An MBE for our chair, Jamie

A banner with white text on blue background. It says 'Congrats to our chair, Jamie, awarded an MBE for services to young people and charity. There is also a photo of Jamie

Let me open this special Q&A by posting my own personal congratulations to our chair, Jamie Ward-Smith, for their MBE for services to young people and charity. It is worthy recognition of their inspirational leadership and bravery. I’m proud to call Jamie my colleague, and my friend.

In light of Jamie’s achievement, now felt the perfect moment to share more with you about their life and career to date, and why this award is so richly deserved.

So, Jamie, over to you. How did we get to this point?

It’s been quite a journey. When I left school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and one of my first jobs was actually DJing in Spain! But then I took on a maternity leave role at a housing charity in London and it really ignited a spark in me to do something impactful. I’d briefly been homeless myself and I wanted to help others in anyway I could.

What happened next?

It was a real privilege to meet and care for so many wonderful people, including isolated older people, refugees and people living with HIV/AIDS. I was also learning more about the impact of volunteering and I became passionate about making a difference within that, too. I ended up taking on a role at a volunteer centre in west London and, still in my 20s, found myself as CEO. It was scary but huge fun and I learned that I really enjoyed pushing myself.

From this role, two cornerstones of my career emerged: the importance of young people – particularly in volunteering – and digital. These would stay with me throughout my career.

What challenges did you face in these early days?

Well, I was quite young when I first became a CEO and, even after five years in the job, I was still seen as inexperienced. There was also a real cynicism around youth leadership and it was hard to convince people about the innovative ideas I had. Thankfully this is changing now with more and more young leaders. This is being helped, in part, by funding for organisations like the Young Trustees Movement, which the Foundation is leading on.

There was also much more homophobia back then and fewer LGBTQ+ leaders outside of the HIV/AIDs support sector to get inspiration from. It’s better now and but there’s still work to be done. Needless to say, I did my very best to not let these prejudices get in the way. I always wanted to be judged on my achievements.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Lots! I loved that the volunteer centre where it all started was the first to ever have a website – bizarrely controversial at the time – and that we understood the power of advertising to get people engaged – again, controversial.

Since then, it’s been a pleasure to work with so many wonderful colleagues, friends, and young people. Together, we’ve launched the UK’s first digital volunteer matching service ( and really put youth social action on the map through the Russell Commission that eventually led to the National Citizen Service. And, of course, I’m extremely proud of the work that Co-op Foundation has achieved in tackling youth loneliness and helping communities to come together.

How important has co-operation been in your career, and what can it mean for funders like us?

Well, I joined the Foundation as Chair in 2016 and we’ve gone from strength to strength since then. We’ve pioneered new ways of doing things and learned masses along the way. I am really excited about our latest strategy which I think will have a long-term impact. It has young people at its core and it’s driving change in communities in new and innovative ways.

And it’s this co-operation with young people and this commitment to learning that I believe all funders should follow. Co-operation has been at the heart of every role I’ve undertaken because I truly believe you can achieve more by working together. I’m proud of the work that Co-op Foundation has led in this area and I’m excited to see how the wider grant making sector is moving in this direction, led by the ACF. I’ve also lived in a tenant-led housing co-operative for 13 years and the security and support I’ve gained since being there has contributed massively to my wellbeing.

And finally, how did it feel to receive your MBE?

Shocked and thrilled in equal measure – I really didn’t think people like me got recognition in this way. I’m the first in my family and my social circle I think. I was also a little sad that my father and grandmother – who both died recently – were not here to share the moment, but I know they would both be immensely proud. Thank you to all the lovely people who have stuck by me and given me so many wonderful opportunities to do such exciting and awesome things over the years, thank you.

We’re the Co-op’s charity and we’re building communities of the future together. Under Jamie’s leadership, we’ve become a different kind of funder, one that believes co-operation is at the heart of strong communities, listens and learns.

Congratulations also to fellow Board Member, George Imafidon, who was awarded an MBE this year for services to engineering, technology and young people. You one of the most passionate and talented individuals I’ve had the privilege to meet and your MBE is honour you can reflect on with real pride. The Foundation is stronger with your presence.

Read more about our work in our new strategy and vision.

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