Deborah Parker - Director

Deborah started out working in the Careers Service where she advised young people labelled as having special needs. Many had minor issues, but the lack of aspiration due to external barriers for them was enough to exclude them from a wealth of employment opportunities. She became a passionate advocate for the excluded.

She went on to work with her local authority to help those with severe learning disabilities access paid employment, which fired her on even more.

Over 25 years, she built up special skills and qualifications in the field backed by tangible evidence of positive change at policy, systematic and individual level. A strategic leader, Deborah is passionately committed to changing access to opportunities for people who are excluded or devalued.

In 2001, Deborah set up Progress Employment Support from a local authority service, a limited company and registered charity. With her social entrepreneurial mind-set, she built the organisation from a staff of five to 20 in two years, as well as garnering multiple awards. She was also appointed as an advisor to government on employment and disability issues and was instrumental in the development of transformational guidance and legislation.

Her conviction is that it’s best to empower rather than do for and thereby enabling independence and positive interdependence. The work of the charity included support for adults who were seen as farthest from the labour market to secure and succeed in valued paid employment, young people in special education to take part in genuine work experience as a precursor to employment, a supported internship program and training in entrepreneurship based on a highly valued and successful programme previously exclusively for mainstream education.

One of her many success stories is a young woman, who was born with a range of disabilities making her dependent on a ventilator, electric wheelchair and more to set up her own successful photography business. For Deborah, it’s not about ‘pretending’ to do business to give everyone a chance, but about real life and real business.

She has travelled as far as Australia and South Africa enabling the development of services and building relationships overseas and has spoken at many national and international conferences.

Since closing the charity, which left legacies to a range of organisations able to continue the work, Deborah worked for the Alzheimer’s Society, giving her experience of working in a multi-million-pound charity. She now holds a number of non-executive director roles and teaches English to refugees.

Her drive, experience and outlook chimed with Key Fund values and approach, particularly providing the right support to the right people at the right time for the right length of time. She is inspired by Key Fund’s approach to nurture the growth of businesses that have a positive social impact by enabling these entrepreneurs to gain access to the finance denied them by mainstream providers.

With a deep understanding of not just business but the public, private and voluntary sector, Deborah’s grassroots and frontline experience is invaluable to the Key Fund board.

Deborah believes Key Fund is ground-breaking as a truly values-driven organisation in the context of the real world, with a reputation that’s second to none. She believes its role is even more critical in the future, as Covid-19 taught us that no-one can live in ‘splendid isolation’; communities will – with Key Fund support – rebuild and address the increased challenges society faces.