You Make It: Empowering Women Across London

You Make It offers a creative and inspiring programme for young women to access tools, networks, experiences and the confidence to transform their lives through personal empowerment. Founder, Asma Shah, shares their vision and her story.

Can you describe You Make It? What’s unique about it?
YMI empowers young, unemployed, mainly BAME women to dream big, achieve greatness and inspire others. We are unique in that we take a holistic approach to joblessness, we don’t see marginalised women as burdens that must be shoehorned into a job in order to tick them off a list of names. We see the wonderful individuality in every woman we work with, discover through deep introspective work the problems they face, and create a tailored package of support for them filled with the tools to develop self-esteem, confidence and crucial professional skills and experiences that propel them forwards in their careers.

What inspired you to start?
Around 2011 I was beginning to see very worrying changes in my local area in East London. The rolling back of public services such as youth centres and refuges, was leaving many young people adrift, without direction and adequate support. At the same time the area was undergoing rapid gentrification, bringing many exciting opportunities to the area yet very little inclusion of the local community. When my mother passed away, I thought of all the valuable lessons she had taught me, and how in many ways, without her as a role model, I could have fallen through the cracks as well. From difficult beginnings leaving a violent marriage with 4 young girls to look after, to ending up at the height of a successful career in education, my mother was a source of inspiration, and taught me to always work hard, value my contributions, and aim as high a possible. How many other young women out there needed that encouragement, that push to reach their potential? I created You Make It to equip young women, no matter their start in life, with the skills, experiences and true self-belief to conquer the world.

Photo credit: You Make It

What’s your biggest achievement to date?
I set YMI up at the height of my grief after my mother passed. While processing difficult and complex emotions and juggling jobs, I would work into the night from my kitchen table devising this programme, talking directly with young women in my community about their needs and drawing favours from friends and colleagues to secure venues, workshop leaders and mentors. My heart and soul is truly embedded into YMI and its been my greatest achievement to not only keep it going these last 7 years, but to watch it grow, to bring on my exceptional team, and to create even more opportunities for young women. I can barely contain my pride at our beautiful graduation evenings where each woman takes to the stage and shares what a transformational, life-saving journey they’ve had with us.

What’s your plans for the next 6 months or year?
YMI has been working on the front line for the last seven years with amazing results – 82% of our graduates are now working in their dream industry, have gone on to higher education or are even juggling these commitments with their own start-up ventures. For every young woman we work with directly, who leaves our programme happier, healthier and with the determination to succeed, she takes that determination back into her family, her friendships and her community to inspire and help the next generation towards their goals. Our women say it best themselves – “Nurture a girl, raise a nation”. We plan to distil the knowledge and methods we’ve perfected over the years to change the future of employment training. In 2019 we will launch You Make It Happen, a knowledge hub, for any organisation working with young people to implement the most effective, proven ways of engaging and developing young talent. We plan to influence and change the very attitudes towards worklessness, leading to greater understanding of its root causes, and a more holistic approach to a solution.

What do you wish you’d known at the beginning? Has inspiration come from unexpected places?
I wish I’d had the courage of my convictions earlier to start this work. While I was doing well in my career for big cultural organisations, I always felt out of place. As a working class woman of colour, I could sense that my personality and my talents weren’t appreciated and that this wasn’t the right environment for me to flourish. It was only when I began to really reflect on my history, that I realised I had the determination and resilience to forge my own path rather than follow someone else’s agenda. When I need inspiration, I use these tools of self-reflection to remind myself of my worth, my values, to stay motivated and to just keep forging ahead.

What’s the one thing you wish people understood about women’s empowerment and women’s employment?
There are no short fixes. I didn’t create a programme that only shows women how to write a CV and prepare for an interview, as this wouldn’t have led to any long-lasting change. Alongside this and public speaking workshops, sales and negotiation sessions, professional mentoring, and many other beneficial development opportunities, we offer counselling, mental resilience training, therapy and most importantly compassion and care because if you’ve been knocked back in life, this is truly the only way to succeed. Time and again, our women tell us that YMI is unlike anything else because we really listen to them. To work with young people, you MUST give them a voice. We always develop our services in response to what women say they want and need – they have the answers!

How can people get involved?
The need for our work has sadly not abated and in some senses, we are heading into even shakier times. Young, sidelined, but ever talented and resilient women continue to fall through the cracks of education, employment and support. We have lots of exciting ways you can get involved in our work from offering work placements or hosting a workshop, to mentoring a young woman towards her dreams. Our volunteer opportunities are rewarding not only for our women but for you as well and can help bring valuable skills back into your organisation. We are looking to partner with organisations who share our values and are interested in fulfilling their social commitments while also investing in their own team.

Find out more at http://www.you-make-it.org

Photo credit: You Make It

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Asma is founder and CEO of You Make It, a London based employability programme with a creative and i...
Roxi Jahanshahi is programme manager at You Make It, a London based employability programme with a c...
Manon is Programme Coordinator at You Make It, a London based employability programme with a creativ...

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