In January 2017 we launched the Alumnae Club to give previous lunch guests the chance to get together and hear inspiring speakers. Our events so far have proved that to be a winning formula, for both the members and the speakers themselves. Women of the Year Award recipients.So, meet our first four Alumnae speakers and if you would like to join us for future events, email woytalks@gmail.comor call 020 8959 6909 or 07889 569106.

Seema Aziz

Businesswoman and pioneering philanthropist SEEMA AZIZ set up the CARE Foundation in 1988 with the aim of giving children in Pakistan the chance of a better future through education. The Foundation currently educates 275,000 children in their schools across the country.

Tell us about your Women of the Year Alumnae talk
It was great having the chance to tell the stories about CARE and talk about the schools, the children and the larger picture. I sincerely believe that the world is a global village; that good in any part of the world affects the rest of it, and trouble in any part affects the rest, and that the children of the world are somehow connected to all of us. The millions of children who are out of school in developing countries and all around the world, are children who are in trouble. If we want lasting peace and we want them to have better lives, we all have to focus on education. It’s not just about the children of Pakistan. The same problems exist in many part of the world. We can help other countries with the same problems. So I talked about how we can all do more to help the education and empowerment of children all around the world.

What does community mean to you?
For me, community is the core and the heart of who we are as human beings. Truly the world is a community. Wherever I’ve gone and whoever I’ve met, the people have the same feelings, the same dreams, the same hopes, the same fears. It’s communities where the real life happens. When there’s trouble you see everywhere how communities rally round. A community nurtures and cares for those who are in trouble, for the weaker ones, for those in need. They don’t care whether people are white, or black, or brown, or what their religion is, people just come together as human beings. That is what will make us survive. I think that’s where the hope lies.

Who are the women who have most influenced you in your life?
My grandmother and her five sisters were the clan that were the bedrock of our family. They were all so fabulous. As was my great-grandmother who I remember a little – I was in my teens when she passed away. Everyone was so involved with the community. They brought us up in a system of traditions, with respect for older people, to be close and care for each other. Somehow I feel I’m just doing that same thing.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt from another woman in your life?
The lesson I learnt from the women in my family is to care and to love people, to have a sense of responsibility and humility. My grandmother and her sisters were always helping others. I learnt from them to roll your sleeves up and just get out there and do what has to be done. That’s about looking after those less privileged and those in trouble, it’s what my family did without questioning. Now I think about it, in the face of great challenges and difficulties I never heard anyone in my family complain about it. They took on whatever was there and marched on in the face of many odds and did their best. It’s about trusting yourself to march on.

What advice would give young women starting out in their lives and careers now?
Above all, believe in yourself. I don’t understand that there are things women apparently can’t do. I don’t understand it. I believe that we are absolutely equal and that you are as capable as you believe you are. It’s your opinion about yourself that the world looks at and that’s how the world treats you. So I would say believe in yourself, dream away and follow your dream and work hard and you will achieve your dreams. There is nothing to stop you.

Jo Fairly

JO FAIRLEY is one of the UK’s leading female entrepreneurs. She co-founded Green & Black’s chocolate, founded Judges Bakery, an organic and natural food store and bakery and The Wellington Centre, a boutique nine-room wellbeing centre, both in her home town of Hastings, co-wrote The Beauty Bible with Sarah Stacey and, most recently, founded The Perfume Society.

Tell us about your Women of the Year Alumnae talk
Particularly in the early days of Green and Black’s, when I would take myself off to hear somebody else speak, it was like plugging in my batteries. It helped me to believe that I wasn’t just this little lone salmon swimming upstream, that I was actually part of a shoal, all moving in the same direction. It makes you realise that other people have the same challenges and problems that you do and they can be overcome. So if I can do that for somebody else, that’s amazing.
I’ve always been passionate about the things I’ve done, and I like doing things that nobody has done before. All my ventures have a little bit of self-interest in them, but that’s what helps me drive them forward. And I love being able to help and inspire other people. I hope that’s what my talk did.

What does community mean to you?
I live in a small town by the sea where you bump into your neighbours and friends and you talk to them on a daily basis and you look out for them. You’re not meant to live not knowing who you live next to. We’re built for human interaction. We should look out for and care for each other. So community is about that for me. The other version of community is what I’ve created through The Perfume Society. I’ve built a real community of perfume lovers and now people get together. Social media has turned into actual socialising.

Who are the women who have inspired and influenced you?
Anita Roddick was my big mentor and role model rolled into one. I first met her when I was sent on a writing assignment. I thought she was going to be about 7 feet tall and absolutely terrifying and bless her, she was way smaller than me and she kind of bowled through the airport losing bits along the way. She managed to lose her passport about 5 times between check in and the departure gate! I loved the way she always spoke her mind and was utterly authentic and that’s something I’ve always aspired to. She was amazingly supportive of what I did. Her death is one of the great tragedies of our time. Having made all that money, I’d love to have seen the mischief she would have got up to getting rid of it again which was her avowed intent.
The other person I’ve always admired is Coco Chanel. She was such a ground-breaker. Look at all the things she did that women didn’t do in those days. She broke down all sorts of barriers whether it was getting rid of women’s corsets or just being a woman in business. She created herself.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt from another woman?
Probably that thing from Anita – to be authentic. I think a lot of women think they have to be something different to what they are, that they have to play a role or behave in a certain way because it’s expected of them. I believe in being comfortable in my skin, warts and all. And calling a spade a spade whenever I can. It saves a lot of time and angst.

