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Mapping Out The Future

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

axelThe last time we caught up with Axel was when he was working at Level 39, back in 2013. He used his connections there as a springboard and now his indoor mapping company, Pointr, are busy fending off acquisition offers. We spoke about how it all happened.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I moved here from Spain and it was a totally new environment. I did my Undergraduate degree here, BSc in Management, and for me it was a fantastic place to meet people from all around the world and really get comfortable with ambition. Everyone had plans, they were looking at places where they could innovate and build things. That’s why I started the Tech and Business Society, which is now called Cass Talks.

Back then my business friends had lots of good ideas but no technical know-how and at the same time we also knew there were tech students looking for business partners. We held events in 2009 and brought in speakers and that led to me volunteering at the London Web Summit. That was a huge start-up event where I met Eric Van Der Kleij, the CEO of Tech City (an initiative set up by the Prime Minister to turn London in to the next Silicon Valley). I pitched to him about speaking at our student society but his schedule was too busy.

What did you do next?

Two years later Eric Van Der Kleij started Level 39, Europe’s largest FinTech accelerator and I read about it in Wired Magazine. I immediately reached out to him and he invited me for a three-minute coffee with no expectations, which turned in to a four-hour chat and got me my first job! I eventually became head of the community there and I looked after 250 companies and investors.

Level 39 was the best place for anyone in start-up in FinTech – there were founders, investors and big companies like the banks to meet. It was a great place to learn and grow my network. We did over 100 events including speaking at Cass. We brought Eric and Transfer-Wise, then the leading UK start-up in Finance and now the first UK FinTech unicorn, to give a speech in the auditorium.

Through Level 39 I met amazing people including the Crown Princess of Sweden, who was on a tech tour of London co-working spaces to see how Sweden should shape its start-up tech strategy. They asked if they could have lunch on 39th Floor at Canary Wharf and could the head of community join in? So I had lunch with the princess, the prince and the Deputy Mayor; Boris Johnson had come in the day before. Another memorable event was when we had a hackathon with Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia.

Working with so many start-ups I was headhunted to join a start-up called MyCheck, a mobile payment company just launching in the UK. I was hired as the UK manager to grow the company in the UK. It was based on mobile payments. For example, in a restaurant you could pay with your phone through MyCheck without having to wait for the waiter, which is a pinch point in a dining experience. It was partnered with MasterCard and PayPal.

Through my time there I met other entrepreneurs and met my Pointr co-founder serendipitously after nine months, which was three years ago. Again, it should have been a short meeting but we knew we had to work together once we met. Strangely, he had been invited to a Friday night monopoly game and asked if I would like to come along, but I declined and we met the next day instead. Straight away we started working which led to Pointr, which I now work on full time today.

What is Pointr?

Pointr is the equivalent of Google Maps for indoors, for example in large retailers and airports. If you’re at Harrods and you download the Harrods app you can search for a restaurant or a brand on the map and it will show you the way to it. The app also collects data around who is in Harrods, what they are searching for and how they move around. We’re bringing digital analytics like they have at Google and Amazon to the offline world. These companies know what you like, but this has not been done before in physical stores.

We took part in lots of start-up accelerators to verify and develop the concept and then we submitted to the global tender for mapping the indoor locations in London Gatwick and Dubai airports. We beat competition from Siemens and lots of other start-ups. Due to that success we got 280 articles written about us!

Today, we employ 34 people with a headquarters in London, and also have an office in Istanbul and Dubai. We received seed funding two years ago but now we fund ourselves through paying clients.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

When you get together with someone in a team, and form a team, in the initial days when you are setting the norms of the business there is potential for storms, fights and quarrels. You have to go through this and learn to work together in a more efficient way. Sometimes in the early days there is no money, and lots of pressures on everyone, and even simple things like paying rent, or getting a good meal are beyond you. That goes away but at the time you’re not sure how long for, is it indefinite? For two months?

The biggest thing is getting the first paying client. We got ours around six or eight months from launch and until then we were doing odd jobs, consulting, and weekend work until we started growing. Once we got our first client, the product was half ready so we had to really build a relationship so they would allow us the time and trust to work on it and eventually get it where it was supposed to be. So there were business challenges and social challenges. We made it but it was tough!

Do you have any advice to pass on?

Networking is my biggest advice. The majority of the things we have achieved have been because of the people who helped us. For example when we wanted to get into Ikea we went on LinkedIn and had a network of people who could introduce us in a vetted way, which isn’t something you can actually buy.

I literally spent three years post-gradation going to events and meeting founders and asking questions and you learn from those interactions. I built some very strong friendships and business relationships and in hindsight those opened so many doors. So my advice is go out and meet people everywhere. It doesn’t have to be just business networking but get away from your usual and meet people, from the bartenders to main speaker, and find a way to have that conversation.

Also, I realised when we were running the Society about the immense power a student has. You can call nearly anyone and say you’re a student at Cass and doing x, y, z. People would say it’s impossible, they won’t come, or you won’t hear back, and therefore lots of people fail to even try. But you can be bold with what you ask for. Friends have, for example, emailed random CEOs and got great results, like being invited to an internship. Your student years are the best time to try out stuff that might sound weird but it can open up so many doors.

