How we're shaping the future, by the Marie Claire Future Shapers of 2020

The 2020 Marie Claire Future Shapers Awards are finally upon us, so we grabbed some (socially distanced) time with our ten worthy winners to find out what advice they have for the future shapers of tomorrow.

The Marie Claire Future Shapers Awards are back for 2020. In a year that saw the world transformed by Covid-19, lockdown, activism and global uncertainty, our winners have never been more worthy of an award for creating genuine change in challenging times.

Carefully selected by a panel of five trailblazing judges, these are ten incredible women who have gone to great lengths to change the world for the better. How? We caught up with the Marie Claire Future Shapers award winners for 2020 to find out what drives them, the values they live by, and what career tips they'd pass on.

How we're shaping the future, by the Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020

The Fashion Pioneer

Future Shapers 2020

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020: Jemma Finch

Jemma Finch’s storytelling platform and online boutique, Stories Behind Things, is dedicated to promoting sustainable shopping. Stocking innovative lifestyle products, brands and experiences, all with green living at their heart, each item sold has a unique story that’s celebrated as you shop. It’s Jemma’s way of cleaving a path towards a more ethical fashion future, in a world that’s crying out to be protected.

Live your values. Living more in line with my sustainability values every day is a core driver for me. I enjoy making daily changes to my life and making decisions that ultimately lead to a greener future. When Stories Behind Things first started, I didn’t feel there was a space online that was welcoming, solution-led and had a positive insight when it came to sustainability. Building a safe space that empowers our community to use their voice for good is the real driver for me.

Be Mindful. Before I started Stories Behind Things I felt very disconnected to the fast-paced, throwaway culture we live in. Starting the site was a mindful act for me, and a way for me to reconnect with what I was consuming on a daily basis. From the clothing we wear to food we eat, everything has a story. Stories Behind Things started on Instagram with a simple mission: to celebrate telling stories about old clothes. The rest is history!

Take a phone break. I (mostly) start my day with no phone usage for the first 45 minutes, to give my mind time to wake up before consuming the news and any external information. I find this to be a really helpful trick, and would recommend giving it a try. I also try to break up my days by spending as much time outside as possible.

The Political Powerhouse

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020: Nadia Whittome

In 2019, Nadia Whittome MP, 23, was one of the few new Labour candidates to secure a seat in the general election, becoming the UK Parliament’s youngest Member of Parliament. She is the face of a new generation of politically active women, and has campaigned on issues including LGBT+ equality, PPE provision, and the Conservative’s decision to vote against the extension of free school meals.

Emotions are a strength, not a weakness. Growing up, I never thought about politics as a career option. My politics are shaped by my experience of growing up under Tory austerity and as the daughter of migrants, but it was the bedroom tax that tipped my anger into action when I was 16. I became involved in Labour, trade union and community campaigning, and I’m still part of those movements. Those are the people who put me in Parliament, and they continue to inspire me.

It’s OK to disagree. You just have to do it well. Every day is different for me – I'm in London Monday to Thursday when Parliament sits, and I spend Fridays and weekends in my constituency visiting charities, meeting with organisations and running casework surgeries. I wasn’t elected to become part of the fabric of Westminster. I’m here to change it and be a voice for my constituents, working class people, my generation, and anyone who wants the radical, systemic change that our society and our planet demand.

Boosting voices is a privilege. I try to use my position to amplify the voices of activists campaigning for change – for example, by highlighting the work of care workers and lack of PPE during the pandemic, hosting youth climate strikers in Parliament when I led a debate on climate justice, and working with activists and boosting their calls to halt a deportation flight of 50 people to Jamaica. I’m proud to have achieved that.

The Human Rights Defender

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020 Pinar Aksu

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020: Pinar Aksu

On arrival in England as a child refugee, Pinar Aksu was held for two months at the infamous Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. After being released, she began her journey towards her current roles as a human rights activist and ambassador for The Campaign to End Child Detention. Now 26, Pinar campaigns vigorously to raise awareness of issues facing people seeking asylum and refuge in the UK.

