- Name: Ambika Sachdeva
- Role: Senior Manager, STAAC (Strengthening Action Against Corruption Project in Ghana)
- Location: Accra, Ghana and London, UK
What’s your big “why”? What’s the positive change/impact you and others in your field are trying to achieve and what are some of the challenges you face whilst doing so?
When I was little, we used to travel to India a lot. The stark inequalities embedded within society there became etched in my memory. The rich culture, diversity and growth of Delhi inspired and excited me; yet I could not ignore the sheer poverty and slums that were all too visible.
Whilst I was studying Economics as my bachelors, I never saw banking or accounting as a career path for me. Instead, I chose modules more closely aligned with development and started engaging in projects where I could help. I interned as a door-to-door fundraiser, to raise sponsors for Practical Action and the Children’s Trust; travelled to Nepal to volunteer for the Women Empower Multipurpose Co-operative – an organisation that uses microfinance as the primary tool to help women and their families; and finally became a programme volunteer at Womankind Worldwide before joining ASI after my MSc in Development Studies.
It is funny, but I never really studied or thought about corruption as part of my journey. Yet, when I joined the Governance team in ASI, we had just won the Strengthening Action Against Corruption Project (STAAC) – and my perception and understanding completely changed over that 4-year project. It was when I started managing STAAC-Ghana and enhancing my technical understanding of the subject matter, that I truly appreciated the impact and consequences corruption has on the social, economic, and political dimensions of a country. Since STAAC, my focus has continued to be on corruption, serious and organised crime and illicit financial flows.
I think the challenges remain political. In a lot of the places we work, politics is entrenched in day-to-day work, through political appointments, resource-capability gaps and so on. It is trying to find that balance of being politically agile, flexible to local changes, and adapting interventions on the ground whilst still adhering to the requirements of donors.
If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do here, what would it be?
That is a tough one! People always struggle to understand my role and I struggle to explain it. A very long-winded way of saying what I do across the projects that I have managed is that I provide day-to-day management of the programme, working closely with the Team Leader, team, and client, to establish the technical and strategic direction of the programme, ensuring that we develop the right monitoring, reporting, evaluation and learning (MREL) tools and effectively embed political economy analysis within programme implementation. A significant amount of my time is also spent problem solving. I also play a key role in business development when possible.
What do you like about working in a global development company?
It has to be the people! The relationships I have built over the years with consultants and fellow ASI’ers has been amazing. Allowing a young graduate to move to Ghana and trusting her to take over the project changed my life. I found another family in Ghana, and memories that I will carry with me forever.
Working in a global company like ASI also means that you get to work with some of the best and brightest in the field. I have had the first-hand opportunity to work with financial intelligence advisers, investigators, prosecutors and accountability advisors side-by-side; the sheer depth of knowledge I have been able to acquire has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth.
What’s the most exciting thing happening in your project/at work right now?
How do I choose?! One of the projects I am managing is a pilot project on serious and organised crime in Ghana. As part of that, I am working closely with local partners on the ground to produce three research reports on areas related to corruption and serious and organised crime.
I am finding the research incredibly insightful: for example, the increasing costs of politics and expenses necessary to campaign for election has caused politicians to consider themselves as victims of a financially-driven environment/culture. The study established that there is direct demand from political and state actors for CSOs to advocate on campaign finance laws. These and other findings we produce and issues we identify, we will directly support FCDO to develop an advocacy roadmap for prioritised issue areas, which (fingers crossed) can be taken forward in a similar future programme in Ghana to facilitate the process for real change.
What movements or discussions inspire you generally right now?
It has been very inspiring to see renewed discussions on women’s rights and climate change. Whilst discussions on women’s safety and climate change have taken place throughout the years, I have often felt that they haven’t necessarily led to sustained action. It usually takes sinister events like Sarah Everard for us to take notice. The impact of COVID-19 on domestic abuse has also highlighted this issue across nations. But I am hopeful that this time it is different. Women are definitely starting to occupy more space, with increasingly more female role models for young girls to look up to, not just across the developed world, but also the developing. It is also great to see more men actively engaging in discussions about feminism and what it means in its truest sense. Whilst we have a long road ahead, we are definitely moving in the right direction!
What volunteering or passion projects do you do outside of work?
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to volunteer in a while, but I am keen to do more, especially in the field of wildlife protection. What inspires me to get more active in this field specifically is a trip a colleague and I took last year.
We travelled to Ghana’s Volta Region to release turtles into the sea. In Ghana, turtles are in constant danger of being caught and killed by illegal poachers and sold for food along with their eggs. I can’t describe the feeling of holding these little creatures in my hand and releasing them into the sea. It was surreal. But it also put things into perspective. It may have seemed like such an inconsequential event, but in that moment, I realised the significance of such small acts on the wider ecosystem and the need to protect our wildlife. I hope to do more in the near future.
I’ve held a great admiration for elephants my entire life – they’re smart, majestic and very gentle creatures – so I would love to volunteer in an elephant sanctuary one day.
What’s a quality a game changer should have and what’s your ambition to be one?
Like most things, I think perseverance is important. Particularly in the current aid climate with falling budgets and more and more people questioning the purpose and impact of aid, we need to carry on the good fight. I also think it is important to understand the big picture whilst appreciating the nuances and complexities of working on-the-ground. To be a game changer, we need to continue celebrating the small achievements that lay the foundation for strong systems and processes and share our learnings across the industry.
Disparities have and will continue to exist. But for me, it is about trying; trying to use my profession to transform the lives of people – no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to someone else.