anne Longfield OBE

    Children’s Commissioner for England


    Ruth Spellman OBE

    CEO, WEA, and Non-Executive Director of the Cooperative Group


    Baroness Patricia Scotland QC PC

    Sixth Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and Former Attorney General


    Dame Lynne Brindley DBE

    Master, Pembroke College, Oxford, and former CEO, British Library


    Alison Saunders CB

    Director of Public Prosecutions

    Speakers in 2015 and before

    Baroness Doreen Lawrence

    Founder, The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and Chancellor, De Montfort University


    Baroness Shami Chakrabarti CBE PC

    Shadow Attorney General, Chancellor of the University of Essex. Previously Director of Liberty. Barrister


    And many others too...

  • Tackling Racism: Making Change Happen

    On 27th January 2022 we held a follow up to our July 2020 event: Tackling Racism - making change happen in our organisations.Our event chair, Aleema Shivji, and our speakers, are profiled below.

    Read Aleema's two blogs below about what was shared at both our Tackling Racism events.

    We'd love your feedback, and any other comments you have related to this work. Email our chair Susan Daniels.

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    Aleema Shivji, previously Executive Director, Impact & Investment, at Comic Relief, and CEO of Humanity & Inclusion UK, chaired our second Tackling Racism event.

    Aleema is passionate about building a more inclusive, equitable world through fighting inequality and changing systems. She has 20+ years of strategic and operational experience in the public and not-for-profit sectors in Europe, Asia, North America, Australasia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean, including as CEO at Humanity & Inclusion UK. She is a Member of Council at the University of Sussex, a non-executive Director for The People Who Share, and a member of the Steering Committee of Groundbreakers, a network of UK-based female charity chief executives promoting female leadership in the charity sector. She was also a Founding Trustee of the Start Network, a membership-body and funder working to transform the humanitarian aid system. Originally a physiotherapist, she also holds a Masters in International Relations.

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    Ginny Brown, CEO at the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, is on our panel.

    Ginny is a vocal pioneer of the educational, social and artistic value of dance for all, and believes that together we can build a stronger future. She is always looking for ways to highlight how dance positively contributes to physical health and mental wellbeing of children and young people, as well as to our wider society, the workplace and everything in between.

    Throughout her career, she has been dedicated to broadening access to dance - connecting elite professionals with diverse communities in programmes of artistic and cultural exchange. She is now focused on regenerating the 117 year old organisation, so that it remains meaningful and relevant for generations to come, and is committed to improving diversity and inclusion, so that everyone can benefit from what the Society has to offer.

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    Yvonne Field, CEO & Founder, Ubele, 

    Yvonne is a serial Social Entrepreneur - establishing 3 separate companies over the past 23 years. 

    She is a highly experienced Executive Director with a demonstrated history of working across the public and not for profit sector in education, health, social care and youth services. She has worked locally, regionally, nationally and internationally and is currently working on 3 pan Europe initiatives with 14 different countries.

    Yvonne is skilled in Strategic Planning, Leadership and Organisational Development, Management Consultancy and Partnership Development. 

    She has master degrees from Bradford and Surrey Universities plus professional qualifications in teaching, social work and community work. She is a Churchill Fellow, an FRSA and FSET.

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    Marchu Girma, CEO, Hibiscus Initiatives

    Marchu is an experienced organiser and dedicated leader with over 10 year experience working with refugees and migrant communities in Europe producing real impact in their lives.

    Prior to joining Hibiscus in 2020, Marchu was Deputy Director at Women for Refugee Women, where she worked for 11 years. 

    She has a Masters Degree in Human Rights, Culture and Justice from Goldsmiths University. 

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    Kate Paradine, CEO, Women in Prison

    Kate is a highly motivated, dynamic leader with experience in the public, not-for-profit and academic sectors. She has extensive experience of publishing national policy and strategy documents particularly in the criminal justice sector, chairing high level meetings and speaking at national and international conferences. She is known for care and compassion with a long standing interest in championing the needs of vulnerable people including victims of child abuse and domestic violence, and people with mental ill health.