There’s power in knowledge. Keeping up-to-date with developments across the world can be tiring and difficult, but we should always create the space and time to learn. This could be from talking to one another, reading books, going to plays, and exploring our communities. We must also take time to reflect on our actions and decisions. To have the space to critically think is important for self-development.

Speak up. When we see injustice and oppression, we must unite, create, and act. If I do not, if you do not, then who will? I’m inspired by the people who taught me never to remain silent when faced with injustice and oppression, especially people seeking asylum and suffering detention. When I’ve witnessed injustice, I’ve known that staying silent isn’t an option. Those in power are creating division in our communities, and people are suffering as a direct result of policies. Covid-19 has clearly shown the inequality some communities face, especially the most vulnerable – from people seeking asylum and refuge, to the elderly.

Stay connected. I believe in the power of people, the stories of our communities and creating a platform for sharing and creating change. Due to Covid-19, I’m missing our community centre, working together with people, and having a space for dialogue and creativity. So I’ve adapted and adjusted to finding different ways of working and engaging. My motivation and hope are that together, we can create a fair and just society based on human rights and equality.

The Anti-Racism Campaigner

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020 Lavinya Stennett

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020: Lavinya Stennett

Driven by the lack of Black British history in the school curriculum, Lavinya Stennett, 23, founded The Black Curriculum in January 2019. The social enterprise group is working on effecting social change and overturning the erasure of black people from school history books, visiting schools to conduct educational workshops and give teachers the resources to introduce more black history into lessons.

Find good mentors. That was a really defining moment in my career. I especially wanted to seek out female mentors, and gain advice from experienced CEOs who really helped me to focus on the most important things.

Pursue what makes you fulfilled. Once you’ve found it, you can flow better, and finding cool ways to integrate that into your work is liberating. For me the things that make me feel fulfilled are trust, freedom and creativity.

Feel the fear. Work through it, work past it and celebrate yourself once you've done that. Fear is just an indicator that there's something there that needs addressing, so allow yourself to feel it.

The Mental-Health Activists

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020: Holly Avis and Abbi Leibert

Holly Avis, 35, and Abbi Leibert, 39, joined forces to fight the ban on birthing partners at hospital bedsides during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bringing two individual campaigns together, the pair launched #ButNotMaternity, which successfully shone a spotlight on the mental health issues experienced by new mothers due to the restrictions imposed on maternity wards, and led to an NHS policy change on birthing partners.

You don’t need to be the very best. In fact, the only person who cares if you’re the very best at something is you. I spent a long time striving to get recognised in my field and always being disappointed that the promotion, award or pay rise went to someone else, no matter how hard I worked. Things became far easier when I realised there’s only one top spot, and thousands of people trying to get it. How much did it really matter? Enough to ignore my friends and family? Enough to make myself ill for it? I’m happy being the best that I can be, rather than the best there is. Abbi

Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s OK to question it. Although I’m not a campaigner, I felt compelled to put my time at home with my children to good use and start my petition to protect the mental health of pregnant women. Seeing it snowball, hearing that I was giving women a platform, and seeing that I was making a difference was phenomenal. TV and radio picking up my petition, being asked to talk to Jeremy Vine, and appearing on BBC Breakfast were proud and defining moments. Holly

Set boundaries and stick to them. Every day, I spend a couple of hours or more answering DMs and emails from anxious parents about their upcoming births, or reading stories from parents who have suffered traumatic births during the pandemic. Once a week there’s also a coalition meeting between several charities and organisations that campaign for maternity rights, to share information and resources. So setting boundaries is something I benefit from hugely, when I remember! I can easily start living and breathing work, so I’ve switched off social media notifications, I try to answer emails and DMs from my laptop only, and my phone stays out of my bedroom. Abbi 

Sometimes paths change as they evolve. A typical day for me is caring for my children, including my three-month-old lockdown baby. I’m also a self-employed artist, but since I started my petition my focus has also been on campaigning, tirelessly hounding MPs and working hard to get our plight heard. I took a step away from the media for a time to focus on my new baby and family, but I have a feeling the journey is just beginning. Holly

The Women’s Rights Campaigner

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020: Deeba Syed

Employment law solicitor Deeba Syed, 32, is an equality and women’s rights campaigner working to instigate changes for women suffering sexual harassment, particularly in the work space. In 2019, Deeba joined the legal-rights charity Rights of Women to help set up the award-winning Sexual Harassment at Work Advice Line, which has since been inundated with calls from women looking for support.

