Hannah's story

4 April 2023

Hannah was born in Germany to a German father and an Ethiopian mother. Hannah describes that there was not a lot of diversity where she went to school in Germany, and recalls noticing that her skin colour was different to other children in her classes: “I think that really influenced my life altogether because I grew up, you know, with two different cultures.  And I spent a lot of time in Ethiopia but obviously my school was in Germany, so I learnt more about the German way of living than the Ethiopian way.  It was definitely amazing to have those two worlds come together”.

Whenever I went to Ethiopia to visit my family there, I was struck by the contrast between my life and the lives of my Ethiopian family.

With her upbringing signalling to her a lack of equality around schooling, Hannah developed a passion for this and for access to education opportunities: “I was always passionate about equality and giving people the same access to education because whenever I went to Ethiopia to visit my family there, I was struck by the contrast between my life and the lives of my Ethiopian family.   It’s as if here in Europe or just in the western world in general we don’t really know what it looks like in most African countries”. 

In 2019 Hannah moved to the UK to attend the University of Bedfordshire to study Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, where she recalls experiencing a culture shock: “My first week of university was my first week in the UK… I knew no-one.  Literally no-one.  I had no family here.  No friends. Nothing.” Hannah describes feeling lonely during this time in her life. Thankfully, shortly after starting university, Hannah came across the Bedfordshire UpRising Environmental Leadership Programme, and enrolled as a programme participant. 

Hannah felt inspired by the connections between her university studies and the environmental discussions she was having on the programme around climate change. As well as building her skills and knowledge around the environment and the green sector, Hannah was able to inspire other young people through the programme, and began feeling like she had a community of her own: “I got to meet so many different people from different areas.  Even  different locations from the UK as well because we spent a weekend at a summit. We all met, and it was amazing”. Throughout her time with UpRising, Hannah recalls learning about leadership strategies and felt empowered to begin seeing herself as a leader: “You have so many enthusiastic and motivated people that want to change something, but they don’t know how to.  They have their vision, but they don’t know how to take that vision and bring it to life. So, we basically gained all the skills to get from the beginning to the end”.

When I started I was just a normal student but after that I realised that I’ve got so many resources.

In Spring 2020, Hannah’s UpRising programme was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns across the UK. Hannah recalls how the programme pivoted to be delivered online. Moving back home to Germany, but continuing to engage with the programme and her peers, Hannah remembers the time feeling challenging and isolating, but also felt she had an opportunity to combine her formal studies and the experiences UpRising was giving her. She supported her group with developing their Social Action Campaign to be delivered online, creating a website that blogged about all things climate change related and gave people a space to discuss and share. Hannah wanted the online space to be inclusive and remove barriers for people to engage. She shares that at the time they felt like ‘couch activists’ blogging to support people to make changes in their lives to live more sustainably. 

To this day, Hannah continues to be in contact with the people and networks she made during her time on the UpRising programme, and she shares that her sense of belonging to that community continues, explaining “there are some people that I worked with who are getting awards for their incredible activity and I’m just so proud to see all of that because we worked together. And they had a vision, and they did it.  And now they’re getting awarded for it which is just amazing to see.”

I realised how important it is to actually work on yourself as well.

Furthermore, the UpRising programme had a significant impact on the way Hannah viewed herself in regards to leadership. She describes going from feeling like leadership was “this mystical word that didn’t really have a proper definition”, to feeling like she could see her place and power in the world of change-making.

Hannah explains that she feels the programme was able to significantly support her own personal development, sharing “I realised how important it is to actually work on yourself as well… due to this programme, I started living more self-aware”. She remembers feeling like doors had been opened to her to many further opportunities that she could use to continue her development and leadership journey: “I started going to other events as well that handled the same topics, or even other topics, such as technology and ethics in Artificial Intelligence”. 

Following the programme, Hannah explains that her confidence had developed to the extent that she then felt able to apply for and was successful in getting an internship with the German Aerospace Centre, having noticed the lack of diversity there. With her initial degree being so disrupted by the pandemic, Hannah has since completed her Bachelor's Degree in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, has become a Google DeepMind scholar, and is pursuing a Master's Degree in Artificial Intelligence at Queen Mary University of London