“The pandemic demonstrated how dedicated, innovative, and flexible we can all be” Keith Donnelly, Head of Emergency Preparedness, NHS Trust (BHRUT)

As Head of Emergency Preparedness at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), Keith Donnelly was at the heart of the NHS response to the pandemic. His experience inspired him to take on volunteering roles and get more involved with the IoD to expand his network and open the door to future possibilities.

I studied biochemistry at university to become a forensic scientist but soon realised I was more of a people person. After several years working in hospitality roles in upmarket hotels, I recognised that I got a lot of satisfaction from managing difficult situations – power failure, floods, fire evacuations and even bomb threats. This inspired me to go back to university for a Masters in Crisis & Disaster Management.

With this new qualification I joined the NHS as a Fire, Health & Safety Officer and moved through the ranks to become Head of Emergency Preparedness for my current NHS Trust in 2019. In the same year, I had to knock on the door of the Chief Medical Officer to highlight something that was going on in Wuhan, China.

In those pre-pandemic stages everything moved at an incredible pace and the measures we had to implement for our patients and staff were delivered without hesitation by amazing teams. After representing the Trust on a daily basis with our partner organisations and executives, I was invited to join a local planning task group in preparation for the first pandemic winter.

For me, the pandemic demonstrated how dedicated, innovative, and flexible we can all be, and how we all react differently to circumstances. I gained self-confidence, resilience and the understanding that you can’t always say ‘yes.’ This process widened my horizons, and I made a conscious decision to get involved in voluntary roles. I am currently Chair for volunteering charity ICYE UK, Assistant Director-General of the Blockchain & Climate Institute, Chief Operating Officer for EduEco+, Company Secretary of the IgniteQuals Group and Business Consultant for Emrys Consulting.

It was always a dream of mine to join the IoD after I was impressed by the look of the 116 Pall Mall building on a trip to London from Northern Ireland, where I grew up. I became a member of the IoD in 2018 because I was keen to develop my leadership skills and to surround myself with leaders from a wide cross section of industries. For the first two years, my membership had absolutely no impact on me beyond a monthly direct debit leaving my bank account!

Then, in 2020 I saw a role advertised with a London Branch and now I am both a member and the Membership Ambassador for the London region. The IoD has a fantastic Member Relations team who make my job pretty easy, but I try to challenge where I need to, support where I can, and generally get stuck in, whether its processes, events, or just conversations. It’s my job to support the member journey from first contact through to onboarding, and ongoing engagement.

I would encourage people who work in public sector organisations like the NHS to join the IoD. As well as the practical benefits of membership I have developed amazing networks and made some really great friends. Do it, and use it! You are not just your job or role or responsibility, you are yourself. Unlike industry-aligned organisations, the IoD exposes you to different people from different backgrounds, different ideas, and maybe different opportunities.

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