You’re not to blame for harassment. A lot of what we’re trying to do is create a cultural shift, because victim-blaming is so rife when women come forward about harassment. I’ve heard it all now: her top was too low, her skirt was too short, she wears too much make-up, she’s too friendly, she should have told him to stop... I once sat through a 15-minute presentation on how to carry a cup of coffee around the office, so we couldn’t sue them if we burned ourselves. I’ll be satisfied when employers are that worried about being sued for harassment and discrimination.

Discrimination is devastating. It can have a huge impact on a person’s self-esteem and confidence. I’m thankful I get to be there for women at what might be one of the most difficult moments of their lives, and that I can create a space where they feel believed and heard. I remember the first day we opened the advice line, I was pacing up and down thinking, “What if no one calls?” But the second it opened, we were inundated. I’ll never forget our first call, from a woman who’d been harassed for years. Her perpetrator was firing her for refusing his sexual advances, and she couldn’t afford legal advice. I realised this work may be the most important thing I ever do.

It’s OK to ask for help. Burnout is a serious danger with this kind of work. Women are often disclosing disturbing and harrowing stories to us, and every one of them stays with you. It’s hard to switch off, and I still struggle with that sometimes. I make sure I take time for myself away from my phone, limit the time I go on social media and always, always, always ask for help from others when I need it.

The Media Trailblazer

Future Shapers 2020: Clara Amfo

Since taking over the prestigious Live Lounge slot from Fearne Cotton in 2015, Clara Amfo’s career has gone from strength to strength, making appearances on every music show that matters, from MTV’s Official Top 40 and Top Of The Pops to the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage and The Proms. This year, her emotional anti-racism speech on Radio 1, made after missing her show in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, was widely praised.

My parents’ work ethic inspired me. They’re immigrants who came to the UK with basically nothing except their education, and the focus and tenacity to work hard and make a life for themselves. Growing up seeing that work ethic, and the struggle and rewards that came with it ,absolutely inspired me. Even though they did jobs that are worlds apart from mine, it told me that nothing was out of reach for me. Seeing public figures who looked like me also let me know what was possible for me in my future.

When you know better, you do better.Mistakes happen, and they’re frustrating, but we can't hold on to them as regrets. You should have a plan, but know that it won't always go to plan! It's great to have focus and goals, but life is unpredictable and you need to be able to adapt to new challenges that may not have been in your vision. When you make a mistake, or when things don't go to plan, you acquire knowledge that can help you in the future. Don't beat yourself up – just do better.

Don't look to anyone else to fill your cup. To give and receive love is part of the human condition, but I’m a big believer in turning to yourself first. You have to be your biggest cheerleader without apology – you can't wait for other people to validate every moment of your personal and professional life. You should treat yourself with as much belief and kindness as you would your best friend.

The Tech Innovator

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020: Sonya Barlow

In 2018 Sonya Barlow, an award-winning entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, podcast host and diversity consultant, founded the Like-Minded Females (LMF) Network. The network’s aim is to empower women and other underrepresented groups by helping them bridge the skills gap and find a foothold in the spheres of tech and entrepreneurship. In 2020, Sonya launched a podcast, Strategically Winging It, and will be publishing her debut book on becoming your own boss in 2021.

Say ‘yes’ and get stuck in. The career I’ve made for myself has come through saying yes to things that challenged me. My career path started by saying yes to the first job that came after university, then proving I was good enough to be there. As a first-generation British Asian, I didn’t see role models and hard working women who looked and felt like me in terms of race, socio-economic background, personality and lifestyle. I found myself entering spaces to be educated, soaking up all the information, and not being afraid to get my hands dirty! What I didn’t realise then was that the experience was preparing me to become an entrepreneur, and leading my passions towards creating the LMF Network.

