Leadership diaries: “Our governance needs to be stronger than ever”

Elham Fardad is the CEO of Migrant Leaders, a charity supporting young migrants in the UK. She documents a week in her working life as she finds much-needed energy to navigate unexpected challenges.

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Migrant Leaders was founded by Elham Fardad three years ago. The charity’s aim is to support young first and second-generation migrants, as well as disadvantaged youths, helping them to succeed whilst living in the UK. The programme is free and applicants are between 16 and 25 years old, 96% BAME, and they gain mentoring, workshops, work experiences and connections.

The challenge for many charity leaders is how to adapt, respond and leverage unexpected challenges as an opportunity to increase impact for the beneficiaries. For Fardad, it is about managing her time and energy, so that she can carry out the everyday routine and operational aspects of her role at Migrant Leaders, while growing and driving the charity’s vision forward. The everyday aspects of her role include mentee applications, mentor recruitment, team meetings and working with corporate partners.

Like many charity leaders, the Covid-19 pandemic has added home schooling and other tasks to her ever-growing to-do list; making the need to organise, prioritise and focus ever-more important. Here she documents a standard week in her working life as she navigates some of these environmental challenges.

Monday

Today’s challenge was my bandwidth, and was characterised by multiple introductory meetings with potential mentors in order to scale up our programme to provide insights and connections to the deserving young people on our charity’s development programme. This goes hand-in-hand with the everyday conversations I have with young people to understand their current challenges, aspirations and support they need. I also spoke to a number of my corporate contacts about our charity’s EduTech Kids scheme for donating computers to disadvantaged pupils. After another strong coffee, I finally finished writing an article on how corporates can develop their BAME talent pipeline.

Tuesday

Today I needed to bring energy. And, among other activities, I was focused on a key meeting with five universities in the North of England in order to present and offer students our programme and connections to regional employers. This is something very close to my heart, as during economic downturn there is disparity in opportunities in the regions and among disadvantaged and ethnic minority communities. In some ways, the current digital mode of meetings has enabled me to engage even more with communities across the UK. I managed to walk to the local shops before coming back to work on writing up a guide for schools who join our charity’s Mentee Mentor programme. During lockdown, it is so important to do a little something everyday, like a walk or 10-minute meditation in order to refresh for the next task.

Wednesday

Today was a day for collaboration as I had a recorded interview to support a student’s entrepreneurial media venture. I also had a consultation workshop on our charity’s future app. The introvert in me then needed to do some ‘heads down’ tasks so I researched potential funding sources for our charity and also commenced a cashflow forecast. In the last 12 months we have scaled up our Migrant Leaders programme, launched two new programmes – Mentee Mentor and EduTech Kids – in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and we launched our Migrant Leaders Opportunity Fund. The additional complexity and costs mean that our governance and financial management need to be stronger than ever.

Thursday

Today was an operational day and, similar to Monday, a day of meetings to network and recruit more volunteer mentors and computer donations for schools. I also directly mentor a number of our young people. As a charity founder and CEO, I have to constantly balance the need to vision, drive and design the charity’s programmes versus the day-to-day work on the ground. I believe that founders should bring the best of their hands on technical abilities and passion to the job; that they should never lose touch with what the beneficiaries need in the communities. At the same time, they should build an organisation around them who they can inspire, transfer knowledge to and instil strong governance. This, I think, determines how far an organisation of any category can grow and impact the beneficiaries they were set up for in the first place.

Friday

In the evening, I delivered a talk to Warwick University MBA students on combining a corporate career with pursuit of social impact.

The rest of the day happened to be focused on attending roundtables for two awards I am a judge for; one being the Digital Revolution Awards and the other WinTrade Awards, an organisation and network supporting female entrepreneurs. Founded by Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, it is a pleasure for me to support and serve the valuable ethnicity and gender parity agenda of someone who has shown me the power of a role model one can truly relate to.

I love this job, as I get feedback every day from the young people we support and I hear stories about how our programme – and everyone working with the charity – has changed their lives.

At times when the workload and current challenges feel difficult, I remind myself of so many of them, such as Manushi, who as a talented migrant from India, our charity’s opportunity fund is supporting through her university studies at City, while being guided by her Migrant Leaders mentor, a senior director at Astra Zeneca. I’m also reminded of Israel, who wants to devote his life to science and, after moving from Nigeria to escape the violence of Boko Haram, is now studying Biomedical Science at Warwick. His mentor is director of global clinical operations at Smith & Nephew.Finally, I’m reminded of Hitik, who aspires to become a top investment banker is being guided by his mentor an MD at Barclays and preparing for an internship opportunity while studying Economics at LSE.

Others aren’t there yet, but we guide them through our mentoring, training, tools and work experiences to build a vision, confidence and the aspirations to fulfil their potential.

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