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“The International team at Birkbeck went above and beyond in providing me with support”

Fijian Sidhant Maharaj is currently enrolled on Birkbeck’s MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Here, Sidhant shares why choosing Birkbeck was the right decision.

Sidhant Maharaj

I’m an Intersectional Queer Feminist Activist from Fiji with over 8 years’ experience working in the areas of Women, Girls, LGBTQI+ rights, and Youth Empowerment. I’m also a non-binary feminist researcher and work with organizations nationally, regionally and internationally in conducting, designing, and facilitating training programs and policy development.

With multiple international leadership trainings, I continuously advocate for intersectional policies while increasing visibility and amplifying marginalized voices. I currently serve as the East Asia and the Pacific Representative to the Community Solutions Program Alumni Board of more than 630 alumni from over 80 countries. I also served as a Specialist Mentor for the Community Engagement Exchange Program 2023, funded by the US Department of State and supported in its implementation by the International Research & Exchanges Board supporting over 100 youths from over 70 countries. With my work in the region I have also been selected as a UN Women 30 for 2030 youth leader in South East Asia and the Pacific.

Why did you choose Birkbeck?

I chose Birkbeck for my MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies program because I was particularly drawn to how Birkbeck examines current debates around gender and sexuality which incorporate the cutting-edge research of world-leading academics at Birkbeck, who are passionate and engaged in the real world, working towards social justice with activists, policy-makers, academics, and charities and NGOs. Another reason that made me choose Birkbeck over other university offers I had was the people and culture at Birkbeck. Due to some unforeseen circumstances I was quite late in applying to universities but the International team at Birkbeck went above and beyond in providing support to me all the way in Fiji, making the application process seamless. Today being halfway across the world in London I am so glad I chose Birkbeck!

What do you plan to do after your studies at Birkbeck?

After the completion of my MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies, I plan to further my research in Fiji and the Pacific and work more closely with the public and private sector in developing/updating more inclusive and diverse policies that has women and LGBTIQ+ community as safe guarded categories shifting from the gender as binary narrative.

Further information

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Meet the Chevening Scholar: Ramata N’Diaye

Ramata N’Diaye is a 2023 Chevening scholar from Mali, passionate about Youth and Women empowerment and social entrepreneurship. Here, she shares her experience applying for the UK government’s prestigious scholarship and what made her choose Birkbeck.
A woman smiles and holds up a sign that reads 'I can't keep calm, I've been chosen for Chevening!'A short tour of my career serving youth and empowering women 

‌Entrepreneurship is a field that I’m very passionate about and been in for many years. As the Associate Director of Programs and Partnerships at Impact Hub, Bamako, I help young people realise their entrepreneurial dreams. I’m able to share my skills through training and coaching sessions held within the framework of various programmes. The programmes include, The Next Economy, which is made possible by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership programme which is supported by the US Embassy; and Road2COP, a project financed by the UK Embassy in Mali that aims to provide an innovative and interactive platform for Young Malians in order to better understand the climate crisis. 

Through my work I have planned, designed and implemented more than 10 impactful programs for over 2000 young people and have helped raise more than 100 million FCFA in financing for local entrepreneurs. I think my experience in management within the the start-up and innovation sector helped with this a lot. Furthermore, in my role of communication Coordinator of the National Council of Business Incubators and Innovation Centres of Mali, I built valuable partnerships with various stakeholders and played a pivotal role in fostering a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, leading me to be a key speaker at the World Bank Group Regional Youth Summit in May 2023. Finally, as women entrepreneurship advocate, I have published several articles on female entrepreneurship in Mali and participated in various forum on the topic as a panelist. 

Education and experience go hand in hand 

I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Organisation Communication from Universiapolis, the international University of Agadir, Morocco, and I graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a Master’s Degree in Media and Globalization in 2017. I hold an Expert Certification in Business Support for Innovative Entrepreneurship from the Afric’Innov community, an investment readiness expertise certification from Investisseurs & Partners and finally a verified certification in Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies from Harvard University online courses. 

Chevening, entrepreneurship and economic development 

In a country threatened by political, economic and security instabilities like Mali, the private sector and entrepreneurship is the source of about 90% of the job creation and a major share of sources economic growth. It is therefore the locomotive that will help the country emerge and develop. I think it is crucial to support the development of the local private sector and to invest in digital transformation, to create enough attractive and secure income opportunities for young people – especially women. Stable sources of income will mean fewer young people considering the path of Islamic extremism or immigration. For women it opens the door to financial independence, thus reducing gender-based violence. The importance of this matter in a Malian context, stimulated my interest to apply for Chevening. 

