Jimmy Paul (centre left) at the Future Leaders Connect event with the Elders

Not sure if Future Leaders Connect is for you? It most certainly is, says 2017 member, Jimmy Paul.

I spent seven years of my childhood in foster and residential care - and I experienced deep injustices across those years.  Because of this, I am committed to improving care experiences for others across Scotland, across the UK and across the world.  

If you asked me to choose just one factor that is key to achieving this change, “embracing and developing values-based leadership” would be my response. So naturally, I’m always keeping an eye out for opportunities to develop my own leadership skills… 

Last year, one of my Facebook friends (who is also my local MP) shared a new programme which was calling for applicants called Future Leaders Connect, hosted by the British Council. I read that it was a leadership programme where “exceptional individuals (aged 18-35) from around the world join a long-term network of emerging policy leaders”. It would begin with a four-day residential at the University of Cambridge then move to London, where 50 young leaders from across the world would meet CEOs, politicians and a group of world leaders.

My initial thought? The competition would be too high and I wouldn’t stand a chance. Why waste my time? 

However, curiosity got the better of me. I decided to ignore my inner critic and throw my hat in the ring.  

Just a few weeks after the submission deadline, I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to interview. Here, I was asked to expand on my global change idea by preparing a five minute presentation – quite a challenge in itself!

In short, my proposal was for a more aligned, global approach to addressing the poor outcomes and experiences of those with care experience across the world; in line with the Sustainability Development Goals (SDG’s) and the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. I was then asked some questions about my passion for leadership, and examples of where I have demonstrated leadership skills.  

I left the interview feeling like I gave a good account of myself and of the looked after children’s sector. But, with opportunities as prestigious as this, you just never know what you’re up against, or if your efforts will be enough.  

Just a couple of weeks later, I found out that I was successful! I was both shocked and absolutely delighted. What an amazing opportunity this would be for me, and much more importantly, people with care experience across Scotland and across the world.

The Future Leaders Connect programme team invited all 50 successful applicants from across the world into a Facebook group where we would begin to get to know each other and hear more about the programme as things were finalised. It was clear that the drive and commitment that I have for improving care experiences was matched by all of the other delegates in their respective fields; the passion and energy was contagious.

We took part in two webinars which centred on views towards leadership. Some of our views were similar; others not so much as a result of different contexts, which proved -an important piece of learning for me. Coming from different countries, working in the private / public / third sector, understanding differences between developed and developing countries, and dealing with corruption, were some of the themes that came up.

In October, the residential began. We arrived at the Moller Centre at Cambridge University, an award winning leadership unit. We had lots of time to get to know each other and to share our hopes for global change across the first few days. We took part in amazing masterclasses, workshops on design theory, policy writing and influencing sessions, presentation skills sessions and leadership discussions. We also got to hear from, and interview, a range of CEO’s and politicians. The days were packed with things to do, but the energy didn’t dissipate! 

After five of the most unforgettable days, we travelled to London where we took part in the highlight event: a #WalkTogether event with the Elders. Leaders young and old shared a stage, remembering the legacy of Nelson Mandela and calling for the world to be a better place for us all.

I was asked to share a commitment that I wished to make, and encourage others to join me in this. So, at this event, which was live streamed to a global audience, and joined by some of the most brilliant leaders of our time, I got to share my hope for change in how our most vulnerable infants, children and young people are cared for across the world.  

All of the speakers and panel sessions were ridiculously good.  I want to give a special mention to Anthony Anaxagorou, who delivered one of the most amazing spoken word talks I have ever heard.    Kofi Annan also memorably shared that “you are never too old to learn, and never too young to teach”. That was the theme of this amazing evening, which I would really encourage you to watch here.  

In the following four days in London, we met MPs, spent time with think tanks, visited 10 Downing Street and Westminster, met the Speaker of the House of Commons and heard from even more politicians and special guest speakers.  You can see all of the pictures here, and the overall programme here. The 2018 programme won’t be exactly the same, but there will be amazing events and speakers again.

I could talk for longer about my experience of the programme – and I’ll do that in another blog, another time. But the purpose of this blog is to encourage you to apply for Future Leaders Connect this year.  

Future Leaders Connect afforded me the opportunity to get to know some of the most impressive people across the world, and we are still in touch with each other.  I think we will be for the rest of our careers, and lives.  We have exciting plans to maintain our network as leaders, where we intend to grow in our global influence.

After the Future Leaders Connect residential, I felt educated.  I know more about accessibility, participation and coproduction, corruption, a lack of power and rights for women,  the potential for technology, tackling divisive belief systems, the impact of climate change, leadership in different contexts and supporting children and families, to name a few! 

Other Future Leaders Connect members also now share my desire for improving the lives of people with care experience across the world.  Having global alliances who are keen to help and support you and your cause is a great feeling and a real confidence boost.

I’ve spoken to many people who are interested in applying this year, and lots are excited by the prospect.  However, some may be feeling intimidated by the fact that only 50 people were selected from 11000 good applicants in 2017, and numbers are likely to be similar in 2018.  Some weren’t sure if they could put their hopes for change into a global ambition, or if they could take part in an event alongside world leaders and politicians.

If you have had any of these thoughts, that’s probably a good thing.  Because so did I! 

I would challenge anyone who has a passion for leadership and a cause they care about to go for it. It’s perfectly normal to feel some self-doubt when applying for something so prestigious, but Future Leaders Connect is all about diversity and authenticity - and you can bring that.  

Best of luck!