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Afua Osei

Associate Director, Alumni Engagement, University of Warwick

'We are now gradually revitalising Warwick's alumni engagement agenda.'

Associate Director, Alumni Engagement, University of Warwick

Could you tell us about what you do?

I lead the University's engagement with over 230,000 Warwick Alumni through a small, newly formed, extremely creative yet data-driven and hard-working Alumni Team. My appointment represents innovation in alumni relations, in that I have degrees in science and intellectual property, alongside 20 years of working with university innovation, academic entrepreneurs, external relations, communications, corporate sponsorship, business development and business schools. Bringing a myriad of diverse experiences, we are now gradually revitalising Warwick's alumni engagement agenda.

What is the biggest challenge you think women face today?

The freedom not to be defined or evaluated according to the 'status' attributed to marriage or children. While balancing the personal and professional, particularly the work/life balance between family aspirations or responsibilities with career ambitions. Additionally, the unconscious societal biases that women might face in terms of perceptions of gravitas, leadership capabilities, likeability and competence. However, these are Western challenges; in many parts of the world women are still striving for basic human rights; for example, equality of opportunity that enables actual access to education: schools, universities and the workplace; and dignity combined with unequivocal safety from physical violence in their homes and communities.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Recognition, affirmation, a celebration, and an opportunity to reflect on structural challenges, what we can learn from the past, and most importantly, envisioning the future.

Tell us about your journey to working at Warwick.

I’ve worked as an external relations professional in the University sector for almost 20 years. I had a short stint in the exciting world of late 1990s Fleet Street, working on the 17th floor of London's Canary Wharf Tower in the Docklands for a national newspaper, The Independent, after graduating from Imperial College. When I started, it was owned by The Mirror Group, and then subsequently taken over by a businessman. I watched as Janet Street-Porter swept in as editor of The Independent-on-Sunday and was aware of the significant pushback she received at the time.

Subsequently, I started off my university career; I spent over 4 years at a college founded by Victorian entrepreneurs and activists to originally educate women, which has been fully co-educational since the 1960s. I subsequently spent over a decade working for a couple of ancient universities with a combined age of over 1600 years, comprising medieval colleges, that in some cases, only admitted women into their communities during the 1970s.

What do you love about working at Warwick?

Its 1960s heritage: the fact that the University was founded during a decade that 'attempted' to explicitly challenge the status quo in terms of class, race and gender. Accordingly, the academic and institutional vision and aspirations for the University by its founders, and their innovative approaches to academia, from the re-shaping of University mathematics to sociology, and the societal, economic and global perspective on the law. Encountering the early voices of our 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s Alumni pioneers across the staff and the student body is always a source of fascination and enlightenment.

And I must highlight Warwick Arts Centre and its astonishing programme of world class live music. Orchestras, bands and virtuosos that routinely grace the stages of concert halls, jazz clubs and theatres of the great capital cities, actually perform on our campus. So exciting that our university is the home of the largest arts centre in the Midlands, a venue that could be easily compared to London's Barbican Centre.

What advice would you give to female students and alumnae?

To immerse themselves in passions and interests outside of their professional work, academia, and their families: sport, the arts, social and environmental activism, politics. And finally, look to literature and history for answers…

Is there a woman you look to for inspiration?

I admire far too many people to list here: writers, intellectuals, civil rights leaders, activists and artists. Many of them are 20th century agents of change and innovators, part of ‘the struggle’ so to speak. And most of the people I admire are complex, and sometimes viewed as less than positive by the establishment of their time. A woman that inspires is Nina Simone, despite pure talent, she was prevented from further pursuing her academic aspirations to read music at her chosen classical music conservatoire, presumably on the grounds of race in 1950s America. Blocked from advanced academic study, she ended up playing piano in a night club. I realise that this has a resonance given my long 20-year career in universities. Every time I listen to Bach, I hear Nina Simone, and every time I listen to Nina Simone play the piano, I hear Bach. Her intellect, political activism, personal resilience, and regal charisma, and style is not only fascinating, but mind blowing. And of course, an inspiration.

Joan MacNaughton CB

Chair of The Climate Group and of the Advisory Board of the New Energy Coalition of Europe

Bience Gawanas

Special Adviser on Africa, United Nations

Diane Turner

President-Elect, Royal Society of Chemistry Analytical Division Council