I realized that a comprehensive education related to my expertise in entrepreneurship is essential in order to achieve my goals. I believe that gaining education in business development and innovation strategy combined with my experience, will help me acquire the capability to work in an extensive range of senior functional and general management positions across a wide spectrum of business sectors in Mali and the whole region. 

I hope to have a key role in preparing young entrepreneurs through my international Chevening network, education, and career experience. In time, I want this to open up more opportunities for entrepreneurship advancement in Mali.  

Mixing academic pursuits and active entrepreneurship at Birkbeck 

I chose Birkbeck for my studies for several compelling reasons. Firstly, Birkbeck is renowned for its commitment to providing evening classes, allowing working professionals like myself to pursue advanced education without compromising their professional commitments.  

Secondly, Birkbeck has a distinguished reputation for its emphasis on practical and applicable knowledge. The faculty at Birkbeck consists of accomplished professionals and scholars in the field, providing a valuable opportunity for me to learn from experts and gain insights from their practical experiences. 

‌Lastly, I was fortunate to receive valuable insights from my fellow Malian and Chevening scholar, Awa Touré, who studied her master’s degree at Birkbeck. Her firsthand experience and positive recommendations about the academic environment, faculty expertise, and overall atmosphere at Birkbeck played a pivotal role in influencing my decision to choose the university for my own master’s studies.  

 

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Francis Ravenscroft and the Survival of the London Mechanics’ Institution

By Joanna Bourke, Professor Emerita of History, Birkbeck and author of Birkbeck: 200 Years of Radical Learning for Working People (OUP, 2023)

Francis Ravenscroft

The London Mechanics Institution (LMI, now known as Birkbeck, University of London) had many founders. Five deserve special mention. Obviously, there is George Birkbeck, physician and philanthropist, who lent his name and status to the fledging college and led it from 1823 to 1841. There are also Joseph Clinton Robertson and Thomas Hodgskin who, as editors of the Mechanics’ Magazine, sent out the initial invitation, inviting people interested in workers’ education to meet at the Crown and Anchor Tavern. Radical politician Francis Place and political and legal titan, Henry Brougham, are the other two founders of the college.

But one man is often forgotten: Francis Ravenscroft. Technically, he was not a founder. Indeed, when he joined the LMI as an ambitious nineteen-year-old in June 1848, the Institution was already in its twenty-fifth year of existence. However, the LMI was definitely in terminal decline. Founder and president George Birkbeck had died seven years earlier and his son, William Lloyd Birkbeck, had inherited the Presidency. William Birkbeck had different interests to his father. He was frequently absent from governance meetings. The LMI was also a victim of its success. It had convinced the elites of Britain of the importance of education, meaning that numerous other educational organisations and libraries had been established. The LMI found itself competing with thorsands of other ‘literary and scientific’ institutions, as well as government-funded schools. In the early 1850s, there were more than 1,500 evening schools for adults in England and Wales, catering for nearly 40,000 pupils. In London alone, there were 28 different Mechanics Institutes. Student numbers at the LMI had plummeted; it was unviable. As one long-standing member of the LMI’s managing committee later recalled, ‘public enthusiasm’ for the LMI was dying. The Institution was ‘hopelessly in debt, was badly housed, and dirty, and apparently at its last gasp’.

Ravenscroft was responsible for reversing its fortunes. He enjoyed a meteoric rise within the LMI, impressing the governing committee with his exceptional business and financial acumen. Within a few months of signing up to take classes, Ravenscroft had been elected to the LMI’s management committee; a month later, he was its Chair. As Ravenscroft later admitted at a public meeting, when he was first nominated to become a member of the committee, candidates were required to ‘make a solemn declaration’ that they were at least 21 years old. He wasn’t. ‘At that time I was in the eyes of the law an infant – (laughter) – and consequently was not entitled to serve’, he admitted. However, ‘being ambitious I recklessly signed the printed form – (laughter and ‘Oh, Oh’) – and I am pleased to find that the institution has suffered no harm’.

As a young man, Ravenscroft was not an obvious educationalist. He had been raised in a distinguished wig-making family and was expected to follow his father into that business. Ravenscroft was restless, however, and, at the age of fifteen, became apprenticed to a tea taster. After only four months, he quit. This was a serious matter since breaking a five-year apprenticeship could have seen him thrown into Bridewell prison. Fortunately, his parents convinced the master to cancel the indenture.

