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Barbara Soetan, 24, grew up in north London in a typical Nigerian household, with a strong emphasis on education and discipline. From a very young age, Barbara was passionate about people, and from there her desire to be an advocate and public speaker was born. This year she was featured in Future Leaders 2011. After reading her achievements, Flavour understands why she was put forward.

Barbara is a founding member and new chief executive of Elevation Networks, a youth employment charity and social enterprise, which seeks to improve social mobility and create routes into employment. It would be fair to say that setting up a business geared to the youth of today isn’t as easy as we may think. Barbara says, ‘One of the key challenges is finding people with like minds 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.’

Through Elevation Networks, Barbara is actively involved in the youth development sector, and she is an international consultant and speaker on youth participation, leadership and employment. She also regularly consults for the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Youth Affairs Division. During the past four years Barbara has worked in nine countries, met six heads of state, worked with more than 20 organisations, contributed to three publications, and has worked with over 3,000 young people. It’s clear she is a force to be reckoned with.

After recently finishing her Masters in International Public Policy at UCL, Barbara is at a stage where she can fully commit to developing Elevation Networks. However, despite such great credentials, how did she achieve all this as a student and at such a young age? ‘While my aspirational roles have changed,’ she says, ‘the fundamental principles and drive always remained unchanged. When I finished my undergraduate, I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief, but I knew that I couldn’t be complacent. Being the person that I am, it was important I got stuck into further building my experience and network, and so came the necessary Masters degree.’

In 2009, Barbara was named the SMK Young Activist of the Year for setting up ‘Visible Women’, which is a women in leadership campaign that seeks to further raise the aspirations and achievements of women, and to also encourage greater diversity within the workplace.

Last year she was appointed to the Diversity and Inclusion Board for the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), supporting the London 2012 Education Team’s national youth programmes and initiatives.

On a closing note, Barbara tells us, ‘I believe that the future looks great for us here at Elevation Networks; it is the hope that we become the leading organisation for young people seeking to raise aspirations, cultivate leadership, improve employability and in turn increase cultural capital. I would love to see the EN model replicated internationally through effective collaboration.’ Sounds like vision to us.

Edward and Barbara are featured in Future Leaders 2011. A magazine that showcases 30 of the UK’s Most Outstanding Black Students. The criteria for students profiled are that they are a British/UK citizen of African or African

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