STOP THE TRAFFIK
Ruth Dearnley OBE, CEO, STOP THE TRAFFIK
What is your background?
I was born near Birkenhead, on the Wirral, went to Woodchurch Comprehensive School and was brought up as a Liverpool FC supporter who would stand on the Kop on a Saturday afternoon with my precious bobble hat! From home I went north to Newcastle University to study law. After graduating, I moved down to London with my future husband, did a postgraduate certificate in teaching in southwest London and there began my years living, learning and loving the great capital. I taught in the East End for six years, which was fabulous, rich in learning and involved working alongside an inspirational, pioneering headteacher. I also loved working part-time as a lecturer at Southbank University in education, as well as working part-time for the Education Business Partnership in Tower Hamlets. All these jobs fed the fact that education has always been so important to me. It’s about empowerment and imparting knowledge. It’s life-giving and life-changing and it’s for all, not the few.
There came a time to move out of London and with a young family I embedded myself in my community. I live, serve and breathe community. I’m all about people – local and global. I’ve always been a news junkie and interested in the systems that make the world work (or not). These systems are only ever as true or useful as what is going on in our own neighbourhoods, with our communities on our streets and ‘loving our neighbours’. That perspective fuelled how STOP THE TRAFFIK began and where it’s taking me.
What does your role at STOP THE TRAFFIK involve?
Having been here since the beginning (2005), the role has evolved. I was part of the original group that conceived the possibility of stopping the traffic. In those first years we mobilised a movement of activists and campaigners in raising awareness, making a big noise about the issue. I was meeting significant leaders around intelligence, business, finance and technology, alongside the civil society organisations we were partnering with, and this led to us developing our systemic prevention solution. Anti-trafficking is complex, and it takes time to learn, test, reflect, retry and keep going until you know you have something worth sharing. Leading STOP THE TRAFFIK has demanded that we are agile and take risks, and that we’re able to pivot and pioneer to deliver the necessary solutions to disrupt this crime. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride.
What is the best thing about it?
It changes every day! Until we reach our goal, we have to keep rising above the challenges and collaborating and sharing across siloed sectors – and we’re doing that. STOP THE TRAFFIK is a pioneer, always looking to the future and seeing the things that are coming towards us, near and far, and shaping new ways of thinking and working.
I love meeting and learning from others. That’s a real gift. One moment I can be talking with someone who has dedicated their life to technological innovation, the next with someone who’s a specialist in intelligence-gathering or communications, or business or science research. I have met extraordinary leaders who selflessly serve those who are vulnerable to trafficking. I have also been inspired and privileged to have the company of those whose own stories of trafficking provide the most important insights into how we are going to stop this crime. I get to learn from everyone.
I also really, truly love seeing the STOP THE TRAFFIK organisation grow – seeing individuals within the team learn, serve and change us. Everything is about building a trusted community and working together.
What makes STOP THE TRAFFIK special?
We are reimagining the way the world can work. Firstly, we’re an intelligence-led organisation. We hold and analyse data in order to ask different questions to understand and direct our work. Secondly, we know the power of combining people and technology and the healthy tension that needs to exist for both to thrive. Thirdly, we have developed a ground-breaking, award-winning prevention model that we are committed to evaluating and constantly improving. Finally, we share everything! Real collaboration is shocking, it’s dangerous to the status quo. Many see it as a risk to weaken a brand, lose funding and miss out on the credit. There is a huge gap between sharing talk and sharing action. Our way of working only works by sharing and we know that it’s the only way we are ever going to win. STOP THE TRAFFIK is working to put itself out of business.
What motivates you?
When I was younger, I was captivated by a character called Grace Van Owen in a programme called LA Law. I loved it and I loved her. It was an American legal soap opera, but the character of Grace stood out for me, because she took compassion in all the cases that nobody thought were viable or profitable. She advocated in the court room and was able to change people’s minds. I wanted to be Grace, and I strive to bring that same attitude to my work. My Dad is a retired professor of nuclear physics and my mum was the person in the community everyone confided in; trusted, wise and kind. So, I am motivated by head and heart – to think, create, love and serve. The principle of service for me dominates what we’re trying to achieve and why we exist. When you share what you know, you will build something far more resilient and revolutionary than living on an island on your own.
How do you like to relax?
I’ve always loved walking. As I child I climbed the Lakeland Fells following the Wainwright maps – those sacred texts that my dad carried in his rucksack – fed a diet of Kendal Mint Cake. My body doesn’t jog, even though I’ve tried, but I can walk fast!
During lockdown I’ve been walking 4-6 miles a day. I’ve actually just signed up to walk 1,000 miles in a year, something I’ve never done before. As I walk, I can catch up with people on the phone, I can think introspectively – unscramble the business in my head. And I can walk with another, which is when some of the best friendships and conversations happen. As I’ve been walking the same route over the past 10 months since the first lockdown, I can spot the differences and watch and experience the seasons in a way that I’ve never done before. I can notice what I’ve always missed. And I can listen, whether it’s to the wind, the rain, birdsong or a podcast. My kids are impressed that I know how to use Spotify, but I’ll let you into a secret: it’s a few favourites on repeat.
What motto do you live by?
I’m fed by a belief that there’s so much more that’s bigger than me. I have a unique and important road to walk, gifts to use, skills to share and a person to be and become. So, it’s about striving and serving alongside keeping a humility that recognises my limitations and vital dependencies to live well. I am driven on this quest to stop the traffic because I believe in the inherent extraordinary value of every human being. We are all gifts and yet the world is not fair and in life we need to be brave for each other, because who we are together defines who we are. STOP THE TRAFFIK is built on this idea – no one person can change the culture, system, organisation, community or world on their own. But when strangers become friends, partners become collaborators, locally, virtually or globally, we can change things. We can stop the traffic.