Jenna Holliday

Jenna Holliday

Jenna Holliday will be facilitating at our Catalyst Bootcamp and leading a session on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

Job title: Gender & Migration Specialist (independent consultant)


Bachelor of Arts (with honours): Qualifying Law/Political Studies (joint major); Post Graduate Diploma: Bar Vocational Studies;  Masters of Research: Security, Conflict and Justice

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

For me it is more about equity and equality – greed and overconsumption are rooted in a sense that some people deserve more than others – I fundamentally believe that not to be the case

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

Before university I was working for an organic festival cafe, and was lucky enough to be surrounded by a gang of really dynamic folks in their 20s and 30s who were forging the path that has developed into what we now identify as the low waste movement. It was a truly inspiring time and really formed my ideas about the environment and sustainability. After uni my first job was with the Soil Association.

How did you get your first role?

I got involved with the cafe by just being present and interested and offering to work for them when they set up. This later developed into a much more integral role managing the staffing of multiple festival sites. With the job at the Soil Association, I applied to a job in the paper. I had no real administrative experience, so I had been temping in the summer to try to build this up. As it turned out, something was definitely better than nothing and I got the job. As soon as I started I identified that their was a supervisory gap in the team I was working in. There was one general manager and then a team of administrators who were having to navigate multiple, and ever changing systems. I responded to this by setting up a meeting with the management and presenting the terms of reference for a new supervisory role! They agreed to the need and I applied for the job and got it. I was pretty proud of that!

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?

I really enjoyed the Soil Association. But it started to become very clear to me that it would be a long path to get to a role where I could hold real sway and have a voice. I had studied law for my degree and whilst initially I did not think that law was the right career for me, I decided that professionally qualifying would raise me up a level in my career, no matter what the sector. As such, I studied to be a barrister and later re-qualified as a solicitor, working in corporate law for five years. On the day I had paid off all my loans and saved £7,500, I handed in my notice, In December 2009, aged 30, I flew off around the world, landing in Cambodia where I volunteered for a human rights organisation. Within six months I was picking up contracts with the UN. I have been developing my career as a gender and migration specialist ever since.

What does your current role involve?

I work freelance as a gender and migration specialist. Most of my work is with the UN, including UN Women, the International Labour Organisation and UNICEF. I do work for other international development and rights organisations too. I provide technical advice on policy that promotes and protects the rights of women in migration. I work from my home in Devon and most of my time is sat at my computer, reading, mulling and writing, with some Skype chats in between. But I am also very lucky that I get sent to exciting new places to do work. I have recently returned from my first mission to Jakarta, which I loved!

How has your role changed over the past few years?

My role has changed massively in the past few years. Seven years ago I was a corporate lawyer; five years ago I was working as a long-term consultant for UN Women based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; two and half years ago I moved back with the intention of doing a masters degree and no work in the pipeline at all; for the past two years I have worked solidly and seen my own home-based business go from strength to strength whilst developing new and exciting routes for the future.

What’s the best part of your work?

I really get a lot from working on my own – generating and delivering my own work – but it is also about the subject matter – I focus on equality in all of my work and constantly driving to find the key structural factors that render people unequal. It fascinates and enthralls me and so very often doesn’t feel like work at all!

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Juggling time is definitely the hardest part. I feel like I am always on the edge of overpromising and under-delivering, which you really don’t want to do – especially as an independent/self-employed person! It can also be quite stressful not having the certainty of work and income. But so far I have been lucky enough that things come over the horizon, just at the point when I need them to.

What was the last development/training course/event you attended?

I am a visiting research fellow with the University of Warwick and a member of the British International Studies Association and recently went to a BISA conference where I presented a paper and also listened to others presenting theirs.

What did you bring back to your job?

Academic conferences always blow my mind – you get to witness the cutting edge of thinking. I took away a new conception of the financial market in gender terms, in particular how we as a society have let the bankers off in the same way we excuse bad male behaviour as being “boys will be boys” – I loved it – it was presented by this guy who had written the paper with reference to male characterisation in hollywood banking films!

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?

Flexibility and humility. The work comes in when it comes and sometimes sends you off overseas on little notice. I try to retain a calm and flexible approach to my work as part of my life and to not engage in a level of rigidity that restricts my opportunities. Whilst recognising your own value and ability is key, it is even more key to be humble with it. Everything we do is shared; everyone misunderstands things at some point; everyone makes mistakes. The less precious you are of your value and work, the more you will be able to continue forward constantly learning.

Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?

The work is becoming integral to all things. As such, I think there will be opportunities for environmental/sustainability professionals in almost every sector and that will only ever increase. We now have the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement; these commitments apply to both private and public sector internationally, and how that is operationalised on the ground is the work of env/sust professionals.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I have recently decided I would like to start a Phd – something about the role of women in social change. In five years I hope that I am nearly finished with that, and that maybe I have started teaching some uni classes. I would like to write more academic pieces. I am also setting up a hub for human rights specialists who want to work together to support and strengthen grassroots organisations – so hopefully that, along with Catalyse Change, will be well and truly off the ground.  I also have a play, an album and a sit-com I would like to write! Ha! And I want to strip off the wallpaper in the entire house. So…you know…not much!

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Beware of putting up your own barriers – through our own expectations and fixed ideas, we can all be our worst enemy. There are myriad routes to the destinations we are aiming to reach – and the destinations themselves may change as we make our way towards them. Be open to the possibility that the route to where you want to go may not be obvious and that you may change your mind many many times before you work “it” out. I always say career paths only look logical in hindsight – just focus on making the right next choice – the one that sits right and makes you feel good. Once you are there, you can start thinking about the next one!

Contact info:   M 07415 851 302   @jennakholliday

To find out more and to book a place at the Catalyst Bootcamp visit