Earlier this year, alumna and activist Jo Todd (BA English and European Literature, 1990) received a CBE in recognition of 30+ years’ service to the victims of domestic abuse. From volunteering at a refuge on the outskirts of London, to more than 20 years as CEO of Respect - the pioneering charity tackling the root of the problem - Jo has dedicated her life to making a positive difference. And she’s not finished yet.
How did Respect come to be?
About 25 years ago, there were few organisations who focused on perpetrators of domestic abuse. It was too big to tackle alone, so a group of us came together and formed Respect. In all our work, we put survivors at the centre of what we do, with the angle of ‘how do we stop the perpetrators.’
How does your Warwick degree help with running the organisation?
All the soft skills I developed – writing, research, presenting my case. I spend a lot of time on public policy work, meeting with governments and chief of police. It all feeds in.
How vast is the problem?
Domestic abuse costs something like £79bn a year. And part of my job is to bang the drum. Increasing political will and doing preventative work is what we do. And the harm is huge. There’s always a new form of abuse you haven’t thought of that takes your breath away with its cruelty.
What is your biggest challenge?
Sustainability is the biggest problem. There's too much demand and not enough resources. So, we’re trying to diversify where we get income from – corporate funders, training courses – because government funding is typically very short-term. It’s tougher to raise money for DV than it is for donkey sanctuaries. You might not believe it, but the things that keep me up at night aren’t domestic abuse, they’re funding.
What keeps you going?
Hope. I have a lot of hope. Which is fortunate, because I couldn’t do what I do without it. I call myself an optimistic pragmatist! And I have good people to talk to – including a group of CEOs in the sector.
What inspires you?
I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I’m glad to live in a place and time where women can make decisions for their own lives. Until that is a privilege for all women, and we have true equality, I’ll keep banging the drum.
How else did Warwick shape you?
I made really good male friendships that have spanned decades. Men that have treated me well and are my equal.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a CEO?
Nobody can do everything. Leadership isn’t about planting the flag; it’s about surrounding yourself with people who are better than you. And owning it. It took me a long time to think of myself as a CEO – I'm a woman from a working-class background that certainly did not have a big game plan!
My student journey
I’ve always been a reader. It was the opportunity to immerse myself in three years of novels and fiction. It was a passion choice, because I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do after!
And why Warwick?
Well, Warwick had the most bars of all the universities I visited! There was a lot going on. A campus university felt like a good transition from home to adult life.
Sum up your Warwick experience.
Varied. We started off doing the classics – Virgil, Homer – along with medieval literature and poetry. There was also a French module I was quick to ditch. Overall, it was a fantastic start to adult life.
What happened next?
After Warwick, I carried on following my heart and studied an MA in Sociology of Gender. I also volunteered at a women’s refuge in Ipswich. It was my way of putting my activism into practice in a real way. I was lucky enough to get a job in a refuge shortly after. It opened my eyes to the world of domestic abuse, and I haven’t shut them since.