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Donna Covey

Donna Covey (BSc Mathematics and Business Studies 1979-83) has gone from Warwick to a successful career with some of the UK's leading advocacy organisations. With a career ranging from the GMB to Refugee Council, Donna was recognised for her work with a CBE in the 2014 New Year's Honours.
  Donna Covey

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How did you go from Warwick to Asthma UK and the Refugee Council?
I was lucky when I left Warwick to get a research job with a small professional association and trades union - the Engineers and Managers Association, which then led to 16 years working for the GMB trades union, when I was also privileged to service on the TUC General Council. My passion for advocacy then took me to the director of the umbrella body for the then health watchdogs - community health councils(CHCs).

After seeing off government attempts to abolish CHCs, I then stayed in health advocacy - going to run Asthma UK. The urge to go back into the equality field, and work with a unique and special group of people led me to the Refugee Council.

You studied Mathematics and Business Studies at Warwick, how does this help you in your career?
The thing with Maths is more that it teaches you a way of thinking – I’ve never really used the specifics of the course in my day to day work. The business aspects of my course gave me a good grounding for when I became a chief executive in later life.

What drives you?
A belief that we have a responsibility to make an impact on other people’s lives and leave the world in some small way a better place than the one we were born into. I have been privileged to be paid to do jobs that have given the opportunity to serve others, and contribute towards making the world a fairer place.

What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?
Calorie free ice cream.

What would you tell someone thinking of studying at Warwick?
Get off campus and make the most of the non-academic opportunities.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently during your time as a student?
I wish I’d had more perspective. It’s important to get a good degree and it gives you a great start in life - but it’s not the only thing in the world.

How do you balance work and life?
Yoga. Travelling. Gardening. Cooking

If you could choose another profession, what would it be?
I have been so privileged with the roles that I have done, but I think working in the law would have been fascinating and enabled me to make an equal contribution.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time?
Hopefully easing down into retirement and still healthy enough to enjoy it.

What are your favourite memories of your years at Warwick?
The bands. 1979 was a great time to move to the Midlands and coming from the country having live bands on tap was a new experience. The music I heard then is still a huge part of the soundtrack to my life.

Do you have any advice for new graduates?
Be prepared to be bored in your first year or two working after graduation - but stick at it, prove your worth , build up experience and it does get more interesting and intellectually challenging.

Donna Covey: the facts
Age: 52
Lives: London

BSc Maths and Business Studies, University of Warwick
Postgraduate Management Diploma, Birkbeck , University of London

Career: 1983-84 Research Assistant, Engineers and Managers Association
1984-89: Researcher, GMB trades union
1989-98: GMB National Officer
1998-2001: Director, Association of Community Health Councils
2001-07: Chief Executive, Asthma UK
2007-12:Chief Executive, Refugee Council