One evening in August 2019, walking into a Birmingham coffee shop, I attended an information evening about a course for young people that had been recommended to me. I had no expectations, nor did I think I had any ground breaking dreams. Yet, as I now reflect, having graduated from the UpRising Environmental Leadership Programme and co-founded a thriving social action organisation, there was a dream, just a lack of belief that I was the one who could carry it out.
I applied to UpRising’s 2019/20 Environmental Leadership Programme mainly because I came away from that coffee shop inspired, heartened and with a tiny flicker of belief beginning to take hold within my mind. Within a few hours my thoughts sparked, meeting last year’s alumni being the kindling to the growing flame within my mind – their social action campaigns creating change and enacted by young people just like me.
Over the 9 months, when so much in my life and in the world changed, it seems odd to have just one favourite moment of the programme. From all the amazing people I’ve met, the speakers I’ve heard give insights and expertise on fascinating topics that are important to them. To turning complete strangers into team mates and good friends and seeing something you’ve helped cobble together with these people become a real thing with a name, a logo and a ‘social media presence’.
One moment that does stand out is what was known as Social Action Saturday. As the world altered during the Coronavirus pandemic, UpRising too pivoted, and became a completely virtual programme, including the Social Action Saturday which was in place of an in-person Dragon’s Den style pitch. During the day all UpRisers on the Environmental Leadership Programme came together virtually to watch each other’s presentations and to vote for those they deemed the best campaign, with the final round voted on by judges who were all in roles at organisations involved in social action, with many of them being UpRising alumni. During the few hours we spent watching presentations, listening and voting it really dawned on me just how much work everyone had done. I was inspired by others on the programme, the progress they had achieved and just how much everyone had believed in their dreams.
As with anything, the programme had its challenges along the way. The global pandemic that hit midway through the course was definitely the most difficult. Coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown meant that as well as working full time completely remotely, we would also be continuing the programme online rather than in person. At first it was difficult to overcome the perceived hurdle this caused for me individually to manage my wellbeing and schedule, and as a group to find new ways to work, communicate and ultimately cause the positive change that we envisioned back on the evening we came together as a campaign group in late 2019. Our social action campaign too had to adapt and cope with the challenge – altering from targeting mainly corporate businesses to helping individuals with “tap tips” to save water in the home. We also focused our attention on social media which would be the best way to influence change as most of the country were confined to their homes.
Even though the pandemic created a huge challenge to overcome for us as a team, it also provided a unique experience for us as a cohort in which to learn. Looking back in hindsight, during the 9 month programme with UpRising I’ve achieved more than I could have imagined. Mainly, I gained the self-confidence and inner belief to go after the change that I would like to see. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of making change, of striving for things that at first seem difficult, impossible and “not for people like me”. Yet through the guidance of UpRising and the structure of the programme I feel that I have grown into a person that can make those changes, can make the difference and can help shape the future in a positive way. I feel empowered and undaunted to strive for better and make that difference myself.
I learnt a huge amount throughout the programme, both as a direct impact of the incredible speakers who helped to share their story and skills as well as an understanding of how social action campaigns work. It gave me an insight into how you can turn an idea and vison into real action. I was able to gain friends and meet like-minded people who taught me a huge amount and expanded my network.
Added to this, when I started UpRising I had also just started a graduate role in a law firm and doing the two in tandem was a great combination. I learnt things during the UpRising programme that I could take into my job and vice versa, I feel I really got the most out of my first year in the position due to my work on the Environmental Leadership programme.
Looking forwards, I feel inspired to think big with my career, to look for opportunities every day in the work that I do and see how I can bring all that I garnered in the 9 months of the programme into my role. Sustainability remains a passion of mine and I am excited to see what becomes of our campaign that lives on, continuing to adapt to the ever-changing world yet always from a stable base of UpRising and the network of good people that will always help, offer advice and share opportunities.
As with all good experiences, I wish I could do it all over again!