What’s next for Pointr?

We are having to fend off multiple acquisition offers because we still see a huge potential. People are so used to taking out their phone and searching for the answer, and the indoor experience is the next logical step. For example, in the shopping mall you can give your exact location to friend, or you could go to Ikea and walk in and find the items you came to buy without getting lost.

Going forwards we have a new chairman Osman Kent, who has had multiple executive positions before. He’s a seasoned entrepreneur who we have brought in for the next wave. We want to grow to the US and hire talent there, and we want to be known as the leading company in the indoor location space.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: The Piano Works, a live piano bar in Farringdon
Favourite holiday destination: Buyuk Ada, a tiny island near Istanbul in Turkey
Must-check every day website: Tech Crunch and Eater for restaurant news from all around the world
Dream travel location: Japan
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese

Find out more about Pointr on their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

365 days of Greece

Alumni Stories.

Not only is Maria Repouskou (Global Migration, 2012) one of our amazing Alumni Ambassadors, she has also jointly set up a business venture that is going to transform Greece from a summer holiday hotspot to a destination for all seasons.   

Can you tell me about your time at City?

Being a student at City was an amazing experience. The academic part was very inspiring and re-shaped my way of thinking and has made me a better person. But it was the city life that was the game changer. I was drawn by meeting new people, different cultures and points of views. I made friends for life.  I opened my house and welcomed people for Greek dinners and they were more than happy to respond in the same way. I believe it was those experiences that sparked my passion for hospitality.

What happened after you graduated?

Post graduation I became an intern for a major immigration law firm in London and continued on the same career path for a year. I then decided to return to Athens, in very turbulent times. I struggled as a job-seeker and though immigration was a huge matter, there was no right use of people with in-depth knowledge on the matter. That was when I realized it was time for a career switch. I joined Alba Graduate Business School and study Tourism Management. I like to think of my academic path as a constant need to understand human mobility – the whys and the hows. After graduating a second time, I began a career in the tourism industry in Greece, a sector that is currently flourishing and still has a lot of potential.

How did travel12 come about?

I was a travel designer back in the day, crafting luxury itineraries that entailed pretty much only Mykonos and Santorini. That was the time I met my colleagues, Tasos Mylonas and Vasilis Krassas. We all came from different backgrounds and careers. But realizing that the travel12 concept was missing from the Greek tourism landscape is what brought us together. We teamed up and put this idea into practice one step at a time. And it has been an amazing journey ever since!

We are firm believers of Greece being a 12 months a year destination and decided we wanted to spare you from the multiple open tabs and provide you with the means to shape and craft your very own experience.  We follow a wholesome approach that does not limit itself to the yearly calendar. The travel12 experience is end-to-end and seamless from the word go. We don’t just pile up things to do, building itineraries. We offer all the right dots and invite you to connect them of your own will while being there for you every step of the way. We are not after the bulk and what’s most buzzed about. We like the lesser known, the underdog, the real-deal. And we are more than sure that travellers are like days; now two are the same.

What has been the biggest challenge with regards to your travel12?

Starting up! But once you’ve started the road is always upwards!

What has been the most rewarding experience?

Creating something from scratch. The whole team has put its soul into this venture. If you don’t love what you do, then nothing good can come out of it.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t be afraid to implement the idea and don’t think in a negative manner. You will be surprised by the things you believed you can’t do but you actually can.

 

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Decisions, decisions. I adore this city and picking one is really difficult. But I have to say, Columbia Flower Market always made my day!
Favourite holiday destination: Italy and especially Firenze and the broader Tuscany region.
Must check every-day website: Vanity Fair for the brilliant writing and The Man Repeller for the laughs and the amazing understanding of millennials.
Dream travel destination: Marrakesh
Cheese or chocolate: If both is not a choice then I pick cheese!

 

Don’t forget to check out travel12.gr for your next Greek adventure!

 

 

 

One for All and All for Cider

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

revenant quartetRichard Williams (Executive MBA, 2016) and three of his MBA cohort Paul Gudonis, George Foster and Lawrence Jewkes, have created Revenant Cider alongside their day jobs. We spoke to Richard to find out more:

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I actively looked for a new job when I decided to do an MBA and as it turned out, I started my EMBA and this job that I am currently in at the same time. My life changed rapidly in many ways and having multiple fresh starts at the same time was good for me. I was in a really fresh headspace and was really open to everything going on. We all do the MBA at a time of life where we’re trying to climb the career ladder, but you still have lots of drudge work to do, and you’re trying to buy a house or have babies. I actually had a baby shortly after handing in my BMP (MBA thesis).

Overall my time at Cass was very positive. The School itself has a different feel to it to other business schools. It was a lot more relaxed and less competitive and I really enjoyed that. There are world class professors teaching there, lecturers like Gianvito Lanzolla and Peter Fleming, those guys are world-renowned and it was exciting to sit and listen to them. It was a real honour to be part of a University with that calibre of staff.

