Inspirational Woman: Amma Mensah | Founder of Beyond the Classroom & Creative Director of Tutors United

_L9A0152Amma helped to launch this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week which is hosted in the UK by Youth Business International with support from Barclays. 2013’s Week aimed to encourage and support entrepreneurs and aspiring small business owners to take a step forward towards entrepreneurial success.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently

I am the founder of Beyond the Classroom (BTC) and creative director of Tutors United. Both organisations are education social enterprise’s, and work to improve the life chances of young people across the UK. BTC use theatre and mentoring as tools to teach life skills and knowledge. We work with schools and youth organisations, to support formal curriculum learning. We’re on a mission to equip young people with the tools to make decisions/take action based on their own needs, feelings and motivations. This is done through the media of music, dance, drama, mentoring, film and open dialogue.

My involvement in these two organisations has been heavily inspired by personal experience; my own schooling/coming of age journey and working with young people in a range of settings (schools, extra-curricular provision and local council authorities). It quickly became apparent to me, that young people are not always adequately prepared for adult life. Academics are undeniably important, but high academic attainment needs confidence, self-worth and independence too.

It is this belief which led me to design and deliver programmes which fill the gaps in current provision. I am a firm believer in the notion that young people are the solution to their own social problems, to this end youth leadership is vital to the work of both BTC and Tutors United. It is also the reason I am a great ambassador of youth enterprise and have been involved with a number of organisations and initiatives which nourish a global conversation around youth enterprise. This includes ‘UnLtd’ and ‘Business Launchpad’ to name a few but I also spoke at the launch of ‘Global Entrepreneurship Week’ (which is run and hosted by Youth Business International in 11 different countries over the world) earlier this year.

What has been your biggest challenge?

I don’t have ‘challenges’, I like to say I am fortunate enough to have experienced a number of ‘learning curves’.

This way, when they arise I perceive them as positive opportunities for personal development. I guess one of the most poignant of these for me, has been letting go of inhibitions and the limiting thoughts of others, to follow my dreams. In my area of work, ‘learning curves’ are daily. So I have learnt to embrace them and use them to drive me further towards my goals!

What’s been your greatest achievement personally?

If you ask my mum, she would probably say my graduation. I have a BSc degree from the University of Birmingham in Psychology.  I had intended to be on holiday at the time of my graduation ceremony, hoping to return home to my degree certificate awaiting me in the post.

However, I was dragged by the tails of my long black robe, to throw my hat and receive my scroll to the pleasure of family and friends.

After all, I am glad to have attended the ceremony, though the longing for sun, sea and sand on the Cape Coast of Ghana, is not a feeling I was easily able to shake. Personally, I am not sure I have had my greatest achievement yet… ask me again in two years maybe?

If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?

I would be trying to do what I currently do!

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration would have to be my family but particularly my parents. Both coming from very humble beginnings, hard work and dedication meant that they were able to build a strong foundation for me and my siblings. On this foundation it is vital that I am able to build great things. In a strange way, this perceived responsibility is what drives me to achieve.

What message would you give aspiring social entrepreneurs?

As the founder of my own social enterprise, I enjoy great freedom in the running of my day to day life. However, I am also responsible for every failure and success of my organisation.This burden is as heavy as the freedom is liberating! I think it is important that young people have the confidence, skills and freedom to pursue their aspirations. It is equally important that we are honest about the peaks and troughs of pursuing particular career paths.

Being your own boss certainly is rewarding, but be prepared to face a great number of ‘learning curves’.

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