Given the international nature of the previous jobs on his CV, Ben
Jackson may seem an unusual choice to head PR at UK homelessness charity
Shelter. Before his appointment last month, he spent the past 14 years
making his name as one of the country's most successful campaigners on
But he is quick to point out he is far from a one-issue campaigner: 'I
have an international outlook but I'm not exclusively concerned with
that aspect of campaigning. Shelter is a focused organisation - that's
what appeals to me.'
Nevertheless his global view will undoubtedly have some impact on the
way the charity communicates its message. He believes Britain's
policy-makers need to look more at other countries, particularly in
Europe, for developing areas of public policy in housing.
Jackson's PR career began at the World Development Movement. He says he
was lucky to have landed that job as a newly graduated Oxford geography
student: 'I don't think someone in my position at the time could get a
job like that now. But PR was in its infancy then.'
But it must have been obvious to those at WDM that they were taking on a
man committed to the cause. He had already spent a gap year teaching in
Uganda and a period of time in Sudan researching the conditions of
Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees living in cities.
He eventually became head of campaigns at WDM, a management position
that he says was 'very hands-on', involving the practical side of public
affairs, PR and design. During this time he led campaigns to move UK
export credits for developing countries from promoting arms to more
development-oriented foods and the legal campaign against the misuse of
British aid on Malaysia's Pergau Dam.
While at WDM Jackson took leave to serve as a parliamentary researcher
and election aide to Labour MP Ann Clwyd, then shadow minister for
international development. This introduced him to PR for a personality
rather than for a cause.
Considering he is a member of Clwyd's party, would he become a
politician? He doesn't rule it out, but his description of politics
being a 'murky world' and involving 'greasy poles' in career progression
suggests this is not an option in the foreseeable future.
In 1995 Jackson's interest in international development became more
specific when he was selected as director of Action for Southern Africa,
the successor organisation to the anti-apartheid movement.
Leading a staff of four, his role included overseeing PR and policy
work. Campaigns at that time included attempting to gain better trade
terms for South Africa from the EU and highlighting the plight of South
African workers affected by asbestos poisoning.
'This was a new organisation with a new cause. The anti-apartheid
movement had a huge presence, we needed to carry on that momentum to
help South Africa after apartheid,' he says.
He regularly visited South Africa and surrounding countries, such as
war-ravaged Angola. Indeed, getting out of the office is something that
Jackson feels is important.
'It's vital you don't lose sight of who you are working for. You can get
caught up in policy and the corridors of power. I want to carry on with
that in Shelter. If I'm going to campaign about something I need to
speak to the people it affects. I'm going to try and get out more and
visit those working on a range of projects,' he says.
Veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and now honorary president of ASA Lord
Hughes of Woodside was on the selection panel that chose Jackson: 'We
had a high-quality field but there was no real doubt that Ben was the
best man for the job. He has a good grasp of campaigning and already had
a good track record with WDM. I always found him a very personable man
to work with. He's a loss to our organisation.'
Glenys Kinnock (MEP) has known Jackson while he campaigned for both WDM
and ASA. She said: 'He is a man of integrity - that's the key word for
Ben. He's never pushy but uses gentle persuasion. I can only imagine him
ever working somewhere where he can make a difference.'
One achievement at Action for Southern Africa was to build the body's
first PR team and play a role in designing the structure of the
organisation. This is an experience he will find useful in order to
tackle what could be Shelter's biggest upheaval yet, its merger with
fellow homelessness group Crisis. Jackson confirms earlier reports that
plans to merge are underway: 'That's what we are working towards.'
But will he stay beyond this merger to lead PR for the new entity? He
says: 'I expect to be playing a key role when the decision is taken to
merge, and in projecting the messages of the new organisation.' A
diplomatic answer indeed from such a globally-minded campaigner.
1987: Campaigns officer, World Development Movement
1992: Head of campaigns, World Development Movement
1995: Director, Action for Southern Africa
2001: Ext'l affairs director, Shelter