Welcome to Hello World’s interview series showcasing the work of individuals and organisations that are championing education and helping marginalised communities to shape their own future.
Education is… Levelling the Playing Field.
Katrin McMillan – Founder and CEO of Hello World
Formerly an award-winning theatre producer, Katrin’s focus then moved to Human Rights advocacy. She produced a political arts festival in New York and coordinated events and programs for the UN (OCHA), NY University Center for Global Affairs, NY Public Library, the Culture Project, Speak Truth To Power and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. She has addressed international academic forums on human rights and worked throughout the UK, South Africa, Nigeria, DRC and Australia.
Katrin was also a development consultant for the World Bank, the International Centre for Energy Environment and Development and USAid, and has assisted Management Sciences for Health with their HIV/AIDS program. She co-launched Bwari, a Nigerian collective aimed at generating jobs using sustainable resources, and – in collaboration with the ICRC – initiated the emergency relief for Jos. Katrin worked with Panzi Hospital in Eastern DRC as a volunteer and sits on the board of The Global Media Campaign to End FGM.
If you could write on your childhood school report – what comments would you make?
While your dyslexia means you struggle now, something called “spell check” will be invented by the time you leave university. And don’t sweat your times tables – you’ll also have a calculator in your pocket every day. From that same device you’ll also be able to take pictures, order food and spy on your house from space. I know – crazy eh?!
What did you dream of becoming as a child and what obstacles got in your way?
At aged six I wanted to be a deep sea diver and a helicopter pilot. (I would do both on a part-time basis). But by the time GCSEs rolled around I was predicted failures in all of my exams, threatened with expulsion and my Headmistress told me that ‘Katrin is only fit for the stage.’
I took this literally and went to drama school after Uni – a shame because I didn’t actually want to be an actor.
Although I did have a hell of a lot of fun in the theatre, and learn a lot about working in a happy team, to hard deadlines, I think if I’d have had the confidence to choose what I really wanted to do with my career, I’d have gone straight into human rights, maybe government. It’s difficult to say. In truth I still don’t feel confident that I’m capable of doing anything I want to do. A conventional education chipped away at my confidence and perhaps I’m still undoing the effects of that.
You work in the cause of education for out-of-school children – what lessons has this work taught you?
My passion for giving a voice to individuals and communities was shaped by my time living and working in Nigeria and Ethiopia. Here I learned that if you want to empower marginalised communities, you need to foster community ownership of development projects. Hello World was founded on this lesson.
Above all, my work has taught me that the world is unbearably unfair. So those of us who were born lucky have an obligation to work to level the playing field for those who weren’t.