What advice would you give to young women starting out in their lives and careers?
Try and find a mentor. Almost any successful woman I know is happy to mentor other people because most of us have been mentored. It’s got to be somebody you admire, but make it someone whose experience and little black book is relevant to what you’re doing. You want to get the most out of the mentor/mentee relationship. You want them to say “right, I can introduce you to this person” or “when I was doing what you’re doing, I did x”. So somebody within your industry or sphere is going to be the most valuable.

Ann Cotton

ANN COTTON founded Camfed in 1993. She is the President of the international non-profit organisation, which tackles the cycle of poverty and inequality by supporting marginalised girls through education, empowering them to step up as leaders of change.

Tell us about your Women of the Year Alumnae talk
I spoke about the historical context of the work I started. I went to Zimbabwe ten years after independence and what shocked me was the colonial history of the area that I was in, in the north of the country, on the western side where the Tongan people were forcibly resettled when the Kariba Dam was built in 1956, and where they had lived in an impoverished state ever since. I hadn’t realised the depth of the iniquity that was perpetrated and I was emotionally very affected by the poverty and by discovering the culpability of the British in the state of affairs.
It was a very diverse audience, there were women with many different cultural and national backgrounds and afterwards a number of them came to speak to me privately to say how it had resonated with their own experiences growing up in India and other parts of Africa. I felt I’d touched something that remains quite hidden and I was happy about opening up that dialogue.

What does community mean to you?
I was brought up in Cardiff, but I spent my holidays in Aberdare with my grandparents, where the sense of community was extremely powerful and very unifying. I learnt the power of caring for other members of the community from the behaviours of that community. My grandmother was a kind of one-woman social worker, but she wasn’t alone in that. She would make much more Sunday roast than for just the family and she would send me up and down the street with a plate for Mrs Griffiths who’d just come out of hospital, or Mr Jones who was on his own. When I went to Zimbabwe there was also a very powerful sense of community and I related to that through my own experience. I really felt the connection.

Who are the women who have influenced you most in your life?
The people that I’m most influenced and impressed by are those who show personal courage, who stand out from the crowd and are willing to challenge the status quo. And the people I admire are the people who are not looking for accolades, or recognition. Who do things because they are the right things to do, who have integrity and compassion. My paternal grandmother would be one of the women. Her memory continues to have an influence on my life. She left school when she was 12 because her father was killed in a coal mining accident, but she was passionate about education, about social change and about equality and justice. Looking back that was quite remarkable for someone of her background. In my work the person who has most influenced me is a young headmistress called Judith Kumire. She died when she was 39. She became a headmistress at 22 because they were short of trained teachers and she worked in a very remote and poor rural area. She dedicated her life and energy to transforming the educational experience of children in that community. She was intelligent, philosophical, a great thinker but who never sought any recognition or praise, but was transformative in the way she worked and transformative in her influence over me.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt from another woman?
It’s more from women in general, and that is is that nothing is more powerful than love. Whether or not we are mothers, there is a maternal strand running through us all which is about being protective and compassionate and giving, to both people and the world.

What advice would you give to young women starting out on their lives and careers?
Never compromise your principles. Ever.

Jayne Senior

JAYNE SENIOR is the youth worker who blew the whistle on the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal. She ran Risky Business, an outreach programme for troubled youngsters in the town, between 1999 and 2011 and during this time reported nearly 1700 cases of grooming or sexual exploitation to the council’s children’s services.

Tell us about your Women of the Year Alumnae talk
For me was an opportunity to raise awareness of child exploitation but also a chance to talk about how difficult things can be if you believe in something and stand up and fight for it. I was so pleased that there was a lot of powerful conversation and a lot of relevant questions. I didn’t expect there to be any victims in the audience but it turned out there were. When one of them got up and spoke, like every victim she spoke from her heart and you felt it in your heart. It’s so powerful that somebody is strong enough to do that but so sad to think that they had to go through what they went through. And then to want to come back to give a message to others, that’s inspirational.
The fact that it was an audience of women meant that there was a lot more real, raw emotion. People were upset. They were affected by what I had to say and by what happened in Rotherham. Just like the world has been affected by what happened in Rotherham.

What does community mean to you?
For me community is about working together to tackle issues that affect us all, not segregating, separating and blaming each other. Sometimes that’s easier to do than to sit down round a table and have difficult conversations. To talk about it, iron it out and look at how to move forward in changing something. I absolutely believe change can only come about if communities work together. To me it’s our communities who need to be aware of how to spot the signs of a child being groomed, to recognise extremely vulnerable children and know how to report it. We continue to train professionals and we forget that there’s a whole community that are our eyes and ears to help us protect children.

Who are the women who have most inspired and influenced you?
I have to say, my mum.  For so many years she managed to work and look after a home and four children – three girls and a boy – I think that’s just fabulous. My mum was a very strong woman and I really admire everything she did for us all.
And Louise Casey [Dame Louse Casey led the investigation into children’s services in Rotherham council] because when I was being intimidated and bullied by the council, things got to a stage where I just wanted to give in and I went to meet Louise, and then talked to her a number of times over several weeks, and there was just something about her. She kept brushing me down and encouraging me to keep going. When I was at my lowest and thinking I couldn’t go on, she picked me up and helped me carry on.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt from another woman?
If you believe something is wrong, have the courage to speak out, even if you end up standing up alone. It’s something my sister said to me when I was contemplating doing what I did.

What advice would you give young women?
Remember that you’re equal to everybody. You deserve the same opportunities and the same respect as your male peers. And if you think something’s not right, stand on your morals and say it’s not right.

Alumnae Contact: Mary Krauss


Phone: 020 8959 6909 or 07889 569106

Alumnae Address: c/o Diane Coyne, Brewers’ Hall, Aldermanbury Square, London EC2V 7HR