It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Emma Osmundsen is supposed to be on holiday, but when I interrupt her day with a phone call, she tells me not to worry. Emma’s two-week break has turned into non-stop volunteering – mobilising humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
Emma is the first female president for YMCA Europe. When she was elected back in November, she had little idea that she would be working to support her colleagues in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, along with mobilising YMCA’s across Europe to support the flow of over 1,000,000 refugees.
For Emma, this is just a volunteer role. It’s all finely balanced around her day job as Managing Director for Exeter City Living, the development arm of Exeter City Council.
But although the work is separate, everything is driven by her Christian faith and personal values – Emma firmly believes that through faith anything is possible. It’s this immense energy and drive that makes her such a powerhouse in leading the way to breaking the bias and realising a gender-equal world.
Emma is passionate about seeing young women develop into the leaders that God has created them to be and for her it’s all about confidence.
“I spend quite a bit of time mentoring young women and what I see time and again, is a lack of confidence,” explains Emma. “Often women just don’t see themselves as good as they really are.”
Emma doesn’t take a soft approach to encouraging confidence, instead she tackles the problem straight on. She explains how women need to step into their discomfort zone and challenge themselves.
“Most people don’t enjoy public speaking. But you’ve just got to go for it. You have to be comfortable taking risks and making mistakes,” explains Emma. “I’ve got a lot of scars and wrinkles for the mistakes I’ve made.”
Emma has certainly led the way in stepping out. She is one of the leading global voices in the development and delivery of low energy, healthy and climate resilient homes and buildings. It was Emma who persuaded Exeter City Council to be the first council in the UK to start building low-carbon council houses.
When I ask her about this, Emma laughs and says she just builds homes, but she goes on to explain how she is passionate about people living in homes that are comfortable and reduce fuel poverty.
But it hasn’t always been easy. Emma explains how she comes up against prejudice all the time in her work, and she feels sad that there is still so much gender bias. But at the bottom line, she says that it’s all about being confident in yourself and believing that you can do anything.
“I would never have imagined that New Zealand’s Minister for Housing would invite me (and pay for me) to come and speak about our Passivhaus journey on the other side of the world. Or that New York would do the same. And I would never have imagined that I would be the first female president for YMCA Europe.
“But I believe that through faith anything is possible. Do the job you’re given and do it well. And have confidence that you are capable of so much more.”
Emma was a YMCA Exeter board member for nine years and Chair of YMCA Exeter trustees for six years, supporting the organisation through a time of growth. She now sits as a co-opted special advisor to the board of directors. During her tenure additional housing for young people was added to the existing work and community projects supporting young people, families and children were developed throughout Exeter and Devon. Her legacy has continued as Sidwell Studios, a 26-bed converted warehouse in the city centre, opens for residents in May.
In addition, Emma is also a non-executive director on the board of YMCA England & Wales.
To support YMCA Europe’s wok during the current crisis in Ukraine, head to: UKRAINE: TOGETHER, WE CARE | YMCA Europe