Ravenscroft then pursued a career in law, being appointed to work for a barrister and then a solicitor for seven years. The solicitor asked him to deal with a case involving ‘a building society in difficulties’ due to ‘the misconduct of the manager and the society being unable to meet its liabilities’. This gave Ravenscroft the opportunity ‘of thoroughly investigating and properly understanding the general routine and intricacies of building societies’. He concluded that, if ‘properly and honestly managed, with resources to meet withdrawals’, building societies could be a ‘safe and profitable investment’. Ravenscroft’s problem was ‘providing a fund wherewithal to pay withdrawals upon demand’. This gave him the idea of also opening a deposit bank linked to the building society, promising that at least three-quarters of the money would be invested in Consols (that is, government bonds), or other ‘convertible securities’. Ravenscroft drew up a set of rules and a prospectus for his ‘proposed new society’, which he then christened the ‘Birkbeck Bank’, due to his admiration of George Birkbeck. At around this time, his father died, which meant that he came into a large inheritance.

Ravenscroft was already taking classes and serving on the managing committee of the LMI by this stage. He believed that his two interests (banking and education) would benefit by being linked. He appointed Directors of the Birkbeck Building Society from his contacts in the LMI. He made the LMI’s President (William Lloyd Birkbeck) the Bank’s President; Andrew Macfarlane, secretary of the LMI, was appointed as Treasurer; William Eward, vice-president of the LMI, was appointed as a Trustee, as was John Rüntz, who ran the Birkbeck School. Ravenscroft even ‘borrowed’ rooms in the LMI’s building for his Bank and the two organisations shared costs by publishing their prospectuses in the same booklet.

As the Birkbeck Bank and Permanent Building Society flourished (within only a few years, Ravenscroft was turning over £20 million a year as a private banker), so too did his support of the LMI. In the words of James C. N. White (Chair of the LMI), ‘we went to [Francis Ravenscroft] whenever we required assistance, and we never went in vain’.

The most urgent problem for the LMI was their need for new premises. The Southampton buildings had been inadequate for decades but, when the governing committee of the LMI sought to raise money for a building through public subscriptions, they met with little support. This was where Ravenscroft stepped in, agreeing ‘to play the part of the Good Fairy’. Ravenscroft ‘personally guaranteed the entire cost of the new building; he also undertook, at a later stage, to obtain an advance from his bank on ‘favourable terms’. He threw his energies into collecting subscriptions for the Building Fund and collected just under £4,000 (that is, around half a million pounds today). Subscribers included royalty, William Lloyd Birkbeck, numerous guilds and corporations (including the City of London), and London’s most prominent citizens, including many of Ravenscroft’s friends and family. The building they acquired was Bream’s Building, located near Fleet Street and formerly the home to publishers and printers. The surveyors boasted that ‘Every part of the building is light: there are no dark corners’. In short, it was perfect for the LMI.

In 1866, Ravenscroft was also largely responsible for changing the name of the London Mechanics’ Institution to the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution, commonly known as ‘The Birkbeck’. He could often be seen strolling around ‘The Birkbeck’ in a beautifully-tailored suit of ‘deep blue-black broad-cloth… with a waistcoat cut in a clerical manner, with a row of little buttons on one side, and black velvet skull cap’. Although the relationship between the LMI/Birkbeck had always been a mutual one, Ravenscroft was tireless in his praise of the college. ‘My gratitude’, he maintained, knows no bounds, for it is very largely [due] to my association with the Birkbeck that I owe my success in life. This obligation I can never forget, and the sense of it increases as the years go by. Any efforts of mine, therefore, to promote the interests of the institution I regard as but a poor and inadequate return for the benefits that I have myself received. It was a generous remark from a brilliant and benevolent man.

Ravenscroft served the LMI from 1849 until his death in 1902, 53 years. In 1893, The Birkbeck Institution Magazine quipped that ‘there is only one thing that Mr. Ravenscroft has ever refused to do for our Institution, that is to make a speech’. When asked to, he would reply ‘I am a man of figures, not of words’.

Today, Ravenscroft is known for the company ‘Ede and Ravenscroft’, the famous wig and gown makers, founded in 1689, whose robes Birkbeck students still wear on ceremonial occasions such as graduations. But Francis Ravenscroft deserves to be celebrated not only for building one of the greatest banks of the nineteenth century (later taken over by National Westminster) and creating exquisite gowns, but also for being a great educationalist. Birkbeck owes its continued successes to him.

