The pandemic has truly highlighted the enormous benefits of being part of an organisation as unique and forward-thinking as the GDST. Schools across the network have pulled together to create some fantastic online resources and experiences for girls over the past couple of months, one of which was the iconic Change Makers Summit on Thursday 21st May.

More than 25,000 young people from across the UK joined the virtual host, Norwich High School for Girls, for its Inspiring Change Makers Summit 2020. This inaugural online conference followed on from its pioneering Inspiring Females programme launched four years ago. This year’s event reached more young women than ever before from across the state and independent sector – and was supported by an illustrious roll call of exciting women leaders from chef Prue Leith to engineer extraordinaire Yewande Akinola.

The original plan had been to stage this year’s event at Norwich Football Club after the resounding success of last year’s summit at Chelsea Football Club, but after lockdown restrictions were implemented across the UK, the online conference took shape.

Kirsty von Malaisé, Headmistress of Norwich High and founder of the award-winning Inspiring Females programme, said: ​“We wanted to create this event to continue our mission to inspire, educate and empower young people, at a time when young people might need it the most. So many are facing a range of challenges, from students in Year 11 and 13, who have questions about their futures after having examinations cancelled, to those at the beginning of their senior school years who may be missing out on so many rich extra-curricular and pastoral opportunities.”

Chief Executive of the GDST, Cheryl Giovannoni, launched the day with a focus on successful female world leaders, who have been particularly inspiring during this pandemic, and closed with a call to action – to just go for it, to “Own your dreams and make them a reality. Never be too afraid to tackle the things you want to do in the world”.

The day’s sessions were pre-recorded and timetabled so that girls were guided through the conference with an element of synchronisation. All of the content was designed to inspire, engage and empower our future changemakers and there was truly something for everyone; from Diplomacy and Sport, to Creative Arts and Law. The speakers also discussed practical methods for harnessing your passions, achieving your goals and being the best you can be. It was brilliant to watch alumna of Central High, Jo Ashbridge (pictured below), delivering a session for this inspirational event. Jo is the founder and director of architecture charity, AzuKo, and her passion lies in humanitarian work, disaster relief and sustainable development. She set the girls a project using design as a tool to improve lives, just as she has in her own career.

Joining Jo in the line up of change making females was Prue Leith and Yewande Akinola, Olympic hockey champion Kate Richardson-Walsh; Tram Anh Nguyen, Co-founder of the Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship; Tessy Ojo, Chief Executive of the Diana Award; England netballer Ama Agbeze, and Sunday Times Style Editor-in-Chief Lorraine Candy.

“A real silver lining for us at this time has been the good will and kindness of our speakers who have all volunteered their support to deliver such a broad selection of sessions – keep fit, meditation, yoga, keynotes, interactive sessions, careers talks, one-to-one Q&As and live panel sessions, charity and social enterprise awareness, and so much more – all shaped into a full day’s programme for young people to engage in,” said Mrs von Malaisé.”

Girls who took part left feeling thoroughly inspired. Here are a selection of comments from girls across the GDST network:

“I learnt that I don’t need to have a fixed plan for my life ahead of me; it is allowed to change.”

“I learnt how to know my own strengths and use them effectively to improve myself and my performance.”

“We can all be change makers if we put your minds into it.”

“Shyness is a superpower!”

“I’ve learnt that mistakes are okay, in fact, they’re amazing! It’s important to remember that no one becomes successful through immediate triumph; they’ll have failed many times before. Fail = First Attempt In Learning.”

“The meditation/breathing exercise that can help you become super confident in stressful times.”

“Be like a chameleon, don’t be afraid of change.”

“I should try and leave the world in a better way than before.”

“To believe in me.”

“We can all be change makers if we put your minds into it.”

“I’ve found new ways to improve my productivity.”

“I learnt that you don’t have to go down the traditional route to be successful in life..”

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