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Former student wins British Council Alumni Award for social impact

Image of Students sitting at computers at USS Campus

Campaigner making an impact promoting gender equality

A former student of the University of East London has won a prestigious award from the British Council in Greece for her work promoting gender equality.

Stella Kasdagli, who holds a Master of Arts in Media Cultures from the University, gained the Social Impact Award in a showcase event highlighting the global impact and value of UK higher education.

Asked what she felt about her triumph in the Alumni Awards, Stella said, “I know it doesn't sound very inspiring, but it was a bout of impostor syndrome of the ‘what am I doing here, next to these real changemakers’?

“You know how everyone seems more accomplished, more impactful and way more put together than you but, when you come to think of it, comparison has no place in these kinds of settings.

“I came to realise that the important thing is that there’s this place and this context where all kinds of changemakers can share their work and inspire other people to follow their visions.”

Stella Kasdagli is the co-founder of Women On Top, a non-profit organisation working for gender equality that was founded in 2012.

Women On Top has created and monitored over 750 mentoring partnerships and has trained over 1,000 unemployed, employed and self-employed women in skills camps. It has also provided consultation and other services to businesses and organisations investing in the diversity of their talent pools.

Stella is now working with business leaders and decision makers in Greece and beyond to maximise the impact of equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Women On Top has worked with Microsoft Hellas to co-create an initiative to encourage more women to choose a career in STEM and breakdown stereotypes about the role of women in the IT sector. It has also worked with Vodafone Greece to help provide the company’s female employees with tools and inspiration to help their everyday life.

Of all her achievements, Stella says her proudest is “staying true to my values and my dream and resisting the urge to choose safety over vision, comfort over challenge and outer success over inner fulfilment”.

She added, “The fact that I stayed on this path while living and working in a country that has been facing huge financial and labour challenges, sometimes still amazes me to this day - key learning: you may be bolder than you think!”

Advice for students

Reflecting on what she took from studying at the University of East London she said, “How to read a lot of difficult material, how to stay disciplined in my research and writing, how to gracefully pivot and change course - even when the only thing I wanted was to get on with the task at hand - how to make friends who don't speak Greek, how to survive on £1 trout packets for weeks and how to make a mean baked vegetable rice.”

She advised current students, “Learn how to read and listen - a lot - and how to connect the dots between what you are learning, what you see happening around you, what has changed over the course of your life and what people in the world are struggling right now. This journey never ends.”

Dr Paul Marshall, pro vice-chancellor for careers and enterprise, said, “This is wonderful news that Stella has won the Social Impact award from the British Council in Greece.

“Our Vision 2028 transformational strategy sets a clear goal for the University and its students – to make positive and lasting change in our communities. Stella exemplifies this to the core and we’re very proud to have played our part in shaping her vision.”

Speaking at the ceremony, the British Ambassador HE Kate Smith CMG said, “Celebrating Greek alumni of British universities is an opportunity to highlight the very best of the relationship between Greece and the UK.

“The experience of the academic excellence and all the opportunities that pursuing a course of study or research in the UK provides forges deep and lasting personal bonds, but it also strengthens the co-operation between our countries across a wide range of policy, business, science and social endeavours.

“Greek alumni, like the ones nominated and honoured in 2020, are great examples of this and I am very proud the UK has contributed to the outstanding achievement they have and are making in their own field and the community.”