Francis Ravenscroft on cover of dinner booklet

Breams building

Breams Building, which Ravenscroft helped Birkbeck to purchase- JSTOR image library

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Meet Birkbeck’s 2023/24 Chevening scholars 

Each year the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office offers the prestigious Chevening Scholarship to promising students chosen for their leadership potential and academic promise. For academic year 2023/24 Birkbeck welcomes 21 Chevening scholars hailing from all corners of the world. Here, we get to know some of them a little better.  

Ahmed Maki from Iraq, studying MSC Entrepreneurship 

Ahmed has dedicated himself to the fields of business development and entrepreneurship. His professional journey has been impactful, involving collaborations with international NGOs and private sector companies to nurture the growth of SMEs and start-ups in Iraq. His dedication to advancing the private sector in his home country reflects a profound commitment to economic development and entrepreneurship. 

“I applied for a Chevening scholarship for the 2023-2024 cohort with a dual purpose. Firstly, I aspire to join the ranks of international leaders who serve as ambassadors for their respective countries. Being a Chevening scholar would enable me to represent Iraq globally, contributing to the international assembly of leaders. Secondly, Chevening is not merely an academic scholarship but a transformative, lifelong experience. I anticipate gaining valuable lessons throughout my Chevening journey, building a global network, and utilizing global expertise and progress in entrepreneurship to bolster the entrepreneurial sector in my home country, Iraq, and elevate it to the status of a developed nation in this domain.” 

Leena Shibeika Izzledin Mekki from Sudan, studying MSc Geography  

An architecture graduate from the University of Khartoum Leena turned into an urbanist and is currently pursuing MSc Geography at Birkbeck. 

“I consider myself a social activist and leader who’s driven by an endeavour to challenge the status quo, and I’m passionate about advocating for Urban-Social Justice in cities. 

I applied to Chevening because my aim is to facilitate my role as an urban researcher and geographer to reach out to and work for and with vulnerable communities, specifically women; internally-displaced-persons; and citizens who exist within informal habitats and work settings in Khartoum. I acknowledge their struggle as a compass for my work. I aspire to contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 11; Sustainable Cities and Communities and work specifically in ensuring access for all to housing and basic services and enhancing sustainable urbanisation and participatory planning in Sudan.” 

Sidhunt Bali Maharaj from Fiji, studying MA Gender and Sexuality Studies 

Selected as a UN Women 30 for 2030 youth leader in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Sidhunt is an Intersectional Queer Feminist Activist from Fiji with over 8 years’ experience working in the areas of Women, Girls, LGBTQI+ rights, and Youth Empowerment. 

“After the completion of my MA in Gender and Sexuality Studies, I plan to further my research in Fiji and the Pacific and work more closely with the public and private sector in developing/updating more inclusive and diverse policies that has women and LGBTIQ+ community as safe guarded categories shifting from the gender as binary narrative.”

Elena Nechaeva from Kyrgyzstan, studying MA Digital Media Management

A journalist, producer, documentalist, presenter, video blogger, co-founder of the public fund Media Space, and media trainer from Kyrgyzstan, Elena started her career on television in 2011 covering breaking news and making feature stories.

“My long-term goal is to launch a large-scale project in the media sector of Kyrgyzstan and make it sustainable. It will embrace the creation, development, and promotion of new media on different platforms and support and training for beginner bloggers who create helpful and socially significant content.”

Iddi Yassin from Tanzania, studying MSc Sport Management

Admitted to the Tanzania Mainland Bar Association in 2016, Iddi practiced law as an Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania.

“I applied for Chevening in 2023 because it is arguably the most prestigious scholarship programme with remarkable scholars and alumni networks from different social, economic, and political backgrounds. My long-term plan is to become a football agent and managing young athletes in Tanzania to fulfil their career ambitions in global stages, hence with the extensive skills acquired from my postgraduate studies this will be achieved through a rich network to support my vision and career plan.”

Aslan Saputra from Indonesia, studying MSc Business Innovation

CEO and Founder of Gumugu, an IT company that provides paperless services and digital education systems that have been used in several cities throughout Indonesia and Malaysia, Aslan also founded a coworking space in his hometown of Aceh in Indonesia.

