Three things about Claudine: she’s a property disputes lawyer, a keen Arsenal fan and the founder of non-profit organisation The Student Development Co. Claudine has already achieved more than many people of twice her age and has been recognised for her work in both a professional and an entrepreneurial world. The SDC is an organisation which provides career related support to young people from less advantaged backgrounds through a range of initiatives. When we met at last year’s Precious Awards (where she was the winner of the award for Young Entrepreneur of the Year), I was keen to hear her story and learn more about what motivated this extraordinary young woman, who decided she wanted to be a lawyer aged just 11, to give back to others.
Here’s what we discussed.
When I was younger, it was a case of knowing a bit about certain professions and wanting to be something like a lawyer or a doctor. It was an aspiration, even though I didn’t really know what it meant, other than seeing lawyers on TV at 11. I deliberately chose my GCSEs and ‘A’ levels on the basis that I’d be studying law. I then started to find out about the kind of other skills that would be helpful to me in a legal career – like debating, arguing, persuasive writing. As I grew up, I worked out that the decision I’d made as a child was a good one.
I left home aged 16. I won a local newspaper’s Student of the Year award in 2007 and met Camila Batmanghelidjh, through whom I was supported with a key worker from her then-charity Kids Company, who in turn connected me to a barrister as a mentor. I ended up getting 4 As at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ Level and I then obtained a 2.1 in Law from University College London.
A mixture of things led me to develop The SDC. Growing up, although I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, due to my ethnic and socio-economic background, I just didn’t know any – or even know anyone who could connect me to any lawyers. Initially, I set up a group called Young Black Graduates in 2012 to get young black people to network and share ideas and contacts. There was a huge emphasis at the time on young entrepreneurship, rather than on getting into corporate roles and careers. So I wanted to provide a platform to help other young people get into careers and transition from studying. Getting support from Kids Company has left me with a sense of duty; I want to give something back and pay it forward where I can.
I set up The SDC in early 2014. Our three aims are to support, develop and create. We want to support young people in their careers, develop their employability skills and create opportunities, either as volunteers with us or with experiences at our partner companies. We started out by targeting young people from ethnic minority groups, but now we also tackle wider social mobility issues.
The partner companies include law firm Mishcon de Reya, The Telegraph media group, PwC and Sky. We have set programmes, such as The Skills Insight Programme, which is aimed at school leavers, where our partner companies run events for our school leavers to learn about career options in companies such as theirs. It’s really about widening career choices and providing access to new ideas – many people think that these roles and even the corporate office buildings are outside their reach. Or we work with companies who have existing outreach programmes and we participate by connecting people and companies. We’re really just trying to do what we can to overcome barriers to change.
We’re run by young people (including eight volunteers) so we can resonate with the user base. We currently work with c. 150 direct users, who attend our events and workshops or benefit from 1-2-1 support and we connect with hundreds more via newsletters and social media, our website and blog.
My hope is that The SDC becomes a national organisation, still run by young people, which can support more young people. And I want to focus on making it into something that can be handed over and can be sustainable. I’d also like to move towards registered charity status and it becoming a more prominent organisation and not just a project. Social mobility in Britain is a huge issue.
With my own career, it’s early days yet, as I only qualified about eighteen months ago. At the moment, I’m focusing on learning everything and getting to grips with my specialty area. Long term, I want to progress as far as I can but currently I’m just enjoying being in the career I’ve wanted to be in for such a long time. I have a few unofficial mentors who I meet for a coffee. And I’m a mentee on the Law Society’s mentoring programme; my mentor is a lawyer at another firm. I think it’s so important to have a mentor, be it in a structured way or more casually, to provide support and guidance.
Looking back, I’d try and encourage a younger me to have more confidence in her own abilities and in herself. I’d tell her to stay focused and persevere. I encourage young people to research and learn about different career possibilities – there are so many options. I always suggest that they start by working out what they enjoy and then seeing if there’s potential for a career in that direction.
Yes, I’m a huge Arsenal fan! I love going to matches and I love swimming too.
Sponsors: would you like me to interview and profile some of the key women in your organisation? If so, let’s talk – please contact me for an exploratory chat.