Guest Blog: Student Volunteering Week 2016: Celebration Event at City Hall

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert

Monday afternoon, representatives from the charity, government and business sectors gathered at London’s City Hall to celebrate Student Volunteering Week.Veronica Wadley, Senior Mayoral Advisor for Volunteering opened the event. She spoke about the importance of student volunteering to the mayor’s vision for London, particularly in light of London’s status as European Volunteering Capital 2016.

Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, stressed the importance of volunteering to employment in later life, telling us that “social action is linked with enhanced employability skills. You’re 3 times more likely to get a job interview if you volunteer.”

Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society

Joy Carter, Chair of Guild HE and Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester, said that it’s crucial for colleges and universities to invest in student volunteering to make it accessible to every student alongside their studies. She shared examples from her own university where students are encouraged at every opportunity to get out into the local community and give something back.

Jess Tinkler from the University of Southampton receives her certificate from Sara Fernandez

The event brought together all 10 students longlisted for the Student Volunteer of the Year Award. Richard Brooks, VP Union Development for NUS, Sara Fernandez, Executive Director of Student Hubs, and Joe Crook, Student Volunteering Network, shared the longlist and shortlist’s accomplishments with our audience. It was Liam Rodgers of Sheffield Hallam University who was announced as the winner, recognising his outstanding commitment to social action demonstrated by Liam through Upscribe, a creative writing project he founded for homeless people and other marginalised groups.

The other four shortlisted students — Jo, Kathleen, Samuel and Zoe — were also recognised for dedicating their time to causes they care about…

  • Jo Devall from the University of Plymouth is a Volunteer Lifeboat Crewman for the RNLI in Plymouth, and former President of UPSU SAINTS Kickboxing Club.
  • Kathleen Crymble from South Lanarkshire College established the Back to School Bank in East Kilbride in summer 2015.
  • Samuel Wong from Royal Holloway is a Cabinet Office Volunteer Advisor, Project Leader for numerous volunteering projects, and is involved with the local Police Independent Advisory Group and Young Community Leaders Network.
  • Zoe Webber from Goldsmiths University is the President of RE:mind mental health society, and is dedicated to volunteering to help students to improve their mental health.

The longlist with Richard Brooks (NUS), Sara Fernandez (Student Hubs) and Rob Wilson (Minister for Civil Society)

Well done to all of our award finalists, as well as our longlisted candidates. It was wonderful to see them all come together at last, and the mutual admiration among them was clear. In a heartwarming twist, Liam pledged a third of his £1,000 prize money to Kathleen’s Back to School Bank project, saying that reading about it almost brought him to tears.

You can hear an interview with Liam as part of BBC Radio 1’s #1MillionHours campaignhere.

Award winner Liam Rodgers

Yesterday was just the start, however. Over 250 Student Volunteering Week events are taking place this week, involving over 14,000 students from 125 colleges and universities around the country. You can read all about the events on our What’s On page.

Be sure to keep up with what’s happening around the country on Twitter andFacebook. Let us know what you’re up to using #SVW2016 and share your motivations for volunteering using #IVolunteerBecause.

Happy Student Volunteering Week 2016!

The Student Volunteering Week Team

The national SVW team from Student Hubs & NUS coordinate SVW activities for the nationwide campaign, 22-28 Feb 2016



What I wish I’d known: The Alumni Perspective

The fourth session in the Careers Service’s ‘What I wish I’d known as a student’ featured a wonderful SOAS Alumni, Leonie Le Borgne, who completed a Masters in Violence Conflict and Development 3 years ago. Leonie had planned to go into humanitarian relief work, but got side-track by a social enterprise opportunity in the Philippines.

Leonie was one of those students who took part in many activities whilst at university. For example, she volunteered at two different organisations at the same time –Tibet Society part of the Tibet Relief Fund and Greenshoots Foundation. It was during her time at GreenShoots Foundation that her boss offered her the chance to do a placement year abroad. Leonie ended up in the Philippines, were she worked with a partner organisation that works to transform the slums. She worked on a project funded by the private sector to build new homes for slum dwellers. Whilst working on that project it became clear that the needs of the people were much greater than initially thought, for example, people had lovely home but no money. After researching and talking with the local community, she helped local farmers set up a social recycling waste management project that helped them to generate income.

On returning to England, she found the Student Hubs job vacancy via the SOAS Careers Service. It was a graduate scheme with a placement at SOAS. She is now a permanent member of the SOAS Student Enterprise team helping students start up social enterprise projects.