A lot of people say you learn more from your cohort than your coursework and that’s very true. I looked at different Universities where the cohort size is 7-10 people but I’m incredibly glad I didn’t choose one like that. You get so much from the people you learn with, especially the soft skills. In the lectures you learn the theory and formula, and then with your cohort you learn how to implement those in a way that makes sense. With a large cohort of 30-40 people I worked with a number of different people through the year and that was very valuable.

You met your Revenant co-founders at Cass?

Yes, we were put together for our first group and we connected instantly and were inseparable from that moment on. We got quite a bad reputation for being too inseparable! With the four of us behind Revenant the friendship from day one was something I had not expected. It truly changed my life in terms of experience, direction and possibilities.

How did Revenant happen?

We are all really in to craft beer and I do a lot of brewing at home. I’m a coffee guy so I’m into flavours and tasting. One day we sat at the back of one of our lectures discussing the rest of our lives. Once we started talking brewing it snowballed and we realised the beer market opportunities were still there but it was getting harder and harder. Cider seemed like it had interesting opportunities and possibilities to do something cool.

All four of us still have full-time jobs. I’m a coffee trader at the moment with Falcon Coffee. We have a weekly call and use WhatsApp to discuss the day-to-day. We also meet once a month to talk things through but really it’s a lot of weekends, and a lot of stock in my garage. Everything else is outsourced so the launch was done with as little overhead as possible. We found a cider maker and we’re using their equipment and producing it on their premises. We spoke to a number of different cider makers and we had a clear idea of what we wanted so it was a case of ensuring that they could source the raw ingredients and process them in the way that we wanted it done.

When did Revenant launch?

We finished the EMBA in March 2016 and then we launched Revenant in December 2016. It was a very soft rollout. Once we had the first batch of stock for sale we started speaking to people we knew and would quietly sell cases to people who were interested. That’s still our approach; we haven’t had a big party or big media. The reason is to make sure the brand is properly represented in the right way and in the right places. We need to make sure that early adopters interact in the right spaces and come across the right way, so we’re going to continue to expand like this – slow and steady and managed.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Finances! We’re all still reeling from the MBA debt and managing the cash flow has been the hardest. It’s really tricky. It also took a while to get the look and feel of our brand sorted out but everything else we’ve come across so far has been really positive. There have been a few issues with getting payments in, but that’s just regular business stuff. Finance is definitely the hardest.

Do you have any advice to pass on?

Something I did notice during my MBA was around the people who really thrived versus people who didn’t. The four of us went in to the MBA looking at is as an opportunity to do as many different things and to learn as much as possible. But in contrast, the people who came in with specific end goal such as a promotion, they seemed to struggle more. There seemed to be a difference in their approach and in their motivation that made the day-to-day drudge much harder for them. I found these people to be more stressed, not get as good marks and were more specific about what they wanted to learn.

With an open mind, you flourish. If you’re going to do an MBA you have to want to do it, you can’t just turn up and coast through it. Those people get weeded out and don’t finish. You also need a good support mechanism; my wife ran my life for me throughout, so the whole household has to be on board, and you all give up something to get through it. Once you’re through it it’s amazing, definitely a life changing experience for the better.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Victoria Park
Favourite holiday destination: Morocco
Must check every-day website: The Economist
Dream travel destination: So many! I’d say Peru
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

You can find out more about Revenant Cider on the website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Court is in Recess

Alumni Stories.

Katy Martley (Criminal Litigation, 2012) crossed continents to attain the qualification that would lead to her career as a Crown Prosecutor, and now she’s taking a break! Read Katy’s story to find out why she adjourned her legal career.

So you moved from New Zealand to study at City, what was that like?

I was a Government Prosecutor and wanted to move into jury trial work in serious crime and I knew that a masters degree would assist with that goal.  I googled ‘masters and criminal litigation’ and City popped up. I had been looking for something more local but the course at City was absolutely perfect so I moved to London with my three-year-old daughter while my husband took a contract in Australia to pay the bills. But City made it so easy for me. The administrators were so helpful and once I arrived everyone was really welcoming and really amazing.

I knuckled down and studied a lot – I was there to do a job. I went to the library a lot. I more or less stayed in the Law School, everything I needed was there. And I loved being enveloped by the buzz of the legal world around us. I was at campus two days per week and had to do all of my actual study work there or in the evenings after my daughter had gone to bed. It was quite a juggle and I would write my dissertation after dinner. But the tutors and lecturers were so supportive and really flexible.

What happened after City?

I returned to my job in New Zealand as they had been holding it open for me. I actually received a promotion as a result of my masters. I had another baby, another girl. Then I got a job as a crown prosecutor and now I’m having a career break from law to do full-time philanthropy work and volunteering.

What prompted the change?

As a crown prosecutor I was seeing a lot of youth who were offending but I couldn’t affect change because I was constrained by the system. I wanted to make a real difference and so I had to remove myself from the system. Now I volunteer with Te Aranui Youth Trust, working with primary school aged children and at risk youth, and Good Neighbour Trust which has a food rescue service and redistributes seven tonnes of food per week to over 50 different charities.

This year I’m also involved in a big annual fundraiser and will be organising a ladies’ luncheon, with a celebrity chef from New Zealand, for 300 women!

