Sonke appoints Co-Executive Directors to lead the organisation into 2017 and beyond

Dear partners, friends and supporters of Sonke

On behalf of the Board of Sonke Gender Justice, I am excited to share new developments in Sonke’s leadership structure. With effect from 1 January, 2017, Heather van Niekerk, previously Sonke’s Director of Operations, has joined Dean Peacock as Co-Executive Director in a shared leadership position. The decision to appoint Co-Executive Directors reflects Sonke’s history of innovation and its desire to demonstrate the gender and racial transformation the organisation seeks to achieve. We believe it also strengthens Sonke’s ability to respond to the many urgent challenges we face in South Africa and globally in a time of patriarchal backlash and determined attacks on civil society and human rights.

This new Co-Executive Director arrangement is consistent with an emerging shift in the NGO sector towards shared leadership, including at AWID and Greenpeace International, both of whom have recently appointed co-directors. The appointment of co-directors at Sonke, one primarily responsible for operations and the other for programmes, also makes more visible and affirms the importance of all the behind-the-scenes operations work so critical for Sonke’s programmatic success – office management and admin, financial management, human resources, compliance, governance, and sub-awards.

Heather and Dean have worked closely together over the last three years and bring complementary skills, experience and expertise. Together they make a formidable team that will ensure leadership and management excellence in every functional area of the organisation. Heather will manage and oversee all aspects of Sonke’s operations, including governance, finance, compliance, human resources and lastly, sub-awards, an important portfolio that has been identified as an area for growth and as a component of our sustainability plan. Dean will continue to drive our programmatic work, including some exciting new initiatives which we look forward to working on with many of you.

Heather joined Sonke in November 2013 as the Operations Director. She has a longstanding commitment to human rights, with a specific focus on women’s and children’s rights. Growing up on the Cape Flats, her social and political awareness was shaped by the struggle against Apartheid during the 1980s and early 1990s. Heather has extensive experience in the NGO sector, having served as the regional finance manager at Save the Children International in the Southern Africa Regional office and as the Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa. Heather has also served on several NGO boards, including Transparency International South Africa, Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, Amnesty International South Africa and is currently the treasurer of the board of Oxfam South Africa. She believes that strong operational systems act as catalysts for organisations to more effectively and efficiently pursue their objectives.

“Dean has done an incredible job in bringing Sonke to where it is today. Dean and I have worked well together over the past three years and I am excited to start this new chapter in the life of Sonke, working with him and the rest of the amazing team at Sonke in a different capacity as Co-Executive Director to deepen our work for women’s and children’s rights.”

Dean’s involvement in social justice activism began during South Africa’s state of emergency in 1985 when he joined the End Conscription Campaign. Over the last thirty years, his work and activism has focused on issues related to gender equality, men and constructions of masculinities, HIV and AIDS and social justice. Prior to establishing Sonke, he was the founder and director of the Men Overcoming Violence Youth Program, coordinated the Building Partnerships Initiative at the Family Violence Prevention Fund, served as country director for EngenderHealth South Africa, and worked for the Treatment Action Campaign. He is the co-founder and former co-chair of the Global MenEngage Alliance, and serves on many advisory boards, including the UN Secretary General’s Network of Men Leaders formed to advise Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on violence prevention. He has been published widely in many academic journals and writes regular opinion pieces for national and international publications. Dean is an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s School of Public Health and an Ashoka Fellow.

“As we start 2017, Sonke’s work to foster rights, action and accountability is more essential than ever. Here in South Africa and globally, faced with a growing conservative backlash, we’re going to continue to work with other social justice organisations and movements to demand that our governments respect and advance women’s rights, end domestic and sexual violence and address HIV and AIDS. This new leadership structure strengthens Sonke’s ability to do the urgent work ahead. Heather and I have worked side by side over the last three years and I’ve always marvelled at her ability to calmly and quickly tackle and resolve complex operations issues. As a result of Heather’s leadership, Sonke now has operations systems that impress every donor and auditor we interact with and are compared favourably to much larger INGOs. I’ve got lots to learn from Heather and am really looking forward to this opportunity.”  

As chair of the board, I know I speak on behalf of all Sonke board members when I say we are excited to develop this new model of shared leadership that will enable us to build on our past successes and allow us to continue to do the high impact work on rights, action and accountability for which we are known. None of our work would be possible without you, our partners, donors and supporters, and we look forward to working together to deepen democracy and advance human rights in South Africa, across Africa and globally.

Aluta Continua!

Sherylle Dass
Chair of the Sonke board