RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 7


Folu Ogunyeye

Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS)
University of Cambridge
Business, Technology and Social Entrepreneurship

Qhayiya Magaqa

Folu grew up in Milton Keynes, just outside London, with her parents and older brother. She was raised in a traditional Nigerian household, and church formed a large part of her upbringing. It was Folu’s church that enabled her to attend a private boarding school from Years 9 to 11, awarding her a scholarship raised by the congregation in recognition of her achievements. Prior to that, she had attended the same local comprehensive school as her brother. This strong connection with her church community would serve as the motivating force for much of Folu’s later life.

Following a move back home to a local grammar school for sixth form, Folu maintained a strong work ethic and excelled across her A Level studies. Despite this, things became increasingly challenging at home due to her father’s struggles with bipolar disorder, and Folu admits that school was her outlet during this difficult time. Her resilience saw her attain two A*s and an A, securing her Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) place at the University of Cambridge.

In her first year at Cambridge, Folu mentored four Black female sixth form students through the HSPS admissions process, helping all four to gain offers. Despite the financial difficulties her family were facing at the time, due to her father being hospitalised, she also persevered to juggle her academic workload, two committee positions (ACS Welfare Officer and International Development Officer for Cambridge Hub), and grant applications to fund the two months she spent volunteering in Tanzania that summer with the Cambridge Development Initiative.

In her second year, she continued to pursue opportunities to serve the Black Cambridge community and was selected as a Co-Researcher on the University’s Access and Participatory Plan: Participatory Action Research (APP PAR) project. Here, Folu worked in a team with two other Black students to research solutions to the issue of academic attainment gaps among Black students. They compiled a report on the strategies employed across various universities to support Black students, before presenting these ideas to the Vice-Chancellor. They also organised surveys asking students about their experiences, mental health, and the support systems available to them. Folu later proposed a Black Students’ Advisory Hub as a centralised physical and online space providing academic and pastoral support for Black students. After presenting these ideas in February 2020, her proposal was selected by the Vice Chancellor and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education for further research and has since been committed to funding. Folu plans to develop a physical office space to support Black students once the Covid-19 situation improves.

Folu is also the founder of Vamos Careers (Vamos), a social enterprise that provides careers support to disadvantaged students by making personalised tools and resources available online for this digitally native generation. Folu observed that traditional forms of career guidance, most notably university career services, were being less and less utilised and she founded Vamos to fill this gap. Since launching in December 2019, the organisation has worked to achieve this goal through producing multimedia careers content. The online platform includes blog posts, video series and newsletters, and is split into three categories: exploration, preparation, and action. As CEO, Folu heads a team of six and has worked to develop Vamos into a viable business model. This includes Folu’s plans to grow Vamos’ student user base through creating collaborative career resources on their app with relevant student societies and start-ups, as well as with relevant higher education charities and graduate recruitment agencies. They also plan to generate traffic towards the app through their online publication, Vamos Insights (launched 1st March 2021), where the team interview prominent students and young professionals across various industries and produce reviews and recommendations on various types of career resources.

Folu noted that too often, the only way to work out one’s careers options was via extremely competitive insight schemes and sought to democratise this access to careers insights through Vamos. She designed an app where students will be able to enjoy a centralised space which connects them to the career resources and opportunities that best fit their individual needs according to background, skills/interests, and current stage in their career journey (for example, recommending Rare Recruitment’s Advancing Black Leaders programme to a Black student interested in banking or technology). Within one month of ideation of her initial concept, Vamos was shortlisted as a Downing Enterprise finalist, where they pitched to a board of investors. Although the team were not selected as winners, Folu continued to refine the business plan, and in October 2020, she was announced as one of 64 individuals selected out of over 750 applications for the 2020/21 Innovate UK Young Innovators Award. This award provides a £5,000 grant, 12 months of one-to-one business support, and publicity opportunities to be a role model for young people – all of which Folu has put towards growing Vamos. Currently, the team is working on the app Folu has designed in partnership with U.S. developer Apsy.io, which began Beta-testing in April 2021.

One of Folu’s proudest achievements is being able to give back to her local community in Milton Keynes by volunteering on the advisory board of her church’s educational charity. SIEVEMK Gateway (https://www.sievemkgateway.org.uk/) is a local community-led charity that offers affordable teaching, mentorship, and scholarship opportunities to young people from ethnic minority backgrounds. After the charity was negatively impacted by COVID-19, Folu designed and led the fundraising proposal for an e-learning program, which was then selected for a £40,000 grant from the Social Enterprise Support Fund (SESF).

After graduating this summer, Folu looks forward to starting as a Human Resources Analyst at Blackrock’s Atlanta office.

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