Inspirational Woman: Barbara Kasumu | Co-Founder of Elevation Networks

Barbara Kasumu, 29, is one such outstanding youth, who is a role model to many.

barbara-kasumuBarbara is co-founder of award winning social enterprise Elevation Networks and a respected equalities campaigner, working on the participation, employment and leadership of young people and women. She has worked extensively with government departments, NGOs and various youth initiatives across Europe, Africa and the Caribbean and represented the UK globally at a number of International meetings including being part of the official delegation to the G8 and G20 summit in Canada 2010.

Elevation Networks specialises in connecting high achieving BAME and female students with top recruiters and in just six years the organisation has grown to a network of over 12,000 students and recent graduates, garnering the support of top employers including Barclays, Teach First and Deloitte to name a few.

Barbara also runs Visible Women, a campaign to match young women and girls with female role models and mentors in male dominated industries. On Twitter alone the #IamVisible hashtag reached 259,290 unique users and as a result VW was featured in The Independent as one of the top campaigns ‘tweeting for equality’. She has also been named by Red Mag as a Woman to Watch. She has also just returned to work following the birth of her first child.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently

I am co-founder and Chief Executive of youth employment charity Elevation Networks. I have worked in the youth sector for over ten years and specialise in providing consultancy services to employers and other stakeholders on how to engage and attract young people to their talent pipelines and governance structures.

I also run Visible Women; a leadership campaign that seeks to challenge the underrepresentation of women in male dominated industries by putting the spotlight on role models and mentors and matching them with women and girls starting out in their careers.

I also hold two non-executive roles as a board director for two charities: Youth Hostel Association and the Foyer Federation. I have a degree in Politics from Queen Mary University and a Masters in International Public Policy from University College London.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Growing up. I always had ambitions to change the world. As the eldest of three children, I had to be the standard bearer for my siblings coming up behind me. I was the kind of person that ordered university prospectuses when I was 14 – to read up on degrees and universities and alumni career journeys to help shape my plans. Those that knew me at school will remember my ‘I have a dream’ speeches at the top of the stairs…

Whilst at university, I would scan job sites and look at roles that I was far from qualified for – and look at the job specification to plan how I could get the experience or skills needed so by the time I graduated, I would walk into my first job with ease.

I worked part time at John Lewis, whilst studying and doing internships and volunteering, gaining the much needed experiences and insights to narrow my career interests and build up my CV.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

My first challenge came when I was in sixth form. I applied to study Law and got an offer from LSE but missed the grade requirements on results day by three of four marks. I had to go through clearing and ended up studying Politics at Queen Mary University, which, looking back on it, was the best decision I could have made – though it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time.

Fast forward to now, the biggest challenge for me is always been being part of the minority. Whether because of my age, gender or race, I am not the typical person you find in the boardroom or in a high level meeting. At times it can be quite intimidating but I have learnt to see my differences as a strength – a super power if you like, as I focus on what value I bring to the table.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?

My advice would be three-fold:

  • Check your motive: it’s all well and good seeking the position but you must also be aware of the responsibility that comes with it and be willing to take that on.
  • Keep a track record: what have you done before, how have you added value and how well can you demonstrate this. Your ability to articulate this will determine the speed in which you may be able to move into a leadership position
  • Jump! Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward for things. If you don’t get that promotion how can you get it next time? For me the fastest way to get there is going beyond the 9-5. One good way is by developing your strategic level experience becoming a trustee for a charity or governor for your local school will not only give you a position of responsibility but it allows you to volunteer for worthy causes that are crying out for your skills and experience.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

A typical day is waking up at 6am and heading to the gym for a morning workout. I’ll follow this up with some porridge and a matcha latte, and get into the office by 8am. I like to use the time in the office before my team arrive to run through my diary for the day and catch up on emails.

I’ll then have a ‘keep in touch’ session with my senior team before heading to a client meeting, usually reporting back on a completed piece of work or pitching for new business if it’s a prospective new client.

We’re currently gearing up for the new academic year after delivering a summer programme for nearly 700 school leavers. We have a huge calendar of events that happen as part of our recruitment milk-round including hosting one of the largest university tours on campus for over 3,000 students.

In between drinking copious amounts of tea (I’m quite the tea connoisseur with my very own mini brewing station on my desk) I will be in and out of meetings, editing a report, or feeding back on a funding bid we are currently working on.

I leave the office by 5.30pm to pick up my son at nursery before heading home for dinner. I’ll watch the news and catch up on a cooking or property show, before heading to bed at around 10.30pm.

Have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

There’s something very valuable about getting advice from people that have gone ahead and can give you a heads up on pitfalls to avoid and lessons learnt. I’ve always benefitted from formal and informal mentors throughout my career journey and it’s why I’m such a big advocate for mentoring for young people. A mentor helps to build confidence, offers a listening ear and asks the right questions.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a new networker?

I think that networking is important and it doesn’t always need to feel like fishing for business cards in a room full of strangers. If you’re new to networking my three top tips would be:

  1. Be yourself – authenticity is a fantastic quality to have and a hard one to fake.
  2. Stick to the facts – we don’t always have the luxury of time so you need to be able to summarise who you are in short and sharp memorable soundbites.
  3. Ask questions and take a genuine interest. After all, businesses are built on relationships.

What does the future hold for you?

Bigger. Better. (Maybe) International

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