Cathy's story

15 February 2023

Cathy was born in Zimbabwe but moved to the UK when she was five years old and grew up in Birmingham. She recalls having a natural love for the outdoors and shares that “some of [her] most positive memories growing up was definitely doing things outdoors.” Growing up, Cathy remembers feeling less connected than her peers to the professional world.

I think a lot of people will have maybe their aunties and uncles who work in different companies. So not really having that network, I found to be quite challenging.

It was during her time studying Geography at King’s College London that Cathy first came across UpRising. “It was through a friend, a friend who had done an UpRising programme. I saw it on her LinkedIn page, and she was just talking about the leadership programme. Then I was starting to research who UpRising was.” After finishing her degree, Cathy was struggling to break into an industry she wanted to work in “at the time, I was just working as a waitress. So I was just doing the jobs that you do when you’re a student, just trying to make ends meet”. She remembers feeling down about applying for numerous graduate schemes but not getting any offers of work.

Cathy decided to apply for UpRising’s Fastlaners programme in 2017, hoping it would help her “see the other kinds of industries and jobs, and also meet people who work in those places”. Taking part in the different employability sessions and experiences the programme offered built Cathy’s confidence and resilience in her job search. She enjoyed being able to access different professional spaces and sectors across London and was able to get advice and guidance from different individuals. “We went to Canary Wharf, we went to start-ups, speak with the staff, speak with management, found out the kinds of things that they’re looking for in job applications – there was a session that I found super interesting, which was when I got my CV reviewed. And one of the managers reviewed my CV for a start-up. And he was like, ‘You know, this is really good experience. You could definitely apply for our company.’ So just getting that affirmation that I was on the right track and I was doing the right things.”

If there’s one thing that I think makes UpRising a great organisation and the programme great, is that they’ve created a space [for young people] to think differently.

During her the earlier stages of her journey, Cathy remembers experiencing a nagging feeling of imposter syndrome - a feeling of being an outsider and not being good enough that many young people experience when trying to establish themselves in the working world - she recalls lacking confidence in herself and “not really thinking that you’re good enough when you actually are”. Cathy explains that the tips and hints she was able to pick up during her time on the programme have “always stayed with me and has been very useful in my career”, noting that these, alongside the practical experience she was able to gain from Fastlaners “have resulted in me being a lot more confident, even in how I present myself as well as knowing who I am and being able to push myself even further in my career”.

Cathy remembers finding comfort in being part of the UpRising cohort and wider community, and feeling like she belonged at UpRising. “The fact that it was a free programme and it was targeted to people from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds. I was like, ‘OK, that’s me’!” Despite this being what captured Cathy’s attention and made her feel welcome, Cathy also appreciated the opportunities the diversity of UpRising cohorts allowed her: “it wasn’t just focused on your colour or your social background. It was open to everyone. So I got to meet some amazing people who were not from the same ethnic minority background as I was”.

Through the skills she was able to develop, Fastlaners restored a feeling of self-worth and assurance in Cathy. “It wasn’t that after the programme I was happy because I had a job. It was more that after the programme, I could handle, mentally handle, the prospect of being content with not having a job but knowing what do I need to look for. But also that it’s a journey, and just accepting that it’s OK to not have everything figured out. I can take my time but focus on choosing opportunities that really align with my values. And that was probably I would say the biggest thing I took from the programme, which made my well-being just a lot better, because I was not putting pressure on myself then when I was looking for jobs.” 

It’s OK to not have everything figured out. I can take my time but focus on choosing opportunities that really align with my values.

Following her time on the Fastlaners programme, Cathy then went on to also participate in UpRising’s Environmental Leadership Programme, funded by Our Bright Future and the National Lottery Community Fund. This was the next step Cathy needed to build her self-confidence further, shaking off the imposter syndrome: “And also just reminding myself that it’s OK to not know everything, because with the leadership programme, we were learning new skills every single week”. 

The programme was also able to support Cathy to develop her professional skills and, crucially, her network - something she’d struggling with and worried about in the past. Through a connection made on the programme, Cathy eventually applied for and was successful in gaining a role in international development with a social enterprise. “Through being on the programme, that was how I applied for the job that I ended up doing for three years, where I was promoted to the point where I was coordinating projects in Africa, million-pound portfolio projects.” 

Cathy remembers feeling happy to have been able to break into a sector and organisation which prioritised sustainable development and was environmentally-focused. “Had I not been on the UpRising programme, it would have never helped me meet someone who would bring me into a company which aligned with my values.”

I just love working with people. And I’m always looking at different ways to improve myself as well as learn more about different people’s cultures and just be a better person.

Having developed in her role, Cathy then decided she wanted to improve her project management skills and began looking for opportunities to facilitate this passion. Currently, Cathy works as a project management coach: “I basically coach about forty apprentices of project managers in different companies across the UK. And yes, I love my job.”

Following her participation in UpRising’s programmes, Cathy’s professional confidence and aspirations have thrived, and she is currently planning to do a Masters in Public Administration and Public Policy, which she hopes will support her to “start building my portfolio of projects or working in local government”.

Thanks for a creating a programme like this. Because of course, everything that I’ve achieved, I have been able to do it because of my networks and contacts that I met on your programme.