Aqeelah Malek delivering her speech

Aqeelah delivering her speech

Aqeelah Malek is one of 45 young global leaders who recently graduated after a year of creating change on 3FF’s ParliaMentors programme. In her speech from the graduation ceremony, she shares the story of her incredible leadership journey:

When I first applied to ParliaMentors, it was on a bit of a whim. I had a confirmed place on a masters’ programme but I was still unsure and apprehensive of my plans for the next year. To put it simply, I wasn’t sure what next to do with my life.

The programme itself looked amazing; ‘UN award-winning leadership programme, creating real social change whilst being mentored by MPs’. It had always been an aspiration that I wanted to be a part of a movement that made the world a better place… it felt like myself and the programme were the perfect fit.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Remember that Bigfoot being real had the same odds as Leicester (my home city!) winning the Premier League… the point here is that the underdog can achieve the impossible! [/pullquote]I started as a shy underconfident student, I was often unable to contribute to discussions, and I could not speak publicly (and now they can’t stop me!). Yet ParliaMentors threw me in at the deep end I guess, I was able to speak at the House of Lords on a debate addressing diversity in politics. I felt invincible, like superwoman. The following presentations I had at university felt like a doddle, I aced them reaching marks I could only have dreamt of previously. Remember that Bigfoot being real had the same odds as Leicester (my home city!) winning the Premier League… the point here is that the underdog can achieve the impossible!

One of our events at Nottingham was a discussion titled ‘islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the 21st century’. Without a Muslim student rep, we seemed to have hit a brick wall. Who was going to sit on the panel now? The team instantaneously thought I would be the next best thing, and of course I refused initially, but feeling as if I was letting the team down, I finally agreed.

Everything we had worked on with ParliaMentors had been preparing me for this moment. The trainings don’t take the usual leadership style, rather they put us out into the real world and prepared us to be creative and take initiative.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The trainings don’t take the usual leadership style, rather they put us out into the real world and prepared us to be creative and take initiative. [/pullquote]There was no doubt that this programme was going to do wonders for my personal development. But in hindsight, we have gained so much more than that. As people from such diverse backgrounds, we were able to form a collaborative partnership. Despite our differences we learnt a compassionate and synergetic way of working. Being dissimilar had no downfalls, instead it made us stronger as a team and gave us the advantage of gaining an understanding of the needs of different communities, be it religious, disabled or LGBTQ+. Being tolerant is taught across the whole of humanity, it is a common value whether you follow a religion or not.

I have formed a precious friendship through the programme which some may label as ‘unlikely’. Amy is an Atheist, and I am a Muslim, yet we have formed an unbreakable relationship and I truly see her as my own sister. As the leaders of tomorrow, we have a responsibility to teach people not just to tolerate differences, but to embrace them!

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]And so the real story here isn’t just the good work we do as a cohort, the real story is the harmony of people from such a diverse background coming together and working with each other regardless of their differences.[/pullquote]And so the real story here isn’t just the good work we do as a cohort, the real story is the harmony of people from such a diverse background coming together and working with each other regardless of their differences.

We have left with an appreciation that together we are better at fighting injustice and working towards good than we are alone. So in the face of those who spread hatred, let us show them how unified we are. As the leaders of tomorrow, we take away skills and approaches which will shape those after us.

I can’t wait to see the exciting journeys that the rest of the cohort are about to embark on, you are all destined for great things, and ParliaMentors was just the start. Thank you to the staff behind both ParliaMentors and 3FF for making our journey possible.