Agents of Change: driving social change in local communities

Agents of Change networking events connect local women who want to make an impact in their community.

The Agents of Change annual networking event returned to The Invention Rooms in October. The evening was an opportunity for women who live and/or work in the local area surrounding Imperial’s White City Campus to connect with each other and tap into a wealth of existing skills and knowledge. It was also an opportunity to find out more about the Agents of Change Women’s Community Leadership Programme (WCLP) with the fourth programme launching in January 2023.

The WCLP supports local women who want to drive social change in the north of Hammersmith and Fulham and North Kensington. It is one of several programmes that form part of the College’s commitment to working in partnership with local communities to make an enduring and positive impact, as detailed in the College’s Strategy for Societal Engagement.

It is a unique partnership between Imperial College London and Hammersmith United Charities, with support from Lyric Hammersmith and London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Over a period of six months, participants take part in facilitated workshops that cover key leadership skills, such as vision and goals setting, verbal and physical communication, theory of change and how to be authentic leaders to consciously create change in their local communities.

Delivering impact and driving social change

Professor Maggie Dallman, Associate Provost (Academic Partnerships), welcomed attendees and explained how the Agents of Change network was established in 2018 after it became clear that there was an appetite amongst local women to meet others who wanted to drive change. The leadership programme was developed in collaboration with a panel of local women and has now been successfully running for almost five years.

Attendees also heard from Eury Caldwell, who graduated from the programme in 2022. Eury began her organisation Gener8te in 2013, running training and coaching sessions to help individuals become more dyslexic-friendly. Having felt that she had taken Gener8te as far as she could, she applied to the Agents of Change programme hoping to learn new skills to have a greater impact through her organisation.

Eury described how the programme has supported her mission to make Hammersmith and Fulham the first dyslexic-friendly borough in London. Applying what she learned through the programme, Eury altered her business model to deliver training primarily to businesses rather than individuals, allowing her to reach more people and have a greater impact. Eury also credited the wider Agents of Change network for giving her access to individuals and businesses that she can collaborate and partner with to achieve Gener8te’s mission.

Eury said, “I personally feel more empowered to deliver the impact I dreamed of. Thank you to Agents of Change and my fellow agents for supporting, encouraging, championing and believing in me and Gener8te’s mission.”

Jay Stone, the programme’s facilitator, ended with a speech of her personal journey. She shared her inspiring story of overcoming difficult family circumstances and her own battles with mental health, a story that she has found resonates with many. Jay explained that by sharing her experiences with the women on the programme, she has helped them to realise how much their own stories had been holding them back.

Ending the speeches, Jay said, “I truly believe in the power of bringing local women together to support one another to lead positive social change in their communities, because it’s these types of projects that would have made all the difference for me growing up.”

Empowering women

Hanan Ghouneim lives in the White City and Wormholt area and has been volunteering locally for over 14 years, working with the NHS, Met Police and within schools. Hanan was hesitant to apply at first, but after encouragement from Imperial’s Community Engagement team, she signed up for the 2019 cohort. “I’m glad they didn’t give up on me,” she said, “it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Reflecting on her experience, Hanan said, “I learned a lot from the programme, every session we came away with new skills in areas like marketing and finance. The most I’ve learned about is myself though, it made me more confident and more constructive in how I approach situations.”

The most I’ve learned about is myself, it made me more confident and more constructive in how I approach situations Hanan Ghouneim Agents of Change participant

The experience left Hanan feeling “empowered” not only in her voluntary work but in her day-to-day life and her role as a mum. She added “It’s simple things where I now know to take a step back and think about what I’m doing, I know that if there is a blockade, there’s always other routes and I shouldn’t give up.”

Supporting local groups

Elaine Chumnery is one of 12 women who took part in the programme in 2021. She has lived in Hammersmith and Fulham all her life and has worked for Kensington and Chelsea council for over 20 years. Looking for ways to enhance her community, Elaine wanted to set up a residents’ association on her estate so that residents had more of a say in local issues.

Speaking about how the programme has helped her she said, ‘Everything that I learnt has given me the confidence in understanding who I am, I can use what I learnt to assure myself ‘you’ve got this.'” Since graduating, Elaine is now the chair of her estate’s residents’ association and has been working to tackle issues affecting residents such as extending the opening hours of their community centre and applying for funding to renovate a play area on Wormwood Scrubs.

The friendships that she made with the other women on the programme have had a lasting impact for Elaine. The group keep in touch on a WhatsApp group, which Elaine has found especially useful, ‘It’s been so helpful for me to be able to talk to them and ask advice in a safe environment. Having been through the programme together, we have an understanding with each other which is comforting.”

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