“My long-term plan for the future is that I want to expand my business outside of Indonesia, especially in Southeast Asia and several European countries, and with the Birkbeck and Chevening alumni network, I hope that my plan will come true.”

Iván Luzardo Ruiz from Uruguay, studying LLM Law General

A Human Rights lawyer, Iván has worked for the Human Rights Unit of the Presidency of the Republic of Uruguay, responsible for investigating Crimes Against Humanity during the last dictatorship in Uruguay. He has also been involved with the nationwide volunteering programme called Free Legal Clinics which provides free legal advice and representation in court to more than12,000 people per year. 

I was highly honoured by being awarded the Chevening Scholarship 2023-2024, as this is one of the most prestigious and high-level networks around the globe. Being a Chevening Scholar means taking part in a broad group of like-minded future leaders who aim to develop and build impactful and meaningful changes while studying in a spectacular and inspiring academic environment. This allows us to strengthen our relations with others, improve the projects we want to develop, and expand its beneficial impacts.” 

Rama N’Diaye from Mali, studying MSc Entrepreneurship

Passionate about entrepreneurship, Rama is the Associate Director of Programmes and Partnerships at Impact Hub Bamako in Mali, where she supports young people with their entrepreneurial dreams. In her role as Communication Coordinator of the National Council of Business Incubators and Innovation Centres of Mali, she played a pivotal role in fostering a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, leading her to be a key speaker at the World Bank Group Regional Youth Summit in May 2023.

“Gaining education in Business development and Innovation strategy combined with my experience, will help me acquire the capability to work in an extensive range of senior functional and general management positions across a wide spectrum of business sectors in Mali and the whole region. 

By sharing knowledge through education and networks with Malian entrepreneurs, I can play a key role in helping young entrepreneurs. With my international Chevening network and knowledge I want to create more opportunities for entrepreneurship advancement in Mali. Overall, I intend to put the new skills and knowledge I will have acquired from my education in the UK into good use in Mali like I have done so in the past.”

Nodar Rukhadze from Georgia, studying MSc Government, Policy and Politics

A journalist with a background in human rights activism, Nodar graduated from the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) with a Social Science degree. In 2019, he co-founded the Shame Movement, which rapidly evolved into Georgia’s leading civil platform. Nodar has orchestrated over a hundred demonstrations and ten informative campaigns, significantly influencing government policies. A highlight of his activism was the historic demonstration on June 20, 2022, advocating for Georgia’s European integration. 

Understanding the crucial role of young, educated leaders in mitigating Georgia’s political challenges, Nodar is currently focused on activism and campaigning, with ambitions to enter politics. Nodar’s vision encompasses expanding civil organizations’ influence and building consensus among diverse policy stakeholders. He aspires to see Georgia join the European Union and NATO, believing in the power of young Georgian leaders to realize this goal.

Ian Tarimo from Tanzania, studying MSc Business Innovation

A dynamic social entrepreneur from Tanzania, Ian is the recipient of the prestigious Leadership Impact Award from the US State Department’s Young African Leadership Initiative. He has also been recipient of the Builders Africa Future Award by the African Diaspora Network.

He is also the Founding Executive Director of Tai, a social enterprise utilizing data, storytelling, and technology to create educational and entertaining content, including 3D animations, radio drama, music, and comics.

Felix Hollison from the Solomon Islands studying LLM Law with Pathways – Law and New Technologies

A Lawyer by profession Felix has worked as a Senior Crown Counsel in the Attorney-General’s Chambers in Solomon Islands from 2015 to June 2019 before joining the Central Magistrates Court of Solomon Islands in June 2019 as a Principal Magistrate.

“The phenomenal changes in technology transform the way society operates in ways that have consequential effects on the law around the globe. My country is susceptible to the adverse effects of technological changes such as the erosion of democracy, climate change, cybercrime, biotechnology, political radicalisation and automation to name some. 

I wish to gain the necessary academic and professional knowledge to assist my country navigate through these uncertain times. Modernising my country’s laws to keep abreast with the technological and normative changes is a must and I wish to be an agent of change in my country.”

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200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Siobhan Baker, STEM Learning UK and ‘Coding Black Females’

A full-stack software developer, Siobhan Baker first entered the tech industry in 2017 as Community Manager for a social enterprise aiming to get more women into tech. She continued to work while studying a part-time Master’s in Philosophy at Birkbeck.  

