Bobby's story

23 March 2023

Bobby’s parents moved from Kerala in South West India to East London in the late 1970s. He is one of four brothers who all grew up in an East Ham council estate. Bobby shares that “economically, things were challenging”, but that despite money being a struggle, he has fond memories of his childhood, especially of Saturday afternoons when he and his family would go to their local library: “Mum would make a delicious South Indian Biriani lunch and we’d sit in the library for hours; we’d read all sorts of books and that’s what’s given my family a love for learning”.

For Bobby’s family growing up, education was hugely important, something that went on to significantly shape his passions and leadership journey: “we could always say we could play, we could have fun but if you don’t get qualifications, if you don’t get an education, then life will be a challenge.” Bobby enjoyed school and develop an early interest in the link between education and opportunity: “as someone in schools where not all students had great family set-ups, I’d be the student that would stay at break times and lunchtimes and help other children with their homework, I would do volunteer reading clubs, I took part in voluntary groups that supported other local children so when I was in secondary, helping primary school children. So I was always acutely aware of educational inequality, even though I was someone relatively young.”

After attending state schools in East London for his primary and secondary education, Bobby gained a scholarship to Eton for his A Levels, an experience which he recalls as being mainly positive, but which nonetheless confirmed to him how evident educational inequality was in the UK: “I think the thing that I took away from the experience was that when I compared my friends from my state school to my new friends from Eton, I found actually, it wasn’t an innate difference in ability between the students but it was more the networks, the opportunities, the expectation of success.”

Bobby recalls once during his time at state school being the top student in his year and one of his teachers telling him ‘You know, Bobby, if you work really hard, you could be a dentist’. Bobby reflects that, whilst dentists are very important, an equivalent boy who was doing well at Eton would be told ‘One day, you could be Prime Minister or CEO of a big organisation or you could run the biggest social network in the world’. And so, Bobby’s passion and activism around educational equality was sparked: “I think everyone should have the right to, one, a great education but secondly, you shouldn’t be held back in terms of your aspiration”.

When he came across UpRising in 2009, Bobby was interested in the Leadership Programme as an opportunity to develop his leadership skills and hone them in a way that he would be able to make a positive impact on the world around him and the lives of other young people in relation to education and literacy: “I was young, ambitious, hardworking, had views on education and love of the community and the programme took us from a position”. 

Bobby recalls that despite his cohort having different backgrounds, levels of knowledge and interests that they were all bringing to the programme, they were able to progress alongside each other and support each others’ journeys in a meaningful and ‘rejuvenating’ way: “On that programme, I think you get a sense, month by month, that actually, there’s a whole cohort of people like you that want to make an impact”. During his time on the programme, Bobby was part of a group developing a Social Action Campaign focussed on “trying to change attitudes to that with young, school-age children'' in his local area: “we tried to understand why young people, from certain backgrounds, resort to fast food as their source of nutrition”.

[UpRising] equips you with a way of thinking how you can approach these changemakers, these organisations, these bodies, these political movements, how you can actually affect change.

Reflecting on campaigning within his local community, Bobby has too been able to create impact for different groups and individuals whilst raising awareness of issues around education: “I used to be a Head of Department for a maths department in a secondary school… I helped raise the perception of maths within the school… all the teachers took part in a scheme to improve their numeracy. Sometimes people think Maths education’s just for children, but actually, teachers, we had many events with our parents, bringing parents into the school, getting them to feel more comfortable with numeracy. So that’s another thing I feel very proud that as a mathematics thought leader, I’ve actually been able to influence my local community so that numeracy’s seen as an issue, not just for children but also for teachers and parents and adults in the community.”

Following the programme Bobby co-founded a social enterprise in education, of which he was Chair for a number of years. The enterprise ran for 14 years, supporting thousands of students applying to university, and raising more than £1 million for educational causes and charities: “I feel like I made a direct impact on the lives of thousands of students, some of who… now, hopefully, because they’ve benefited from a scheme for them to go to universities, hopefully have the desire to help others.”

