Elevation Networks is an award winning charity established by students to tackle youth employment challenges.
Elevation Networks specialises in assisting companies with the development of diversity recruitment strategies and enabling young people to enhance their employability in the labour market.
The organisation, which began as an idea amongst friends, encompasses a network of 10,000 students and recent graduates from across the country.
Chief executive Barbara Soetan is a founding member of the organisation, launched in 2006 by Samuel Kasumu at Brunel University. Headquartered in London, Elevation Networks became a registered charity in February 2009 and employs a core team of six, supported by over 70 volunteers.
Aged just 25, Barbara Soetan is an accomplished social campaigner and advocate, serving as an international consultant and speaker on youth participation, leadership and employment.
Barbara represented the United Kingdom in the 2010 G8 and G20 summits respectively, where she met Prime Minister David Cameron. In addition to running Elevation Networks, Barbara is a consultant for the Commonwealth Secretariat, where she oversees youth and volunteer strategy. Barbara also sits on the Diversity Board for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games as co-chair of the Youth Advisory Panel.
Barbara was named the UK’s Young Activist of the Year in 2009 and was recognised at Red’s Magazine’s Hot Women Awards in 2011, celebrating 16 women who have broken boundaries with their creativity, determination and entrepreneurship.
What inspired you to create Elevation Networks?
From a young age I’ve always been passionate about people. From the age of five I wanted to be a teacher and as I grew up I decided I’d love to be a barrister, as it combined by desire to be an advocate and public speaker.
Now at 25, while my aspirational roles have changed, the fundamental principles and drive has remained unchanged. That in turn has been the motivation to be part of the start and growth of Elevation Networks.
What was your career path prior to starting Elevation Networks?
I finished my Masters last month in International Public Policy at University College London, so now I’m at a stage where I can fully commit to my work.
So in actual fact Elevation Networks has been my hobby, something that I did part time while studying and expanding my work and life experiences. Outside of Elevation Networks I have had the chance to work in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, sit at the table with heads of state, and work with over 20 organisations, all in all this has given me a chance to work with over 3,000 young people in the last four years.
As someone that has been actively involved within the youth development sector, I have been an international consultant and speaker on youth participation, leadership and employment.
Did you always know that you would become a social entrepreneur?
No. I thought I’d end up being a politician!
What are you working on at the moment?
At Elevation Networks HQ we’re really focusing on how we can help to tackle to rising youth unemployment. “Your employability is your job security not the job itself” is a quote that has become my watch word.
So, we’re busy developing programmes and working with local authorities and businesses to ensure that young people are being given the best chance to get their foot on the career ladder.
Can you describe your typical working day?
There is no typical day! Apart from turning up at the office and drinking copious cups of tea. My work varies depending on the day, week, time and who’s in the office.
A perfectly planned day can easily turn into an impromptu blue sky thinking creative session or a last minute deadline from a client.
Tell us more about the Visible Women programme, how was it conceived and what does it encompass?
Aside from young people, I really have a heart for women and set up the Visible Women Campaign that now sits under the Elevation Networks umbrella.
It was essentially created as a student-led women in leadership campaign that seeks to challenge the under-representation of women in senior management roles and showcase them as role models for the next generation. In turn moving away from the celebrity, entertainment culture but more focused on careers.
As part of the campaign we have embarked on a speaker tour “VW Speaks” to use it as a platform to engage more women and create a peer network.
What have been the highlights of running your own organisation?
The great thing about running your own organisation is that you have complete creative license to change and influence things directly. There’s no red tape and as long as it’s in line with our core values. We can literally create the change that we want to see and we empower the students in our network to do the same on their campuses.
The best part is seeing the transformation of the students and young people that have come in rough around the edges, totally unaware about the world around them. Watching them evolve into people who are work ready, informed and well-rounded individuals that have tapped into their hidden potential is fantastic.
What is the hardest part of running your own organisation?
One of the key challenges is finding people with like-mind and passion. At times when you have a vision, you’re simply running on hopes and dreams, especially when things don’t always go as planned.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
That’s a hard one. I guess the emphasis on building relationships rather than just business transactions.
What has been your biggest triumph at Elevation Networks so far?
To see something that was just an idea amongst friends grow into a network of 10,000 students and recent grads from across the country.
To have had the chance to work with over 32 organisations in just three years and be recognised for our work through receiving four different awards is a great privilege.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
My Christian faith plays the biggest part in what I do. From a young age, I’ve believed that we have been placed on earth to serve our gifts and talents to the world, so that we die without excuse and with all our potential maximised.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a social enterprise?
I would say that the most important thing is to have your vision and values in place. As you start to progress and grow you stay focused but also selective to what you associate your organisation and brand with.
The world is a very small place and so maintaining a good reputation and good relationships with clients and service users alike is fundamental.
Fast forward five years, where do you think Elevation Networks will be in 2017?
Elevation Networks should be operating on the international stage, we are currently looking at piloting some programmes in Chicago, Kenya and Nigeria, so I’m excited about seeing Elevation Networks as a household name the world over.
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Barbara Soetan was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Do you have a question for Barbara? If so, please feel free to post a comment below: