National Diversity Awards
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Vote - Jo Clay (Entrepreneur of Excellence Award - )

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I am the Founder and Managing Director of Empower - Be The Change, a social enterprise established in May 2016. The company aims to Empower people by enabling them to realise their potential and ambitions by gaining relevant qualifications, building mental resilience and accessing new opportunities.

Before running Empower - Be The Change I was working and volunteering in India. This experience initially started as a 12 month sabbatical from my role as a senior officer for Sport Wales and eventually turned into two and half years.

During this time I volunteered on various projects in rural communities, witnessing first hand the challenges faced by some of the poorest communities in India and their unwavering determination to improve their lives. My volunteer placement led me to work alongside Silo India, a social enterprise set up by two local women to tackle issues of rural poverty. I worked alongside Silo India to help them set up this organisation whilst linking them to UK social enterprise Vi-Ability.

Through Vi-Ability I set up and managed an international volunteer programme for young unemployed people from Wales. Volunteers would work alongside myself and Silo India to deliver community projects on a month long basis. The volunteers gained a unique insight into rural life in this fast developing country and at the same time discovered new skills, a new found self belief and determination to achieve their goals. I provided weekly mentoring sessions to each volunteer along with hands on day to day support. In total 16 volunteers were placed in India and all 16 returned to the UK into education, employment and training.

Combining my skills, knowledge and passion from this experience, I set up Empower - Be The Change.

In its first two months of operation Empower - Be The Change secured £10,000 and used this funding to deliver a number of projects across North Wales.

The first project I delivered was at St Christophers School in Wrexham working with 14 fantastically talented sports leaders. St Christophers School is the largest special needs school in Wales with over 250 pupils with various additional needs.

The group I worked with all have moderate learning difficulties and suffer with incredibly low confidence and self-belief. Whilst talented at sports coaching within the school, the pupils lacked the confidence and self belief to take these skills outside of the school setting. Through the delivery of our Empowerment programme all 14 gained an ILM (City and Guilds) qualification and with mentoring support from myself gained the confidence to take up community based volunteering placements.

All 14 completed the minimum 15 hours required for their sports leaders qualification, many doing above and beyond this with one student completing over 80 hours.

The students grew incredibly in confidence and self belief and demonstrated the impact this programme could make to a wider audience.

In year one I delivered 3 empowerment programmes across North East Wales with participants from youth organisations, job centres and unemployment programmes. 29 people successfully completed this programme and achieved a positive outcome into education, employment, training or volunteering.

I also delivered our first mentor programme to a group of 6 participants from LA sports departments, university students and community organisations.

Since this steady growth in year one Empower - Be The Change has continued to go from strength to strength.

We are about to complete our second year which has seen us Empower a further 120 people through our programmes.

The company won start up social enterprise of the year at the Wrexham Social Enterprise Awards and was highly commended in the making a difference category.

More recently I won Business Wales Mentor of the Year Award in the Celebrating Diversity category and have now been nominated for this amazing award.

The success and impact of our programmes has provided robust impact data which has enabled Empower - Be The Change to secured £246,000 over 5 years from the Big Lottery - People and Places programme.

The funding will be used to expand delivery of our programmes and recruit staff to help the company achieve its ambitious target of empowering 1000 people by 2023.

From volunteer in India to running Empower - Be The Change has been a rollercoaster of a journey. Its had its ups and downs and there has certainly been plenty of blood, sweat and tears that has got me to this point. That said, I have loved every minute of it and continue to thoroughly enjoy what I do.

It has been incredibly rewarding to see the positive changes all our participants have made in their lives and the successes they achieve continues to grow and grow.

It is this success that continues to inspire and motivate me to keep growing our programmes, reach and impact.

Thank you to all our partners and organisations for supporting Empower - Be The Change. Your belief in the company has played a huge part in our success and your on-going support enables us to do more!

On a personal note I'd like to say a huge thanks to my family and friends for their unwavering belief and support in me doing this.

Thank you to all who have voted for me too!

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