Volunteering is amazing and very rewarding. It also means I have the flexibility to spend more time with my children and family, attending sports and school events.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Making the decision to leave law for a bit. I have worked for over a decade, all for the purpose of my career and deciding ‘am I really going to let this go?’ was the single hardest decision I’ve had to make.

What has been the most rewarding?

Realising that my knowledge, skills and talents are transferable. That has allowed me to let go of law for a while.

Any advice?

With regards to higher education, don’t think about it, just apply to do it. Don’t think too much about the end gain, just think about the knowledge and skills you will acquire that will be helpful no matter which career path you take.

And if you’re thinking about a career change – trust your instincts.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: The Old Bailey
Favourite holiday destination: Vanuata
Must check every day website: stuff.co.nz
Dream holiday destination: Venice
Cheese or chocolate: cheese

Being a professional mentor at City

Alumni Stories.

Tony (left) with mentee Tom (right)

Anthony (Tony) Rimoldi graduated from Civil Engineering in 1980, but for the past eight years he has volunteered his time to mentor the next generation of graduates. Here he talks about his experience as a professional mentor at City.

I graduated from City (Civil Engineering) in 1980 and since then I have enjoyed a successful career in my chosen subject. I worked initially in local government, Greater London Council, where I became Chartered. I then spent time as an engineer in Doha. After returning from the Middle East I joined Concrete Repairs Ltd. That was in 1983. Since then I have enjoyed a challenging and interesting career with the company, leading my team through a management buyout in 2006. I remain at the head of the company and continue to lead a growing group of smaller companies, all related to construction and engineering. As you might imagine that period was very busy for me. However, the founders of the business in 1954 were both civil engineers and I wished to maintain that tradition. So the senior staff in the company are nearly all civil engineers.

About nine or ten years ago I recall an email from the professional mentoring team at City asking for new recruits. I think that email arrived at just about the right time. My own experience in both management and civil engineering was varied and quite lengthy. I felt that some of my experience may be of use to undergraduates from City. In short I felt that I could give “something back” and that my advice may be of use to others. So the email was my encouragement and I joined the scheme.

I found the initial experience of mentoring quite challenging because it was all new to me. What was an absolute eye opener was trying to understand the goals, ambitions and career paths of 20-year-old undergraduates in the second decade of this century. It is completely different to the experience of 30 years previously. Their understanding of the industry, personal and family pressures, diversity issues were all new to me. And of course very exciting. Some of my mentees have been so bright they should be mentoring me. But I have seen a change in them all. If all I do is to give them a push in the right direction and help to build their confidence then I think I have achieved something. I really enjoy just chatting to them and hearing their opinions on current affairs. It is valuable to me to understand the thoughts of people 40 years younger than I am.  I have been able to provide summer placements for most of my mentees and they have all performed brilliantly. I am so happy learning of their progress after graduating and seeing their careers blossom.

As we move in our careers we need to think about succession. The greatest achievement is to employ youngsters, support them and encourage their careers. Mentoring allows this to happen and if only one thing that is said by me has an impact and is remembered by the mentee then it is all worth it.

For more information about City’s Professional Mentoring Scheme please visit: city.ac.uk/careers/recruiters/get-involved-on-campus/mentoring 

Compassion for Fashion

Alumni Stories.

Ayesha Mustafa (MA Transnational Media & Society, 2007)  moved from Dubai to study at City. Since graduating she has worked for Netsol Technology and PepsiCo. But now she is the director of her own business, Fashion ComPassion…

Where did the idea for Fashion ComPassion come from? 

Since a young age I wanted to have my own business and a business with a social mission. I was always interested in the business side of fashion and experienced first-hand how fashion was created. Fashion touches all areas of our lives but the artisans making it didn’t get a fair wage, so I wanted to create a company that would be a change maker to address this issue.

How did you set up Fashion ComPassion? 

Fashion ComPassion is my passion, a combination of my two biggest interests: fashion and giving back to others – which stems from my upbringing, especially with the great work my father has been doing for women and education. However the catalyst for setting up Fashion ComPassion goes back to when I was 16 and an intern at the Garmeen Bank in Dhaka where I witnessed first-hand how giving opportunities to women has a monumental impact not only on them but their communities and the economy at large. I knew I wanted to do something in my own way that created an impact and gave women a voice and made them independent. I conducted a lot of research on ethical fashion businesses and organizations and realized that there was a gap in the market. There were many small ethical fashion brands in various countries but they didn’t have a strong platform to promote them to a global audience.

So how do you help these brands reach a global audience?

We are now a marketplace providing small and emerging sustainable brands a platform to connect to new audiences. We do this by helping them with marketing and PR, but also supporting them via digital marketing, social media etc. We help organize events and pops up and explore collaborations for brands. We are connectors between the brand and the end customer.

What has been the biggest challenge in setting up Fashion ComPassion?

Finding funding to scale it.

What has been the most rewarding experience? 

Helping small sustainable brands grow and reach a global market.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps? 

Believe in yourself, work hard and don’t take no for an answer.

Ayesha is offering all customers 10% off their first order at Fashion ComPassion – why not check out the wide range of accessories and designers now.

