Changing the world

Most of us would like to make a difference. Salma Ali, a Glamorgan Law graduate, got a chance to make a real impact by working for the Welsh Assembly Government through a Windsor Fellowship scheme offering development opportunities to undergraduates from Black and Asian Minority Ethnic Communities.

Find out more about Salma’s experience of the Leadership Programme Wales. The programme is open for applications this week.

Senedd and Pierhead buildings in Cardiff - photo by Mark Turner

Diaspora

Statue celebrating Somaliland in Hargeisa - photo by Charles Roffey

When Salma’s family arrived in Wales, she was a young girl entering the first grade of primary school. In her homeland, a civil war was raging. Even today, some issues are not entirely resolved. She told Glamlife: “Somaliland is a self declared independent state, but to the international community, Somaliland is part of Somalia. It is not internationally recognised. On some maps, you can find it. On some, you can’t. I’ve been back to Somaliland twice. I have some aunties and uncles there, but the majority of my family are based in Wales, or England, or the United States -all over the world, really.”

Going back to Somaliland can be a strange experience for her. When the South Wales Echo interviewed Salma, she told them “We are the diaspora. Older people feel sorry for us. You hear them saying, ‘oh look, it’s the war children’.”

She has lived here for 18 years, so to her, Wales is her home. “Wales is where I live. This is where my education took place. I would like to go back to Somaliland, some time, and do work there, help out, that type of thing. But my life is here.”

Education

A crest in the Moot Court of the Law School

After growing up and going to school in Cardiff, Salma studied Law at the University of Glamorgan. Choosing the subject was not easy. “It was always either Law or Journalism. It was quite a hard decision to make. In the end, Law seemed to offer more opportunities.”

Continuing to be proactive about her studies and career, Salma quickly realised that she needed to find ways to gain experience. "With a law degree, you have to try and find work experience. Going into my second year, I had hardly any work experience. I was doing the odd day in the Citizens Advice Bureau, but I hadn’t ever applied for anything real.

“Unless you’re actively running around, finding out what opportunities are out there, and applying for them, you miss out chances. I remember going to a Careers Adviser. She was really helpful. (…) She said, there is a thing called the Windsor Fellowship. She gave me the website details. Then I just went online. The day I applied was the day of my last exams…”

After the application, Salma had to pass through the selection process – including an interview and giving a presentation. In the end, she was the best candidate for the Undergraduate Leadership Programme Wales, and got the placement.

Fellowship

Windsor Fellowship is a charity focusing on “enriching education, employment and citizenship” – with a particular focus on multicultural and multiethnic endeavours. It works with young people at various stages of their education. In Wales, there are two programmes for undergraduate students of Black or Asian Minority Ethnic backgrounds. These are the WF & Dyfed-Powys Police scheme and the Leadership Programme Wales. When we interviewed her, Salma was just about to complete her placement with the latter.

She described what the programme entailed. "In the first year, you go to six residential seminars. You stay over, they put you in a hotel, and those residential seminars build your skills up. You learn things like how to do presentations. They’re really intensive. You go there on a Friday evening and you start straight away. Some days, you start early in the morning and finish late. They’re all about building skills and teaching you how to work as a team – skills which become relevant to you in later life, especially when you’re applying for jobs. They really equip you for the world of work, to be honest. You get an advantage.

“You go through those seminars in one year, and then you go on a week long PEP (personal enhancement programme) course. You meet many people that you’d never otherwise meet – people in high positions in the civil service, people who work in the UN.”

“I’m now a Windsor Fellow for Life. There are different groups. It builds on the people who have been on it, because they’re the ones who then come back and run training sessions and seminars. It builds a network of people who have the same values. You do have seminars within your group, but you also get to meet the other groups at the seminars. You meet so many different people. You form relationships that can continue for life.”

First year of your degree: Apply to Windsor Fellowship. Second year of your degree: Windsor Fellowship Seminars start. Third year of your degree: Fellowship Seminars finish. After graduation: 50 week paid placement with Welsh Assembly Government.

After completing her law degree, Salma started the biggest part of the Leadership Programme: A 50-week placement in the Welsh Assembly. "After my degree, I needed a holiday and time out. So I went to Dubai, and back to Somaliland to see my family. It was my uncle’s wedding. When I came back, it was quite a different environment, after weeks of relaxing. It was the first day of Ramadan as well, so I was fasting, too. But the people there were really friendly.

“The placement is a fixed contract for a year. When third year came, and everybody was stressed about what they were going to do the year after, I already had a place secured. It’s been a good opportunity to do straight after graduation. You get a feel and see what it’s about. Civil Service is one of the career options I would consider. In the long term I would like to work for big world organisations, like the UN or the EU. "

Impact

In the Welsh Assembly Government, Salma’s placement was to be a Policy Officer in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Division.

Welsh Assembly Debating Chamber - photo by Paul Holloway

“Basically, we develop policies, we review grants, we distribute over a million pounds to third sector organisations and charities. At the moment, I’m working on introducing an all-Wales welcome pack for refugees and asylum seekers and migrant workers. It’s meant to give people all the vital information they need when they first come into the country. I also work on the gypsy traveller side of the project. I didn’t know very much about the gypsy traveller community when I started. I knew they existed, but they’re an actual minority group, and people don’t treat them like that. They’re the group who face the most discrimination. We’re putting together a strategy for them.

“My division is there to help vulnerable people – asylum seekers, migrant workers and gypsy travellers – and to make policies to help them. I like working where what you’re doing is making an impact on people’s lives.”

More information

Salma’s journey – from being a refugee to someone working, among other things, on policies to assist refugees – was remarkable. If you’re interested in finding out more, or in applying for a Windsor Fellowship programme yourself, here are some useful links:

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