Rushanara Ali MP was the latest speaker at our latest Leaders Now breakfast event last week, hosted at the House of St. Barnabas. Speaking to a group of social sector leaders, she opened up about her moments of vulnerability and the pressing need in post-Brexit Britain to create a culture that cultivates a diverse range of leaders.
Rushanara, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, traced her leadership journey back to the experiences of her youth, beginning at the age of seven when she first moved to London from Bangladesh and the inspiration she drew from the diversity she grew up amongst in East London.
Underpinning her talk were two moments of vulnerability that she described in frank detail: when she first went to Oxford to begin her degree, and when she started as an MP in 2010. In both instances, she pinpointed the sense of ‘otherness’ that she experienced.
She highlighted how, after finishing university, she felt she did not have the networks or connections that many of her peers used to advance their own career after university. This formative experience then motivated her to co-found UpRising, a leadership development programme for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In describing UpRising’s vision of providing young people with the development, networks and mentoring that they would struggle to find elsewhere, Rushanara spoke of the importance of cultivating a diverse range of leaders throughout all levels of civic society. This is needed even more now following Brexit and the societal divisions it had exposed.
Rushanara remarked: ‘If we hadn’t come to recognise the value of leadership before [Brexit], the message is clear now that we have to’. She expanded on this by addressing the need to ‘address social problems directly through working with a variety of agencies including government’.
Despite the significance of the challenge and the urgency of her message, Rushanara was optimistic about the potential for positive change and concluded by outlining her vision to train one million mentors across the UK. She spoke of the crucial role that mentor figures played in her life, and how even though ‘the pathways to leadership are rich and varied’ connecting a young person with a mentor could help put them on the right track and achieve leadership empowerment at scale.
Leaders Now is Clore Social Leadership’s event series for social sector leaders held at the House of St Barnabas. Each month we invite speakers from inside and beyond the sector to share their leadership journeys and provoke discussion about leadership and social change. Sign up to our newsletter and look out on our website for news about upcoming events.