Andrew Betts - Director
Andrew was studying how to grow ten tonnes of wheat per hectare during the Ethiopian famine of the early 1980s. The ‘success’ of the EC’s Common Agricultural Policy in creating mountains of unwanted grain that he learned about was incongruous alongside the harrowing TV reports of starving children. Andrew ended up befriending the African students on his course and attending lectures on tropical crops, even though they didn’t count towards his agriculture degree.
Work in Swaziland to establish gardens for women and schoolchildren to grow their own food, and a couple of years spent maintaining the grounds of conference centre and building spillways for its lakes followed. But Andrew’s passion for practical development work in Africa was ultimately cemented during five years as a VSO agriculture instructor and manager of a community water project in rural Eastern Kenya.
Fundraising roles for organisations including VSO and Practical Action provided a fuller experience of working with NGOs. Then in 2002, Andrew and his wife Jane founded Advantage Africa to help people affected by poverty, disability and HIV to improve their education, health and incomes. They wanted to use all the (good and bad) experiences gained from working at the grass roots as volunteers and in office roles for prominent charities to help build a better future for some of Africa’s most vulnerable people.
Directing Advantage Africa is an all-consuming task that provides Andrew with immense fulfillment and challenges every single working day. He believes strongly in the importance of genuine partnerships with local organisations and remains as driven as ever to help those living on the margins to overcome poverty and meet their basic needs and rights.
Rob Aley - Programme Manager
Rob started his international development career in 1993 when he lived in rural western Kenya for nearly three years as a VSO volunteer, working at a special school to develop community rehabilitation programmes and vocational training projects for children and young adults with disabilities.
Rob’s original background is in product design; he has an MA in design research for disability and worked in India as Rehabilitation Engineer for what was then The Spastics Society of Karnataka in Bangalore. He went on to become Design Project Manager at Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, producing special products for people with various disabilities.
Before joining Advantage Africa in 2010, Rob was Small Enterprise Specialist for five years at Practical Action supporting small enterprise programmes across seven developing countries in Asia and Africa. He made regular field visits to provide advice and support to individual projects as well as developing the strategic direction of the programme.
In addition to his role at Advantage Africa, Rob maintains a creative design outlet by running a small UK-based candle-making business called The Wax Studio. Rob has two children, one grown-up, and one not yet!
Jane Betts - Programme Manager
With a French degree from the University of London, Jane taught English to postgraduate students in France and then in an isolated part of northwest China with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). Jane’s time in China was life-changing as she witnessed extreme poverty faced by those on the margins, and was particularly struck by the hardship and discrimination experienced by people with disabilities. Giving up her long-held ambition to become a journalist, Jane returned to the UK and worked for VSO for six years in volunteer recruitment and programme management roles, including extended secondments in Guinea Bissau, Cameroon and the Eastern Caribbean.
In 1999, Jane joined World Vision UK and became Head of Programme Development. While in this role, she lobbied the World Vision Partnership to mainstream disability across all its community development and emergency response programmes. In 2004, Jane became the Partnership’s first Disability Adviser and spent a further six years working to ensure people with disabilities were appropriately included in all the organisation’s initiatives. Taking on the role of World Vision Disability Policy Adviser in 2007, she also lobbied other international NGOs, national governments and the United Nations about the pragmatic good sense of including people with disabilities to ensure more effective, sustainable development.
Jane met her husband Andrew while making tea at the VSO headquarters in 1997. In 2002, they co-founded Advantage Africa, both passionate about improving the lives of vulnerable and marginalised children and adults. She was a Trustee of Advantage Africa for nine years before joining the staff as Uganda Programme Manager in 2010.
Jane runs often, usually because of tight deadlines, but sometimes for pleasure, and has completed two marathons to raise funds for Advantage Africa. She and Andrew have two lively children, a nervous rescue greyhound and very confident rescue cat.
Gill Price - Trustee
Gill has a background in international relief and development prior to which she trained and worked as a Construction Engineer in the UK. Her development career started on a rural primary school construction programme with VSO in The Gambia and subsequent work on community projects in Northern Iraq, Rwanda, Zambia and Malawi. In 2003 she began working as a freelance consultant, predominantly in the humanitarian sector on project implementation and policy development in the WASH, Education and Shelter sectors.
