25 years of the CRA – spotlight on: Lekha Klouda

As we continue to celebrate our 25th anniversary, this week we are going right back to the beginning – a very special interview with Lekha Klouda, the CRA’s first CEO, who led the organisation for more than 10 years. Lekha remains very active within the charity retail sector in her current role as Chair of Trustees of Traid, and of course remains a loyal charity shop customer!

Lekha became the first CEO of what was then called the Association of Charity Shops in 1999, when it became clear that there was overwhelming support for an independent organisation to provide a voice for the sector.

Moving from her role as convenor at the successful Charity Shops Group, a group created by Dame Hilary Blume director of the Charities Advisory Trust, to provide a forum where charities operating shops could share experiences, concerns and expertise, was a leap of faith for Lekha. The new role meant leading the fledgling organisation with only one other member of staff, and which was, as Lekha puts it, “basically a start-up with no financial reserves.”

Fortunately, the value of the Association was recognised, and its membership and activities grew to encompass an annual conference, quarterly benchmarking reports, commercial membership, lobbying, training and member support services – activities still in place today.

The sharing of knowledge and expertise that followed from the Association’s facilitating role in bringing charities together was one of one Lekha’s favourite parts of her role – this had simply not existed before in the sector and was genuinely seen as very positive, she says.

Lekha spent 11 years leading the Association and says she loved all aspects of the role; from working as a shop volunteer to significantly developing the annual conference and sitting down to lobby ministers, “not to mention working with the very many brilliant people who work in the sector – I remember with great affection the many talented people and interesting characters I met.”

However, Lekha feels that one of her biggest achievements as CEO was setting up the sharing of charity retail performance information via quarterly benchmarking reports and increasing participation in these reports by member charities. The QMA reports became a significant benefit for the sector and are still an extremely valuable and unique resource to the sector today.

As Lekha describes: “This kind of comparative information, whilst available to commercial retailing, simply had not existed before for charity retailing. The reports allowed members to understand what was happening across the sector, to measure their own performance against sector benchmarks and to share their views on issues such as volunteering, rag pricing and trends. It also allowed for data about the sector to be collected and used where appropriate in the Association’s public-facing role. Feedback was extremely positive from the outset with the reports seen as a significant benefit of membership of the Association.”

Asked about the key ways she thinks the CRA drives charity retail success, Lekha cited promoting cooperation, sharing information, responding to concerns, coordinating lobbying and promoting the sector’s contributions – economic, social and environmental, “Much the same as they were back in 1999!”, she says.

When asked what she would like to see the CRA do in the next 25 years, Lekha points to the likelihood that the climate crisis will be a major concern over the coming generation, and hopes that the CRA will continue its work in:

  • Advocating strongly both with government and the general public for second-hand charity shopping
  • Promoting even greater awareness of the positive environmental impacts of the sector, whilst working to minimise negative impacts largely from the export and pollution caused by unusable second-hand clothing
  • Encouraging and supporting cross-sector collaboration to tackle more reuse of unwanted clothing and other consumer items and support initiatives to develop recycling/fibre reclamation processes in the UK/Europe
  • Providing support to the charity retail sector to ensure its resilience and continuing success.

Lekha Klouda

04/03/2024 13:40