Experience In My Pack

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

nancy with bookNancy O’Hare (Executive MBA, 2014) has spent 20 years in the oil and gas industry travelling whenever she could. Now she’s ditched the day job and has published a new kind of travel book “Dust In My Pack” part how-to, and part narrative based on her travels. We spoke about this huge change and whether she could be tempted to return to a corporate role.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I really liked the Cass programme. It was a mix of intense periods of being pushed and stretched, but I looked forward to the monthly getaways as the environment was refreshing and energising. The people I studied with made the experience dynamic and fun and everyone was really supportive. My classmates came from a very diverse background and that diversity was one of the reasons I picked Cass. I came from a financial background, working in the oil and gas industry, and the mix of people’s experiences and industries was something I really appreciated.

At the start, I was based in Geneva in Switzerland so the Modular Executive MBA worked really well. It fit with my work commitments. But mid-way through, my husband got a job in Nigeria. Soon after, I transferred to the Lagos office with my employer. That commute was not quite as easy! But it was good fun. I would catch the shuttle bus from my office at 4pm, take the overnight flight to London to arrive in the early morning and then go straight to class. I came to love the BA Arrival Lounge’s shower!

A couple of classes stood out for me. One was when we did a consulting project in Vietnam and we worked with a local tour company. It was a family business with growing pains. After living and travelling around the world, working with a tour company really appealed to me. We could apply our personal experiences as well as what we learned during our MBA program to give them practical advice to grow.

The other great class was Managing Strategic Change. It was relevant because the company I had been working for had been through a lot of change. It was a public company when I joined, then it was acquired by a Chinese state-owned enterprise so it became part of a huge entity and then there was just constant change after that with further m&a activity. But it was inspiring to see how, as a manager, I could affect the impact of those changes on the people in the organisation. How well it is managed really resonated with me and how I could make a difference going forward.

What did you do next?

Well, my husband and I love to travel. Getting away helps to clear my mind and see through big decisions. After I graduated from Cass, we took a holiday away to decide what to do next. We went to Rwanda to see the gorillas and then to Uganda for a nine-day trek to Margherita Peak in the Rwenzori Mountains.

By the end of 2014, I had spent nearly two years in Nigeria. We were ready to leave and do something different. We took time out to study Spanish in Guatemala and then continued across Central America and to Cuba for five months in 2015/16. After that I decided to write a book. At first I wanted to tie it to the energy industry, which proved difficult; it took me a while to get my groove. My husband also decided to leave the corporate world and to follow his passion for photography, which worked well for my book!

So…what’s in your pack?

My website’s theme is “in my pack” and my first book is called “Dust In My Pack”. The next book will also follow the “in my pack” theme. I’m planning a whole series, and I’d say it’s a new sort of travel book. It’s not just narrative but also not just a guide book like the Lonely Planet. It’s a mixture of how-to and stories that can bring the stay alive before you go and let you know what you can expect.

It was odd going from finance to a more creative role. I’ve had to get comfortable with marketing and cover design, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m currently working with an organisation on the cover, which is a fantastic team with the artistic skills needed that I don’t have. Even getting an editor is more complicated than you might think because there are many different types – substantive, copy, stylistic – which was all new to me.

A big part of committing to this change was getting the structure of the book right. Coming up with the focus of my book took me a long time. After I decided to focus purely on travel, the stories poured out. Then it was just writing, reworking and reworking until it sounded right. I’d say getting the structure set-up was pivotal to moving forward.

I typically like change. I’ve always moved around, worked in different roles and sought out new challenges but switching from my finance career to write is in an entirely different vein from earlier transitions. I really enjoy it, especially how flexible my time is now. I have the support of the editors and proofreaders, but outside that I have the freedom to do what I want and fit in future travels. Actually, we’re leaving in a few weeks for three and half months of travel which I will use as the basis for a second book.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

There have been lots of challenges! I would say the biggest was the decision not to go back to a corporate role and to give writing my full focus. This was such a big change. It took a long time to figure out that this was what I wanted to do next.

A finance background may seem odd for a travel writer. But, writing also requires planning and structure. I did a lot of research on the self-publishing process and lined up my editor and cover designer upfront. Plus, I had travelled a lot with my work and on sabbaticals over the years to draw from.

Do you have any advice to give?

It’s a personal decision, but for anyone trying to find their own footsteps I’d say listen to yourself and what feels right. Be aware of the opportunities, but assess them for yourself, and push out others’ expectations. For me, my big test was an offer for a CFO role that came along. With my background, that’s typically the ideal role to target. It was with people I’d worked with before and it was a really good opportunity. It tested my resolve, but I knew I wanted something more flexible and something new. I look at it in phases, I had a 20-year career that focussed on the corporate environment and now I’ve turned toward a new phase. I don’t know if this will be for another 20-years, but I am sure there will be curveballs thrown in along the way.