In her current role with RedR UK, Gill is responsible for the strategic oversight, financial performance and overall management of RedR’s international programmes in the Middle East, Europe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Sudan, and South Sudan. Throughout her career she has been committed to increasing the capacity and sustainability of national and local organisations and helping to put them in the forefront of decision-making. She’s passionate about building on and learning from the existing knowledge, skills, customs and practices of the people we work with.
Among the skills and experience that Gill brings to the Board and management team at Advantage Africa are donor engagement, proposal development and reporting, monitoring and evaluation, training, local capacity building, remote management, security management and operating in conflict or humanitarian emergencies.
Charlotte Cashman - Trustee
Charlotte Cashman has lived in Milton Keynes since 1987, where together with raising her family alongside husband Mike, she has been active as a community volunteer for many years. She is a Magistrate, Church children’s worker, an experienced Early Childhood Teacher, School Leader, Governor, Teacher Trainer and Education Planner with over 30 years’ experience in the UK.
Charlotte's experience in international development began in Ghana where she was a Teacher Support Officer with VSO in Ghana 2009/2010. Charlotte understands first-hand the challenges faced by schools and people living with disability in deprived areas. She and ex-Trustee Ann Tennant visited projects in Kenya in 2013 and were both encouraged and inspired by the work of our partners. She also has the distinction of having being one of our Christmas Wrapping project managers!
Charlotte is also an Assistant Director of Educators International, a charity that works in partnership with professional volunteers who offer their services to education reform projects in developing countries. Educators International have recently run a very successful teacher training intervention in Ghana, where teachers were empowered and more than 6000 children measurably improved their ability to read and spell in the last year. They have just handed over their work as a going concern to a Ghanaian organisation who will sustain the programme into the future.
As a Christian and mother of four married children and grandmother to nine grandchildren under seven years old, Charlotte is passionate about promoting the safety and welfare of all children everywhere.
Chris Chapman - Trustee
Chris recently retired as Managing Director of Andrews Estate Agents and is a board member of Andrews Charitable Trust - whose support in Advantage Africa’s early years enabled the charity to become established and develop its first projects in East Africa. Chris joined Andrews in 1981 as a Mortgage Consultant, having previously been a Life Inspector. He has enjoyed a full career in financial services, working at Natwest, Leeds Permanent Building Society, National Mutual Life and then Andrews. He is also a Trustee of the charity Dementia Adventure.
Rebecca Sherriff - Trustee
Rebecca's experience of International Development started at school and led her to studying a degree in Environmental Geography and International Development at the University of East Anglia. She has a particular interest in the impact of HIV/AIDS on patients and their families, having studied this in detail in relation to the Luo culture in Kenya as part of her university dissertation. She has more recently broadened her interest more widely to health and wellbeing more generally.
During her studies Rebecca spend 9 months volunteering in Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa building the foundations of her passion for community empowerment. She continued with this theme in her career closer to home working for 5 years within the Voluntary and Community Sector in Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire. Her work covered a wide range of projects all focused on community development. She is now working at the National Trust at Stowe, near Buckingham, leading the way on community participation and championing diversity, inclusion and accessibility.
She has been a longstanding supporter of Advantage Africa’s work having volunteered with them in different ways for many years before becoming a Trustee in 2017.
Brenda Bignold - Trustee
Brenda has worked in education as a teacher, senior manager, adviser, governor and consultant at school, Local Authority, national and international levels. Following five years as Corporate Director of Education and Community Learning with Northamptonshire County Council, she worked as Education Director with the Local Government Association and with Partnerships for Schools, delivering the Building Schools for the Future programme rebuilding secondary schools across England. In 2007 she moved into the private sector as Partner and UK lead on Children’s Services with Veredus an executive recruitment company. In recent years she has undertaken volunteer assignments in Ethiopia and India and is currently researching for a PhD in international education.
Brenda brings a life-long commitment to learning for personal and community development together with skills in strategic planning, management and governance.
Brenda met her husband of 40 years on a VSO placement in Malaysia. They completed a second VSO placement in the Ministry of Education in Addis Ababa in 2011-12.