QCT in conversation with our President and Vice President, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, President and Vice-President of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust (QCT), recently hosted a conversation with young leaders from the QCT network, who each work with the Trust across its three pillars of champion, fund and connect. The group met at Buckingham Palace to discuss mental health, equal opportunities for all, and the importance of supporting youth leadership to help address global challenges and drive positive change around the world.
Those joining The Duke and Duchess from QCT were: Kenny Imafidon, social entrepreneur, activist and QCT Advisor, who helped to host the discussion; Esther Marshall, founder of sTandTall and author of the Sophie Says series; Izzy Obeng, founder of Foundervine; Victor Ugo, founder of Mentally Aware Nigeria; and co-founders of Birmingham-based female empowerment organisation Girldreamer, Kiran Kaur and Amna Akhtar. All the young leaders who participated in the discussion work with QCT in various ways, including having their work and experience shared through its digital channels, being connected with peers, funding and resources, and feeding into the strategy and development of QCT.
The Duke and Duchess opened the conversation by asking the group about QCT and its role in supporting them. QCT Advisor, Kenny Imafidon, commented on how QCT feels different to other organisations because it is “seeing young leaders as equal partners of a movement.” The group went on to discuss the significance of QCT’s global network, with Esther Marshall of sTandTall and Sophie Says, stating how the “powerful” network of QCT has helped her combat loneliness as a founder and feel connected to a movement of driving change. Izzy Obeng of Foundervine added: “When you’re founding something for the first time it’s really tough, and the opportunity to share those struggles and learn how people do it globally, not just in your local context, is really powerful.”
The theme of inclusive support networks emerged across the conversation as vital to supporting equal opportunities and providing effective mental health awareness and support services, as the young leaders shared more about their personal experiences and commented on their work.
Victor Ugo stated: “I had very amazing friends and a support system that made it possible to see through a difficult part in my life. That was the inspiration behind setting up my organisation, Mentally Aware Nigeria, because I was looking to create that community I had for myself and replicate it for others.”
Amna Akhtar reflected on the motivation behind starting GirlDreamer: “I needed people around me to say to me you can do this, and this belief really made me feel like I could smash those barriers.”
The theme of relatable role models also resonated as a key area of importance for the young leaders in the room, both in their own leadership journeys, and in their work around promoting equal opportunities.
Kiran Kaur of GirlDreamer talked about the challenges she and her co-founder faced growing up without relatable role models, and how that became a driving factor for wanting to start something different; “we can’t see those things in the world, so how about we create it so that the next generation don’t feel so isolated on this journey, and they don’t feel like they can’t be things because they can’t see themselves”.
Esther Marshall added: “[Sophie Says] is all about creating equal opportunities for all. It doesn’t matter your race, your religion, your, background, your gender. The messages in it say you can be whoever you are.”
During the discussion, the Duke and Duchess remarked on the personal lived experience of the leaders in the room and their motivation to act, linking this to the impact this has on developing solutions, with the Duke commenting that it “makes all the difference.” The Duchess added, “Its saying, let’s not wait until there’s a problem and try and fix it, let’s try and stop the problem from happening to begin with.”
The Duke, who has long championed youth leadership through his role with QCT, commented on how the next generation are leading the way in driving change and the potential they represent: “You have a whole group of young people coming through – who just have a completely different mindset and focus on how to make things different – it’s an amazing opportunity.” Victor Ugo, founder of Mentally Aware Nigeria, commented in agreement: “It is very important to change the narrative...young people are very comfortable to take up spaces, as we are passionate about our issue and the topic.”
Check below to hear more from the inspiring young leaders who took part in the discussion.
Amna Akhtar and Kiran Kaur
Co-founders of Girldreamer
Amna Akhtar is the co-founder and creative director of GirlDreamer. Growing up as a first-generation immigrant from a working-class family in inner-city Birmingham, Amna dropped out of University and taught herself various business knowledge with no formal training and no degree. She is best known for creating unique civic opportunities for women of colour in the UK and is also responsible for creating Europe's first women of colour longboard and surf crew to use sport as a tool for social change, which has now become an award-winning documentary film.
Kiran Kaur is the Co-Founder and CEO of GirlDreamer and a consultant in Accessibility and Inclusion. After deciding not to pursue a medical career, she took a gap year where volunteering as a mentor turned into her co-creating the first female empowerment enrichment programme in Birmingham secondary schools for the countries most marginalised girls of colour.
Founder and Director of Foundervine
Izzy Obeng is a public speaker, business coach and social entrepreneur leading Foundervine – an international training consultancy specialising in start-up and scale-up acceleration programmes. Foundervine’s ambition is to address the social and economic inequality that’s faced by women and young people from under-served communities when starting a business or social enterprise. Their core mission is to remove social barriers to entrepreneurship and build the greatest network of digitally enabled businesses in the world.
Founder of Mentally Aware Nigeria
Victor is the founder of Nigeria's and one of Africa’s largest user-led youth mental health network, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative; with over 1500 active volunteers and chapters in 18 out of 36 states in Nigeria. Among other first-of-its-kind projects he’s worked on is the setup of the most active suicide/distress TextLine in the country with over 15,000 interventions in less than 3 years. Victor is the Nigerian representative for the Global Mental Health Peer Network as well as the Nigerian lead for the United for Global Mental Health’s country led advocacy and policy campaign – Speak Your Mind, and has been involved with the drafting of Nigeria’s new mental health legislation.
Founder of sTandTall and author of Sophie Says I Can I Will
Esther is an author changing the game in the early years children’s book market – her book empowers children to fulfil their dreams regardless of gender, race or religion. Esther is also founder of sTandTall, an organisation that provides support and resources to individuals suffering from abuse and bullying via an online platform, community and education programmes. Esther has gained national media coverage and has won numerous including the UK Governments Point of Light Award and the Unilever Hero’s Award. Esther was also recently named number 9/100 of Women in Tech to watch.
QCT Advisor, Social Entrepreneur and Activist
Kenny Imafidon is an award-winning social entrepreneur and campaigner. He is also the co-founder & Managing Director of ClearView Research Ltd, a social and market research agency, specialising in research on young people, millennials, under-represented/unheard groups and vulnerable communities. He was recently named by Impact Squared as one of 100 young leaders (under 25) across the globe making a social impact to transform our world. Kenny is a trustee of several charities such as BBC Children in Need, Strength Within In Me Foundation (S.W.I.M), City Gateway and Spark Inside. He is an advisor to the Queen's Commonwealth Trust and on the advisory board of youth charity Peer Power.
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