So, I think my advice is be true to yourself, look at your skills and where you want to make an impact. That can change significantly over your life depending on what path you take.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: The Artillery Arms where we used to go for a drink after lectures, and the Madison, a rooftop lounge overlooking St. Pauls
Favourite holiday destination: My most memorable was Oman, where we lived and worked for three years – the country really confronts stereotypes of the Middle East, the culture is unique and people were so generous; Cuba was such an interesting place, we loved staying in the Casa Particulares, which are like B&Bs and have only been permitted since Cuba’s 2011 reforms; and I’m really excited to go back to Bhutan – last time we did a nine-day hike in the Himalayas and this time we’ll be doing a 17-day trek called the Snowman trek!
Must-check every day website: The Globe & Mail, it’s like Canada’s BBC
Dream travel destination: Some places I’ll go to on my next trip, like Myanmar, but I think my top pick has to be the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia – its hiking sounds amazing!
Cheese or chocolate: It used to be chocolate but over the years it’s switched to cheese! I think it’s all the good European cheeses from living in Switzerland!

Nancy’s ebook can be purchased from most online bookstores including Amazon and iTunes. A paperback version will be released later this year. Find out more on her website.

Scholar Spotlight: Gabriella Soffer (MEng Biomedical Engineering)

Scholar Spotlight.

Gabriella Soffer is a recipient of the George Daniels Scholarship. Here she talks about the impact the scholarship has had:

I started university a year after the £9,000 fees were implemented and firm in the knowledge that I would have a minimum of £27,000 debt when I would leave. At the age of 18 that was more money than I could understand and was really quite daunting. I took up several tutoring and babysitting jobs so that I could start saving up and didn’t even question the idea of living away from my parents’ home due to the added financial pressure of that. I jumped at the opportunity to apply for the George Daniels scholarship as I knew that not only would it cover my fees, it would also mean that I could get several of my evenings and weekends back so that I could focus on my work and also have some fun and socialise too which I hadn’t really been able to do until then.

The George Daniels scholarship has not only paid for my fees and given me more time to focus on my studies, it also gave me an incentive to perform to the best of my ability right from the start. I was therefore able to develop a good work ethic right from my first year and continue that throughout my studies. When I started university I did not consider the idea of completing a Master’s as I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford it but due to the support of this scholarship I do not have a £27,000 debt so I will be able to complete a Master’s next year. This is vital for me as an engineering student because it is very hard to become a chartered engineer just with a Bachelor’s. This scholarship has helped me hugely on a financial level while giving me the opportunity to truly reach my potential academically and to knock away many barriers that I face on my way to becoming an engineer. I know without it I wouldn’t have got to the point that I’m at now and feel an immense level of gratitude as a result.

Developing Partnerships, One Village at a Time

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Neil Kerfoot (MSc NGO Management, 2012) is looking to encourage more volunteers and donations for his radically different charity, Village by Village. Working in partnership with local communities in Africa, he stopped counting the number of villages helped when he hit 100. We spoke about the power of open accountability, trust and getting it right in the charity sector.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied MSc NGO Management and graduated in 2012. I was working full-time at the same time! I was living in Dublin and working a lot of the time in West Africa, and coming to Cass to do the course part-time. I would fly in from Ghana, get a couple of hours sleep, and then head to the classroom on Friday afternoons. Then I would leave London after the weekend to go back to Dublin or Ghana, it was a killer! I only missed my flight once though, after a stressful weekend we had gone to the pub!

What did you do next?

I had already founded my charity, Village by Village before I came to Cass, but the course really gave me that validation to take it forward and develop it. After I graduated the charity grew 20% year on year each year.

So what does Village by Village do?

We are a purposely small international development charity. We are the disruptive backlash to a lack of confidence and trust in charities in the UK. We are so transparent we are almost see through! Traditional charities have had their day with their lack of transparency around where the donations go and their total control over projects.

Our projects are about human centred design. We work with the local community, ask what their problems are, and work holistically with them to work out what they need. For example, their major concerns are usually malaria, education, children’s health and crop outputs. We really spend time living in their communities and base ourselves in the village, hence the name. We’re not a focus group who show up for half an hour; we’ve been living in the communities for 10 years. That way you quickly get to know the good guys and the bad guys.

We try to build partnerships, to get everybody pulling together, but the big organisations don’t want to know. There are many other well-intentioned companies actually working at odds to the situation too. For example, a fibre optic guy wants to bring fibre optic internet to villages in poverty. But nobody ever asked for it, they have no electricity, and no clue what internet is, and they are more concerned with where their water is coming from.

Another time, we built a clinic in partnership with Ghana health service and when a big organisation showed up we thought, ok the big boys are here! They had a fridge on their truck. We asked if we could help, because we know everybody, and asked if they were aware that there was no electricity? Well, the fridge was paid for by their donors and so they unloaded it! And it became the most expensive cupboard in Ghana.

How is Village by Village different from other Africa-centred charities?

We are all about low overheads and high transparency. My pay is just over £30K because it’s linked to the average living wage, and in Ghana we have a quantities surveyor on £12K plus accommodation. Recently I’ve seen charities with very low overheads, like the Salvation Army, enjoying a renaissance, especially versus those that are hiring people on big salaries, the big boys who take in over £500M. They have affected things up for the charity world, and tarred everybody.

