Alumna Olivia speaks to pupils about her ‘unexpected’ career

“It is only when we give voice to people and allow them to take leadership in their own lives, and to have the same agency that we each want to have for ourselves as women to be able to make informed, good choices about our futures, that we will be able to create that world for everybody.”

These were the words of alumna Olivia Darby as she spoke to pupils in assembly this week. It was an inspiring message for the students as they returned after the half-term break.

Olivia, who left Withington in 2002, is one of the founders of the WONDER Foundation, a woman-led charity dedicated to empowering women and girls through quality education and access to good work. In assembly she described her career as ‘unexpected’ and had some encouraging words for sixth formers choosing their A Level options.

‘My options didn’t fit, so I ended up taking Geography instead. Although it wasn’t what I had planned, I immediately fell in love with it and went on to study it at UCL. Geography helps you to make connections. I use all the skills I learned in Geography every day in my work. The world is complicated, and people are complicated. If we treat people simply, then we often lose our ability to create solutions that are meaningful to them. If we can do something to change things for just one person, then it has been worthwhile.”

She also emphasised the importance of understanding our strengths and weaknesses and that we don’t need to be perfect.

“From setting up the WONDER Foundation I have learned that I don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes we can hold ourselves to such high standards; we think that we need to do everything that we need to do perfectly. Working with friends and people whose strengths complement each other, means we can achieve so much more than we could have done on our own.”

Volunteering has always been important to Olivia. She volunteered whilst at school, took a gap year to volunteer in Kenya, and also volunteered throughout university, which led to a job offer when she graduated. She believes that volunteering is a brilliant way of developing transferable skills.

“Every time you do something like this you are learning soft skills, which is hugely important for everything that you will go on and do, particularly because many of the jobs that you will end up in, don’t exist yet. The world where you will thrive is a world where you are adaptable, flexible and able to take initiative.”

Olivia finished by encouraging students to think about their own abilities to make a difference:

“So, what I hope that all of you do, is to think that the power that you have by being at this school, by being as talented as you are, by having the opportunities that you do, is immense. You have the ability to walk out of here and change the world in so many different ways, but always remember that the privilege that we have is about giving people who don’t have a voice the opportunity to express what they have to say and to be heard, in order to create a better world for everyone.”

Following the assembly Olivia took part in a question and answer session with Year 9 Geographers and again over lunchtime with students keen to hear more about her work and its impact on women and girls around the world.

We’d like to thank Olivia for giving up her time to come into school and for her thought-provoking talk.