Standing up for refugee rights: Alexa Netty spills the SolidariTee

Alexa Netty, executive director of SolidariTee, shares how the charity came into being and the ways you can get involved

What is SolidariTee?

SolidariTee is the largest entirely student-run charity supporting the international assistance of refugees and asylum seekers. The campaign works to raise awareness of the refugee crisis and further the provision of long-term support for refugees, which it does by giving grants to NGOs working to provide legal aid to asylum seekers in Greece. The charity is headed and staffed entirely by student activists, originating in a grassroots university context.

What does your role as executive director involve?

I oversee the day-to-day running of SolidariTee and lead its overall operations. It’s truly incredible to think that our charity started as one student – the inimitable Tiara Sahar Ataii – and has now grown to comprise of more than 600 volunteers in 8 countries. It wasn’t quite like this when I joined the team nearly two years ago, though it was growing – so a big part of my role has been figuring out how to expand and future-proof our core operations in a sustainable and professional manner. Now that Tiara has graduated, she is focusing on her responsibilities as Chair of the Board of Trustees, and has handed over the management of the charity to me.

I know what an exponential difference a relatively small amount of extra fundraising can make

We currently have a central team of approximately 30, alongside our 55 (and counting!) regional teams at individual universities, including, unsurprisingly, one of our largest teams here at Cambridge. The central team is predominantly split into communications, fundraising, outreach and regional management divisions, though I do encourage people to get involved with as wide an array of projects as they wish to throughout their time volunteering.

During my time leading SolidariTee, I aim to achieve three key things. First and foremost, I hope to raise as much money as we possibly can to provide legal aid for refugees – it’s why SolidariTee was set up after all, and I know what an exponential difference a relatively small amount of extra fundraising can make. Secondly, I hope to empower the student body, as the next generation of teachers, leaders, voters and industry professionals, with the tools and confidence to stand up for refugee rights, and indeed other causes that matter, throughout their lives. Every single person on our team has the opportunity to organise and lead their own initiative – this could be anything from a sponsored sports match to a two-day conference! I hope that regardless of the initiative, we’re building skills and empowering students to engage with activism on their own terms. Finally, I hope to show that we as a student charity can lead from the front on a variety of intersectional issues, from environmental sustainability, to female leadership.

This year, our t-shirts are 100% vegan and organic, and our designs printed with vegan and phthalate free inks by London Living Wage employers, demonstrating just one of the ways we’re working to build sustainability into all levels of our operations.

Alexa sporting a SolidariTee t-shirt

How do you balance your SolidariTee role with academic work?

I’m a 6th-year veterinary medicine student, so it’s fair to say it’s been demanding, but both my degree and my work with SolidariTee give me a tremendous amount of joy and purpose. Before I took over the running of SolidariTee, I was President of TEDxCambridgeUniversity, VP for May Week Alternative (MWA), and the President of the committee in charge of running the 2019 Cambridge International Development Conference. Before any of that, I used to do a lot of dog training and horse riding, so I’ve always been used to keeping various balls in the air, and in many ways having more than one thing to focus on has been really beneficial for my headspace – not to mention being a great way to connect with like-minded people.

The reality is, being in charge of SolidariTee has resulted in a lot of late nights and early mornings, and the workload may seem alarming from an outside perspective. But I also don’t really view the relative ease or difficulty of the task as the determining factor either – from the moment I appreciated the severity of the injustices faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Europe I felt compelled to take action, and I think that’s a view shared by lots of people on our team.

The truth is, I’m not doing any of this on my own – I am privileged to be working with an incredible team, many of whom have become great friends, and almost every phone call I have with the central team directors has us all laughing about something or other. Whilst it is difficult, and the content we engage with is at times incredibly distressing, we have a great support network. And because we’re all students, we’re very understanding of each other’s schedules and can work flexibly, which makes things a great deal easier to manage. I’m also protective of my team’s mental health and conscious of avoiding burnout, so I’m relatively strict about making sure people take days off ahead of major uni deadlines and don’t work on SolidariTee late into the night, to ensure volunteering stays fun rather than becoming a stressor for any of my teammates. 

How can Cambridge students get involved with SolidariTee?

There are a whole host of ways students can get involved! If you’d like to volunteer, we’re actively welcoming new reps to the team this term – you’ll have an opportunity to help fundraise by selling our custom-made t-shirts (SolidariTee-s), and get involved with organising events and raising awareness on campus. Though lots of our events are online due to the pandemic, there’s a great team spirit: we’ve got everything from virtual pub quizzes, to panel discussions, and sponsored runs in the pipeline currently, but we’d love to add more to this list! Alternatively, if you have a special interest or talent – video editing or web design for example – please do get in touch if you’d be interested in doing some more specific work with us, as we’re always interested in developing and expanding our operations.

We’re very keen to collaborate on events with other societies, so students who are members of other groups can also get involved, and we’ve had events such as sponsored sports matches and charity formals come about in this way in the past.

Aside from getting involved in the team’s activities or attending our events, you can also purchase a tee, either from one of our college reps or from our online shop – our new organic tees retail at £12, and we have 3 colours to choose from. And if none of this appeals, simply sharing a Facebook post, or taking the time to respectfully call out misinformation or harmful comments towards refugees in one’s daily life is all incredibly valuable cumulatively.

Learn more about SolidariTee on their website – and tap into ours for guidance on careers in charities and not-for-profit

You may also find our recent blog useful:

Click for blog on charities, careers and Covid-19

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