We invite our volunteers to come and see projects and be part of the solution. Everyone who comes has to raise £1000, and out of that we spend about £150 on collecting them and looking after them, and the rest goes to the project. We use devolved budgeting, and do things like asking a volunteer to take some of the money they raised to go and get cement, negotiating with the money. We get lots of returning volunteers, which speaks volumes.

If we had our way, after the purchase, that person would then take an image of the receipt and upload it to our accounting system, published to a free and open site where anyone can see it all: what’s in our bank account, what our salaries are – so everyone who has given us money can see where it’s being spent. Big organisations can’t do that. We are small, agile and disruptive.

How did Village by Village come about?

It happened when I turned 40! Back when I was 21 I drove a Land Rover from Manchester to Cape Town, through the desert, the jungle and three war zones. When I returned to the UK at 22 I thought that the last thing I ever wanted to be was poor! So I had a career and started a couple of businesses, including an internet business at the height of the first boom, and I sold it just before the crash.

At 40 I was the deputy CEO of an education company. I returned to the UK from New Zealand and was looking at the charity sector and decided I could make a bigger impact. So I went to a large, well-known charity and spoke to them about digging a well. Because I know about Africa and corruption I said I wanted to see the well being built, but I was told I couldn’t because of health and safety. I said in that case I wasn’t giving the money!

Eventually I got the email address of the local guy tasked with digging the well, and when I turned up for the ceremonial spade dig I asked the chief if I could stay. He put me up in a mud hut with little sanitation and water. There I stayed until they completed the well, which was a huge success.

That got me thinking that I can make a difference here, and I thought – what else can I do? As a white person in Africa I decided to find out what the locals want to learn about, and that was primarily crop output and stopping their children from getting sick. Then I learned about what other charities do in the area, and decided everybody needed the conduit of an information centre. We built the centre, and I chucked in my job! I wanted to help and support the local community with a suite of information, and we even built rooms for volunteers to stay in as part of the centre. That was the start.

What are you working on at the moment?

Our big target was 100 villages by 2016. This was a 10-year target, but we smashed it in two years, because the local communities got involved! We’ve stopped counting how many villages – it’s pointless!

We work with the countries that are most proactive, and ask how we can help. Then it’s their decision because it’s a democratic process. We don’t just say how we help, we ask representatives from all swathes of society. That helps us to work with the communities, rather than at odds to them.

For example, to communities that are in poverty – what is malaria? They think it comes when you work too hard (which is not the case), and when they are given malaria nets they find it is too hot and sticky to sleep under them in mud huts with small windows and no fan. We’re generally about 150 miles from the equator! So they don’t use them, because they don’t think they need them. There needs to be joined-up thinking, not just good will.

Do you have any advice for anyone?

Do what you love! I’m generous and open-hearted and enjoy working in remote villages and working with Africans. I’ve had malaria, typhoid and once even cholera. People who do it for pennies in heaven – that’s not right. You have to do it because you like it and enjoy it.

If you want to get involved, find a local charity, knock on their door and support where you can see your money being put to good value, and is in line with your value set. Village by Village is very focussed on our values and that of our donors. People say you shouldn’t push western values on developing countries but if they want what we want, then there has to be a change because they haven’t got there yet.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Definitely the cultural differences between international development groups and the recipients. Once you get past ‘yes’ and ‘thankyou’ you can really get somewhere. I’ll give you an example. Imagine if a Chinese charity came to the UK to help deal with the old people crisis, and brought their values about keeping old people at home with them.

They offer to come and build you an extension to house your old person, and of course you say yes. But then you put the old person in a care home anyway, because that’s what your culture does, and you enjoy your extension. The point here is that how you do things in your own country and culture informs your plan and what you do about the problems on the ground. It’s about finding the cultural equality between getting the idea right, the recipient value set and the conditions of the aid.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Um, it’s Manchester!
Favourite holiday destination: The villages we work in. The majority of communities are so full of love and kindness, and I love what a difference you can make there. At an in inner city youth work project I worked for we would see 1 in 10 people helped, but with the same resources in Ghana it’s 9 in 10.
Must check every day website: Our homepage! I’m responsible for maintaining it, although some of our homepage content comes from Instagram from the villages showcasing our latest projects.
Dream travel destination: I’ve been to 72 countries! I think Bhutan, because I already went to Tibet.
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

Find out more about Village by Village on their website or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

Pirouettes and Politics

Alumni Stories.

International politics and dance don’t typically lend themselves to each other but that hasn’t stopped Alejandra Benet! An International Politics graduate and now also a dance teacher, Alejandra, known to her friends as Sandra, is set to blaze the trail of this unusual combo…

Time at City

So far, it has been the best time in my life. I loved my course. I did International Politics and graduated in 2015. I loved the teachers because they made me think critically about the world around me and that made me mature a lot. I think that’s why I feel really attached to City. It has developed me as a person, so I feel really grateful for that. And I met some of my best friends here at City – friendships are still there.