One top tip: Leonie says that doing work experience of any type is very important. She was lucky to find something that she really enjoys, but there are loads of other opportunities for students. She encourages students to get involved in internships and to not be afraid to volunteer even if it is just for a couple of hours a week. She was given a great opportunity by her two day a week volunteering experience and now she has a career that she really enjoys.

SOAS Careers Service thanks Leonie for her time and contribution.

What I wish I’d known: The Alumni Perspective


The second session in the Careers Service’s ‘What I wish I had known as a Student’ featuring  SOAS Alumni took place on Thursday 23rd January.  We were delighted to welcome Sir Harold (Hooky) Walker to share his experiences of 35 years in the Diplomatic Service.  During this time, he served as ambassador between 1979 and 1991, successively to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, and Iraq in addition to home postings which included Head of Personnel. Whilst not a SOAS graduate, he completed two short language courses here (in Arabic and Amharic) and has established a valued relationship with the School over many years.

The  very interesting talk, illustrated with anecdotes and examples from his career gave students a fascinating insight into the varied nature of work in the Diplomatic Service.  Politics, policy, trade and administration combine to create a broad set of responsibilities.  The immediacy that social media brings has added increased pressure and demands a rapid response to requests for information and recommendations.  When asked what had been the most satisfying parts of his career, Sir Harold highlighted his time in Ethiopia where the focus on aid and saving lives in a country facing critical food shortages, was extremely rewarding.

Within the Diplomatic Service there are opportunities to become a specialist as illustrated by Sir Harold’s career with his focus on the Middle East but also to develop more broadly based experience through work in many different parts of the world.  Whatever the location, entry to this career demands an overriding interest in international affairs.  In addition, Sir Harold, encouraged students and graduates who wanted to enhance their chances of getting into this work to:

  • show that they had worked helping others in some way at home or internationally
  • widen their horizons through travel
  • develop their language skills
  • step outside the world that they already know

This advice struck a chord with one of the students who said afterwards that the ‘importance of doing something constructive with free time’ was one of the things that she has learnt from the session.  Full information on the qualities and academic background (no specific degree subject required) required for the ‘Diplomatic Fast Stream, the UK Civil Service’s talent management programme can found at (

Make the most of your time at university and seize the opportunities to develop language skills were the two ‘what I had wished I had known’ reflections from Sir Harold which concluded his talk and question and answer session.

Many thanks indeed to Sir Harold, for his time and contribution  which was very well received by students, ‘Very informative’, ‘highly enjoyable’ and ‘very useful’ being just some of their comments.

SOAS Careers Service Launches New Project with Alumni

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On Tuesday 20th January the SOAS Careers Service launched a new initiative – What I wish I had Known as a Student with SOAS Alumni.

These lunchtime sessions which run between 1:30pm and 2:30pm every Tuesday and Thursday during term time have been designed to give alumni the opportunity to share their experiences of the workplace and to pass on their hints and tips to current students.

The small group sessions give up to six students the opportunity to hear from alumni from many different sectors.

Our first session kicked off with Adam Edwards, a SOAS Development Studies Graduate from 2004. After graduating from SOAS Adam followed a career in temporary contracts on Government projects and has been working in this sector for the last decade. This presented its own set of challenges and is not the career path he expected when he joined SOAS. The opportunities as well as the pitfalls can be traced back to the decisions Adam made as an undergraduate, and this is something that Adam discussed in detail during the session.

The event went down a storm with the students that attended with some really positive comments:

“Excellent presentation. Keep it up.”

“Extremely insightful.”

“Small enough to get some personal info.”

Before Adam left he gave us his top tips for current SOAS students:

  • Check out if there are any professional bodies or associations for the sector that you are interested in working in and join them – you generally get free or reduced rates while you are a student.
  • If you’ve not got one, get a LinkedIn account.
  • Be flexible.
  • If you have language skills, keep using the language whenever you can.
  • Don’t just apply for your dream job, be more pragmatic and give yourself a few more options.
  • Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) structure to explain your extra-curricular activities to potential employers. For more information about how to use the STAR structure, check out the Careers Moodle page.

So what’s Adam doing now and what are his next steps? Adam is in the process of setting up as a consultant in Geographic Information Systems and starts a PhD at Birkbeck in September. He’s also looking to achieve the Prince 2 qualification in project management.
We wish Adam the best of luck for his future ventures and look forward to seeing him at SOAS again soon!

Did you miss out on meeting Adam? Well never fear, we will be running these alumni sessions every Tuesday and Thursday during term time. For more information about these events and to book, visit our events page.