In 2017, Bobby became well known within the media world following an appearance he made as Captain of the Cambridge team on University Challenge, which went viral due to Bobby’s impressive knowledge and enthusiasm. This appearance catalysed Bobby’s media career and public profile, leading him to take on further leadership roles as a commentator, influencer, lobbyist for education and being an Ambassador for both the National Numeracy Charity and the Reading Agency Charity. He has become a well-known personality within the world of education and media, giving his expertise and voice to critical issues, for example, talking recently on television about why teachers are going on strike.

Bobby reflects on how grateful he is to have been mentored by a number of influential figures in his life, including two mentors facilitated through UpRising schemes who supported Bobby by guiding him through how best to take advantage of the opportunities UpRising was able to offer during his time as a programme participant, and another following the programme who gave Bobby guidance in how to scale his social enterprise: “we started off by helping just five, ten children but, by the end, we were supporting 1,000, 2,000 children a year”. Additionally, as an alum of the UpRising programme, Bobby has had roles as a Trustee for UpRising, an experience which facilitated his first meeting with journalist Peter Kellner, who later, following a talk Bobby gave at the Royal Albert Hall, became one of Bobby’s mentors. Bobby shares how Peter has supported him by sharing his wisdom and experience around how different ideas can be communicated to create impact, as Bobby shares that whilst his Masters and PhD research into education has allowed him to become an expert in his field, communicating his expertise to the wider public is a different skillset - “I’m very grateful for his support”.

[UpRising] is such a positive, inspiring network that you want to give back, as well as I’m still receiving benefits individually.

Since graduating the UpRising programme, Bobby has developed a successful career as a mathematics teacher, broadcaster, writer and tv personality. He has been part of a national campaign to improve maths literacy: “for the last five, six years, I’ve campaigned locally and nationally, using newspaper columns in the Financial Times, Radio 4 interviews, television interviews on the BBC, to constantly talk about, actually, how valuable a solid numeracy education can be for reducing inequalities.”

Making this connection between education and reducing inequality, Bobby also shares his insights into being an activist in a wider movement towards impacting systemic change: “I’m trying to change maths education, it’s sometimes communicating with the Education Secretary, off the record… finding out which charities are making a big change, are there any individual people out there, especially those that use Instagram or Twitter to lobby for change… because the reality of trying to make systemic change is that power flows and ebbs and changes over the course of, not just an election cycle but just as a course of a year… So whilst the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of maths education till 18 needs actual meat to the bone, I’d like to think I played a small part in pushing to the fore, the value of a good numeracy education”. 

UpRising is not just changing [participants’] lives but the lives of the people that the UpRisers come into contact with.

Continuing to work as a secondary school maths teacher, Bobby has now also put his name and activism to a range of important causes relating to education since his time with UpRising, including raising awareness and funding for important community resources that allowed him to develop his passions and interests as a young person: “I’ve done a lot of campaigning about libraries and the value of literacy… I used to be the Libraries Champion for an organisation called CILIP, and my predecessors in terms of being the Libraries Champion were Stephen Fry and the all-rounder, Mary Beard, the classicist, so I’ve done a lot of work in the last two, three years, campaigning for local libraries, the value of having that point in our community that’s free of access for everyone. And I’ve done a lot of work with the DCMS, the Local Government Association’s Culture Commission, I was part of recently… that’s an area where I am being a thought leader in the value of libraries in our communities. So I think that’s an area where I’m also proud that I’m continuing to make an impact.”

Throughout his leadership journey and many successes, Bobby has continued to be a active and consistently engaged member of the UpRising Alumni Network and community, and shares that the organisation has had a significant impact on his own development, tenacity and networking: “I genuinely think one of the biggest aspects of a programme like UpRising is that they can help inspire people to realise that they’re not the only ones struggling to make change. Because so many times, you see people out there, making their impact in a small part of the world and often, they think ‘I feel like I’m the only person … I feel like I’m going to give up because I don’t feel like there’s anyone supporting me.’ Where, when you join programmes like UpRising, you realise that there are so many other people like you that want to make an impact in something they’re passionate about, an area of inequality that they’ve seen.”

I [will] always have that I’ve been an UpRiser, and there’ll always be people willing to help fellow UpRisers, part of that extended community.


Bobby has a personal website and also uses LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram professionally.