Old name, new purpose: why we’ve gone back to RNID

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A Q&A with our new Chief Executive, Harriet Oppenheimer

Harriet became RNID’s new Chief Executive on 1 February. She tells us about her background, why she’s excited to step into the position and the biggest opportunities she sees ahead for RNID.

Harriet pictured outdoors. Text reads "It's a huge privilege to lead a charity with such an important mission."

Tell us a bit about your background before you came to RNID

I started my career in the charity world for a small organisation running community projects, and then worked for a while in the NHS – but the majority of my career was spent as a management consultant, helping organisations develop and drive strategic change. It was a great experience to be able to work with a wide range of organisations across lots of sectors, and I learnt a huge amount. But I always kept one foot in the charity sector in a voluntary capacity as either a volunteer or a trustee, and always hoped to come back to work for a charity I truly believe in.

How did you first get involved with RNID and give us a brief history of your time with us so far?

Despite really enjoying my years in consulting, I decided to move back to the not-for-profit world. I wanted to be part of making positive change that makes a real difference to people’s lives every day. I joined RNID during the pandemic, in the autumn of 2020. My role was to develop a new strategy for RNID, to make sure that we are in great shape to support our communities in today’s digital world. I was really excited by the sheer breadth of the opportunities to make a difference – the potential of technology to create far greater inclusion; the importance of changing attitudes in society and workplaces; the goal of getting people to value their hearing; and the chance to grow the hearing research sector to create treatments to restore hearing and silence tinnitus.

I was also inspired by the way RNID’s brilliant staff team had come together and connected through all the lockdowns, and created an online community to keep delivering our work. Based on that, we took a bold decision to leave behind offices altogether, and become a truly UK-wide, online workforce, bringing together brilliant talented, committed people wherever they live across the UK. And so today’s RNID was born!

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for RNID over the next few years?

We need to aim high, and work with others to help us make the difference our communities need to see from us – and that means more collaboration: with new funders, high street brand names or influential voices.

Technology has the potential to transform life for people who are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus – but only if it’s used well to increase accessibility. We want to work with industry to ensure this happens.

There’s also a great opportunity to put hearing research on the map in the UK Life Science sector, so that treatments become available for everyone who wants them.

And I want RNID to really build the data and evidence about our communities’ needs and priorities. We absolutely depend on this insight to focus our work and shape our campaigns and services – I’m passionate about keeping the voices of people who are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus at the heart of our work and our strategic thinking.

How are you personally feeling about taking on the role of CEO?

Most of all I feel really lucky. It’s a huge privilege to lead such a long-established charity with such an important mission, and I’m really excited about what we can achieve together.

It’s fair to say I’m also a little daunted, because there’s a lot to do, and so many people depend on us to do it. I feel a big sense of responsibility and a duty to make a change in the world. Luckily, I also have a fantastic team to help me. There are brilliant people everywhere in RNID, and I know they are just as determined as I am to get on with the job.

What would be your message to the 12m people in the UK who we are here to support?

In today’s world, it’s just not acceptable that people face disadvantage and or barriers because they are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus. There are huge opportunities to create a far more inclusive society, and it’s RNID’s job to make these a reality. And we can’t do this alone – we need your views, feedback and insight to help steer us. Join us in our work – an easy way you can keep in the loop about all our work is by signing up to our monthly newsletter. I am absolutely personally committed to making a positive impact through RNID.

Tell us one fact about yourself that not many people know

I’m fairly conventional, so I haven’t got a treasure trove of surprises to share. The only exception is – that I gave birth to my third child in my car. Bit of a shock for everyone, me included. But at least the traffic enforcement people accepted his birth certificate as a reasonable justification for speeding, and they rescinded the fine. This has definitely been my go to “surprising fact” story for the last 18 years, but now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag I’ll have to find another one…

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