Passion can lead to opportunities. Since I was a child, I was alway able to speak up and voice an opinion. But after setting up the LFM Network, I was doing so to create inclusive places, educate others and give them confidence. This skill set was quickly noticed, which led to commissions from organisations to educate them on how to make more conscious decisions. Before I knew it, a passion project was opening up opportunities I’d only dreamt about, and my voice, community and confidence was making a positive impact.

Failure is a temporary disruptor. Imagine you’re going out for dinner, but the route there is disrupted – the Tube isn’t working, or there’s a road block. Would you cancel? No, you’d find another route. It’s the same with failure, which is an opportunity to try something new, different or bold! You’re temporarily disrupted on your path, but just for a moment. Failing at work is what got me to where I am now. Moments that have shaped my career path come down to three things: a misalignment of values, a lack of identity, and enough self awareness to know that you can’t thrive in any place where you don’t belong.

The Equality Advocate

Marie Claire Future Shapers 2020: Sinead Burke

Sinead Burke began spreading a message about equality in fashion through her blog at the age of just 16. As a person with achondroplasia, Sinead felt excluded from fashion conversations at her school, due to the limited choices of clothes available to her in stores and online. She has since co-founded the Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective with US disability advocate Liz Jackson, which is the first-ever fashion trade association for people with disabilities, and is director of Tilting the Lens, a consultancy that supports businesses to reach higher by being more inclusive. 

Clothes give you power. When I was younger, they were an opportunity for me to have agency over my aesthetic. I used clothes as armour to defend myself against the elements, but also against the biases of strangers. Clothes gave me the power to tell a new story, one that I narrated – even if it was the story of me wearing a floor-length lace cape to Tesco. Yet, despite fashion being a powerful tool for independence and visibility, it was an industry designed for and by the few. I wanted to change that.

Find your purpose. I’m surrounded by a group of people I love, admire and trust, who I call my ‘Board of Advisors’. I ask for their insights on the smaller and biggest parts of my business and ambition, and trust them to critique and champion me. I’d encourage everyone to ask themselves, 'What do you stand for? What impact can you have?' Being guided by a purpose helps keep your happiness aligned, and being able to measure a positive impact – even something small, like making someone's day brighter and better – makes challenging days less so.

Time is a gift. The pandemic has made me reflect on success and how my definition of that word is sometimes skewed towards my success and accomplishments. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but being at home has given me an opportunity to explicitly map out how I can leverage the life-changing moments and events I experience to create greater access and opportunities for other disabled people. That extra time has given me the space to realign my business model and find a bigger purpose.

Groundbreaking Dancer

Future Shapers 2020: Francesca Hayward

Principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, award-winning ballerina Francesca Hayward is one of the UK's most celebrated creative talents. Inspired by The Nutcracker aged two to become a ballerina, the dancer has spent her life devoted to the art, most recently starring alongside Taylor Swift in CATS. Half-Kenyan and half-British, she has spoken out about the need for more diversity in the arts and supporting those in the creative industries who have been impacted by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown.

Keep going. Every dancer has done many shows where they’ve felt too tired to go on stage or not in the right headspace to entertain but knowing that there’s someone in the audience who has never seen a ballet, maybe a young child who is seeing this for the first time gives me the motivation to make it as magical as I can for them. I feel grateful to have the power of being able to take someone out of their head, to help them escape from reality.

Give it all you've got. Everyday is different but I always start every day with an hour or more of ballet class and then I can rehearse different roles in different ballets for up to six hours. Sometimes I rehearse for five hours and then do a performance in the evening. My goal each day is to give the most I feel I can. To know that I worked as hard as I could. If I really know that then I have no regrets!

Don’t compare yourself to others. It never helps. Remember that you have qualities no one else does so know what they are, believe in them and let your instincts lead you and shine through. When you force yourself to do or be something that doesn’t feel right to you then it won’t work for anyone.

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