8th Light, a network of software, design and technology professionals, offered her a job as a software intern and she has since risen through the ranks to become a senior software developer. She also now works as a strategy consultant for non-profit Coding Black Females, which aims to provide development opportunities and a safe space in which black women can thrive in the tech industry. This is especially important as, according to national statistics, only 1% of people in the IT industry are black women. 

Siobhan acts as a role model for other black women, giving talks to inspire those in the early stages of their career to reach their potential in this traditionally male-dominated industry. 

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200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Simon Fourmy, director of Julia and Rans Rausing Foundation

Grants manager for a series of philanthropic initiatives, Simon Fourmy is now Head of Grants for the Julia and Hand Rausing Trust, responsible for gifting millions in funding to charities in the United Kingdom working in the space of health, welfare, education, arts and culture. The Trust aims to provide opportunities for all in these areas, as well as benefiting society by supporting initiatives that foster care for those in need.  

Simon studied Management at Birkbeck in 2012 while he was director of grants for the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity offering grants in the education, science, culture and health industries. While at the Wolfson Foundation, he developed a flagship postgraduate scholarship programme. 

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200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Shola Mos-Shobabimu, political and women’s rights activist

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is a high profile political & women’s rights activist, a New York Attorney and Solicitor of England & Wales, writer. She is also a public speaker and political commentator featuring regularly in mainstream and online media. 

Dr Mos-Shogbamimu established She@LawTalks to promote women and also black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leadership in the legal profession through universities and secondary schools. 

She received her PhD from Birkbeck and is the founder of the Women in Leadership publication as a platform to drive positive change on topical issues that impact women globally through inspiring personal leadership journeys.   

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200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Sarah Weir, Fellow of Birkbeck

She began her working life as a gofer for Aldgate Group Brokers, making her way up over 15 years to become its Managing Director and the first female MD in a Lloyd’s broking firm. However, having got to the top she felt a sense of anti-climax and lack of complete fulfilment. She then started a part-time degree at Birkbeck, aged 31, left her City insurance career a year into this and changed direction completely into the arts world. 

While studying for her History of Art BA she took a job at the Purdy Hicks Gallery, moving to Arts and Business as Deputy Chief Executive, before joining the Royal Academy of Arts as its fundraising director. She then became Executive Director of the Almeida Theatre and by 2003 was running Arts Council England, London. Between 2008 and 2011 she was Head of Arts and Cultural Strategy for the Olympic Delivery Authority, developing over 40 permanent artistic commissions integrated into the Olympic Park. 

From there, Sarah went on to found The Legacy List, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park charity. This was set up in 2011 to encourage creative connections between people and the park, with a focus on arts and culture, education and skills.   

Sarah was awarded an OBE for services to the arts in the January 2012 New Year Honours. 

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200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Samuel Kasumu, special advisor to the Prime Minister

Samuel is an award-winning social entrepreneur, commentator, and strategist. He served as Special Advisor to PM Boris Johnson where he held the Civil Society and Communities brief. His work included leading on the cross-government vaccine deployment confidence programme. He was the most senior black Advisor in government. 

He has extensive senior leadership and board experience, acting as Non-Executive Director at challenger energy firm Ovo’s Foundation arm and under former Prime Minister Theresa May he was a member of the Race Disparity Audit Advisory Board. He is the founder of Inclusive Boards, an executive headhunting firm specialising in non-executive board appointments across sectors. Samuel is an elected local councillor in Hertfordshire and brings extensive knowledge of how local and national government works. 

Samuel has been involved in setting up and growing a number of initiatives to support the progression of Briton’s black and minority ethnic population. This includes setting up a student network connecting peers with employers whilst at university that grew to 30,000 members. 

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200th Anniversary Birkbeck Effect: Ryan Wilson, economics student

Left disabled after taking part in a failed drug trial, and needing to pivot from his intended career path as a plumber, Ryan Wilson enrolled on an undergraduate Economic and Social Policy course at Birkbeck. Alongside studying, he raised his young son and worked as an independent prison monitor, ensuring the decency of prisons and humane treatment of prisoners.  

On his experience at Birkbeck, Ryan paid tribute to the disability and mental health service as well as the academically rich environment in Economics: “I worked so hard and loved the lectures – my favourite modules were Economics and Public Policy, and Macroeconomic Theory and Policy. I struggled in my second year with studying for my degree and overcoming some personal hurdles, but the support I received from the disability team and the mental health service really increased my confidence and drive to succeed.” 

He graduated in 2020 with first class honours. 

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