I also got involved in the dance society whilst I was here. When I arrived there wasn’t one, and I didn’t know how to form one, but a small group of students were already working on it. So once they had set up the dance society, I contacted the committee and it turned out to be the best decision ever. I wanted to teach, I wanted to participate and somehow this group of talented amazing people from really different courses met together and just pushed the society. We grew from 14 members to 200 in a year- it’s unbelievable!   It was such a friendly environment, people who had always wanted to try dance but had never had the chance. It was so rewarding for us to see the numbers and the impact that we were having. That same year we won the Student-Led Event of the Year Award in the Student Union awards 2015. We organised a Christmas party performance – a lot of fun, lots of dancing. And then I won Society Newcomer of the Year which was super rewarding because of all the time and dedication I’d put into the society. I had the best time ever. I wouldn’t have realised I enjoyed teaching as much as I love dancing if I hadn’t started teaching in the dance society.

What happened after you graduated?

I went back to Spain. I got an internship in a company called Famosa, one of the largest toy companies in Spain.  The internship was in corporate social responsibility, based in Madrid; which was a really great experience. I think I got it thanks to the volunteering work I did here in London. Actually also thanks to City because of the Professional Mentoring Scheme. I was assigned a mentor through the scheme and we really connected. She invited me to volunteer and get some experience with the NGO she was working in. I did that for one and half years. She also helped me with CVs, cover letters, and applications. I think it was that experience that opened the doors for the internship with Famosa.

After the internship, I faced a really difficult moment because I realised that my life was being defined. I felt that as soon as I got a full-time job, I would never have the chance to dedicate some time to dance and that made me feel really anxious. In that moment I said, ok it’s now or never. So I decided to get my teacher qualification now, as I wasn’t really sure which direction I wanted to go in. Once I made that decision, I went back to my hometown Valencia and I spoke with my school director who is also like a mentor to me. She agreed to train me as a teacher at the same time as doing the dance course. This began in September 2016 and so that’s how I ended up back home teaching ballet. I still have one exam to go; Advanced 2 vocational graded examination.

When did you begin dancing?

I started at the age of 4 in a local school called Esther Mortes Dance School, which is my teacher’s name. My father took me there because he wanted me to do something in the afternoons. Bad choice. I became addicted. Then at the age of 15/16, I started going abroad for summer courses. From these trips from two weeks to a month in London, I became determined that I would come to live and study here. It became my teenage dream. My parents thought it was a phase because I was so excited after coming back but it lasted.

How does dancing fit into pursuing a profession?

Doing international politics has only enriched me. It’s part of me now, what I have learned, the way I have matured, the way I think now because of the course. It’s also affected my dancing. I’m actually exploring a very poorly known area which is dance and international politics. I’m really interested in that common area. I want to throw a bit of light onto it. It’s really difficult because there’s no road for what I’m trying to do but I’m making my own path. I don’t know what direction I’m going in but I’m going. I tried to make dancing  fit in with what I studied by using it as the focus for some of my essays, including my dissertation. In the same way I’m now trying to fit what I have studied into dancing. The critical thinking I gained from my course has influenced how I choreograph and the message behind it.  It’s a skill that I want my own students to develop.

I’m really passionate about international politics and dance so I just don’t want to give up on any.

Recently I gave a presentation at the IV National Congress and I International Dance Research organized by the Spanish Association D plus I: Dance and Research and have published my first academic article at the age of 22; The functions of dance in society: The relation between the dancer and the aesthetic and gender standards (2016).  It’s really rewarding! And yes it’s difficult, but there’s actually a way. I have things to say about dance and politics if I’m given the chance to share them and have an impact.

And the way I dance now is completely different, the way I choreograph is completely different. International politics has enriched all of that as well. I have only gotten good things from City – it’s part of me.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

Academically – third term in my third year, nightmare. Exams and dissertation were a nightmare.

Personally – not being scared of failure. I want to try things, I want to have adventures, I want to travel, I want to do the things I want to do but at the same time that can be dangerous and you’re facing the possibility of failure. In the past I decided not taking certain risks which I then regretted, so now I have decided to just throw myself in and try because if you don’t try, you will never know.

Most rewarding experience

Graduating from City, University of London. It was my teenage dream from the age of 16. I worked really hard to get accepted. Going through that, adapting, enjoying it, and then suddenly graduating was like the end of a period for me. I actually cried at my graduation, it was overwhelming. I knew that it was the end of something that had started when I was 16. It was like ‘oh my God, you actually got it – you actually fulfilled this dream!’ So then I had to find a new dream.

What advice do you have for someone following in your footsteps?

For those people that are completely lost, it’s fine to be lost. I have gotten to know myself better in those times. It’s fine to not know where you’re going or what you want to achieve, just go through it. You have to, otherwise you will always be stuck or just flowing with what you are told to do.

Also, try to network a lot in the industry that you’re interested in. Have contacts because you don’t know where opportunities will arise. If you’re trying something that’s unknown – try to get mentors. Stay away from negative people, follow your instincts, be critical with yourself, realise when you have something wrong and have a plan B.

Quick fire

Favourite place in London: The terrace in the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden

Favourite holiday destination: London

Must check every-day website: Facebook

Dream holiday destination: Any Caribbean Island

Cheese or chocolate: Cheesecake

 

Check out Sandra in action:

If you would like to connect with Sandra, you can find her on LinkedIn: Alejandra Benet Garcia

 

 

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.

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