In light of the recent celebrations of International Women’s Day this March, we are reminded of the many inspirational women, of all ages who have made an impact in our world. From American Oprah Winfrey to British Dame Kelly Holmes to Burmese Aung San Suu Kyi, our world is proudly represented by women who are paving the way for our future generations.
But what about female role models closer to home? British young business women, Mary Dinah, Seyi Akiwowo, Eliza Robeiro and Bianca Miller each have inspiring personal journeys that have seen them defy odds, attaining success at a remarkable young age. They are exemplary of a generation of females proudly working their way up in otherwise male dominated fields whilst never once forgetting about their local communities. Despite their various professions, they all share one virtue in common – Perseverance. These women are testament that anything really is possible with determination and hard work.
Mary Dinah – Founder and Managing Director of Job Link Recruitment Services
Packing over 15 years of hospitality experience under her belt for world class brands such as the Hilton, Marriott, Four Seasons, Le Meridien and Sheraton, Mary Dinah was no stranger to the business world of hotels, be it anything from sales and marketing to event management.
Graduating with a Distinction in MSc International Hotel Management from the University of Surrey, she had already proved herself to be a woman of great intelligence. She then went on to be Food and Beverage marketing representative for all 49 Starwood hotels in Africa and Indian Ocean, whilst also maintaining a Head of Marketing position for 5 notable hotels in Nigeria: Four Points by Sheraton Lagos, Sheraton Abuja, Sheraton Lagos, Le Meridien Port Harcourt and Le Meridien Ibom Golf Resort. But it was only after receiving the Marriott Golden Circle Award for her contribution towards an astonishing boost in revenue at the London Sales Office that Mary knew that she had what it took to set up her own business.
In 2008 Mary established M.A.D Hospitality, a London based hospitality consulting firm focusing on the management of boutique hotels. However taking international corporate hotel bookings was still not enough for Mary. M.A.Ds human resource department soon evolved into Nigeria’s first private job centre, Job Link Recruitment Services, as it not only recognised Nigeria’s high unemployment rates but the lack of information and funds available to even initiate a job search. As Mary states herself, the cost of calling and visiting individual companies can become extremely expensive. Therefore, based in Lagos, Job Link offers a walk-in or on-line application process that banishes these barriers, already placing many people into their dream jobs. With community spirit at the forefront of her agenda, Mary is exceptionally fulfilling both her own career and that of her fellow Nigerians.
Seyi Akiwowo – Youngest Female Labour Councillor for Newham / Forest Gate
Born to Nigerian parents, Seyi Akiwowo has lived in Newham for 20 years and is the embodiment of the phrase ‘giving back to the community’. For over 7 years she has worked for the borough as a volunteer, serving Newham as a Youth Councillor in 2008. Seyi’s interest in politics became further apparent at just 16 years old when she became an active member of the Labour Party, strongly believing in their ‘social justice values.’
She graduated from the London School of Economics with a 2:1 in BSc Social Policy and continued to pursue her political dreams. Seyi’s experience is boundless, after being mentored by OHTV CEO she then went on to work for the EU as a Youth Activist, a position that surely elevated her standing in the local elections. Over 2,000 of the 9,000 people who voted supported her, a figure testament to the confidence the public have in her. Her dedication to the people within her community is reiterated in an interview with the Newham Recorder, as she states that she is ‘accountable to each and every one of them’. At 23 years old, Seyi is now the youngest Labour representative for Newham and Forest Gate and takes pride in the area that she grew up in.
And her passions don’t end there. An avid education reform campaigner, Seyi frequently writes on the development of education around the world. With titles such as, ‘Why is education directed towards making a living rather than making a life?’ and articles probing the representation of girls in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) her input into the council’s education decisions will undoubtedly be invaluable. Her hopes of bringing a ‘new fresh perspective’ to politics are already certainly being realized.
Eliza Rebeiro – Founder of Lives Not Knives
At only 14 years old, Eliza Robeiro founded the inspirational campaign Lives Not Lives in 2007 after observing not only the alarming rate of knife crime in her local area of Croydon, South London but the realities of just how many gang members were still in primary and secondary school.
Eliza didn’t follow the conventional path of education, kicked out of an all-girls catholic school at just 13 and then attending a Pupil Referral Unit she herself was involved with the ‘wrong crowd’. However, she soon realised the seriousness of the youth crime and gang culture that surrounded her. What started as just a single t-shirt which read ‘LIVES NOT KNIVES’ soon became an evolving campaign as the demand for their print and sale increased. Using the money raised from the T-shirts, Eliza organised a celebration combatting street violence, where 150 youth attended and signed a petition to ‘make our streets safe.’
Fast forward to 2015 – Lives Not Knives now has 76 volunteers who deliver workshops in 37 schools, having already addressed 7,000 children over two years. The voluntary grassroot group also works alongside the police and fire brigade to provide both general and personalised information sessions for pupils on knife crime.
At just 20 years old Eliza is a true heroine, using her experiences of gang culture to benefit and improve her local community. She has subsequently won a Diana Award, a Philip Lawrence Award, and a Community Champion Award for her efforts. Receiving funding from the Home Office and a £20,000 grant from Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund, Lives Not Knives is only moving upwards.
The demand for Lives Not Knives service is both reassuring and worrying, as Eliza states that they are ‘working with children as young as nine and 12-year-olds who sell drugs’. Fortunately, Lives Not Knives can provide the support that Eliza envisaged and prevent the fate that so many of her own friends saw.
Bianca Miller – Founder & Managing Director of The Be Group
Bianca Miller is most recognisable from her stint as a BBC Apprentice Candidate, reaching the final of this year’s series. However her successes are bountiful. After graduating from the University of Sussex with a 2.1 in Business and Management Studies with Global Economics, Bianca soon found herself as a HR advisor at Accenture, one of the world’s largest management and technology consulting firms. It was there that she saw the potential for personal branding; a tool that she felt could elevate career opportunities for individuals.
In 2012, after a brief period in financial recruitment, Bianca finally decided to create her own personal branding company – The Be Group (Be Styled UK, Be Employed UK & Be Branded UK). Offering interactive workshops, consultancy and personal coaching, The Be Group has worked with everyone from law firms and global banks to schools and small business owners. Bianca believes that ‘the personal branding agenda will not only help unemployed people and graduates but all individuals in search of career and personal fulfilment.’ Named as one of the prestigious Start Ups 100 businesses of 2013, The Be Group has only continued to thrive. Bianca has hence received awards such as ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ in the Precious Awards 2014, ‘Best New Business’ in the South London Business Awards 2013, and was also a 2013 finalist in Brand Amplifier’s ‘Best Female Entrepreneur.’
Yet, her skills don’t just lie in the boardroom. In her spare time Bianca shares her expertise as a Widening Participation mentor for students at Brunel University and also regularly facilitates workshops in schools in her local area of Croydon, South London. With her plans to manufacture a range of women’s tights that match every skin colour, Bianca will also soon be making waves in the clothes industry.