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Inside Grant Thornton

Cherryl’s mission: empowering our young Black talent

Legal Director and Ethnicity Convenor Cherryl Cooper tells us more about The Amos Bursary charity and her role as a professional mentor.

The Amos Bursary is a charity that supports and empowers young, talented people of African and Caribbean heritage, to focus on their personal development and fulfil their true potential. It aims to build self-confidence, self-belief, and generate positive educational outcomes so young people can excel and achieve their ambitions to become leaders in society.

What is the Amos Bursary?

The Amos Bursary is currently based in London and run by a board of trustees. It is supported by a group of patrons, volunteer committee members and mentors who are passionate about working with young people. Universities need candidates from all backgrounds and The Amos Bursary helps to give minority ethnic students opportunities to achieve a university education.

The Amos Bursary is made up of members of the Amos family and their close friends. When both parents of the Amos siblings passed away, their children, Colleen Amos OBE and Baroness Valerie Amos, took action to create a legacy that would make their parents proud. Colleen is now the charity's CEO. Their parents were educators and were always concerned about young black boys in particular being labelled negatively by society.

The sisters set up the bursary in their parents’ name using a quote from their father, Mike Amos, as a strapline: “education is not a guarantee of wealth, but it is a guarantee against abject poverty”. We worked with young men for 11 years and, as of this year, young women have joined the programme.

Amos Bursary 2020 Impact Report

How did you become involved?

As a friend of the family, Colleen asked me to become involved with the bursary at the beginning. It's been empowering to see the charity grow from a close group of friends onboarding our first intake of students to a large network of mentors supporting many more young people across London.

Now, 12 years on from being one of the founding members, I’m still actively involved in taking it to the next level.

Why is this partnership important to our firm?

Our partnership with the bursary is just one of the ways in which we’re focusing on inclusion. As talent and wealth do not always align, the development of talented individuals inside and outside of the workplace is a source of immeasurable wealth for everyone's future. To make tangible progress, we must be actively connected with organisations that address the issues facing under-represented people and that demonstrate excellence, empowerment, and self-development.

We also need to feed the pipeline from which we derive our talent. This partnership demonstrates that we are committing to our Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) agenda in a sustainable way. It sends a positive message to candidates looking to join our firm that we are taking steps toward our goal to be the most inclusive firm by 2025.

What is your mentoring role in the charity and how does mentoring work?

I’m a professional mentor and events committee member for the charity. Each student is given two mentors: a professional mentor and peer mentor. Professional mentors assist mentees with strategic planning and support. Peer mentors are closer to mentees in age, help them with study and exam preparation and give “real life” advice during and after university. They also build great rapport with their mentees and usually develop long-lasting friendships. Both peer and professional mentors keep in touch with one another, to ensure that their efforts are coordinated and that problems are not missed. As a committee member, I also am involved in planning fundraising events, such as our bi-annual gala dinner which our sponsors attend.

What does being a professional mentor mean to you?

My experiences of being a professional mentor have been life changing. I believe that my mentees have taught me more lessons than they have learnt from me. I’ve learnt that everyone needs someone to believe in them and to advocate for them until they find their own voice. This doesn’t mean that individuals can’t represent themselves. Sometimes they just need the confidence to know that it’s not only okay for their voice to be heard, but important. We work with our mentees every step of the way, encouraging and pushing them to achieve their goals and network extensively with businesses and business leaders to build relationships and sponsorship.

​​​​​​​What benefits does The Amos Bursary give mentors and mentees?

The benefits to mentors and mentees are far reaching and long lasting. Our mentors work in a variety of professions, so there is a rich cross section of talent for both mentees and mentors to draw upon. Mentors can invest positively in the wellbeing, academic development and career achievements of their mentees without a heavy time commitment. The charity provides mentor inductions and has a support network of professionals to consult for advice.

Mentees complete several courses on the programme including psychological tests, etiquette training, assessments, lectures and events aimed at developing personal, academic and leadership skills. Mentees can apply for a life-changing New York experience, living and working independently as interns at professional firms in New York City. Mentees have also completed internships in the Gambia, Belize, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi and Nigeria and attended conferences in Europe.

​​​​​​​The bursary re-writes the narrative that some cannot achieve because of their cultural heritage, economic and/or social backgrounds. It helps young students prepare for the corporate world and entrepreneurial leadership. The challenge for us as a firm is to embrace the concept of giving back to the society from where we derive our talent. The young people involved are encouraged to give back by mentoring and being involved in all aspects of positive societal changes.

What has been your proudest moment in mentoring for the bursary?

I am proud of all mentees achieving good grades despite studying through the pandemic. I am also very proud of my last mentee, who has now entered the world of work. I encouraged him to believe in himself and his academic ability, keep focused and apply for internships, all of which he might not have done early enough to gain places in professional firms without my guidance. I saw such a boost in his confidence while he was on the programme – he even applied for a year abroad to study at a university in Canada, which he enjoyed immensely. He’s now an eloquent public speaker and helps other young people to achieve their goals.

Last July, from a cohort of 19 students, 12 of our students graduated from university. Six achieved a first-class degree, and six achieved a 2:1. Seven of them secured places at Oxbridge universities.

What do you feel you have personally gained from in The Amos Bursary?

​​​​​​​I have seen just how resilient our young people are. My involvement in The Amos Bursary has taught me that when you champion someone and they achieve their goals, you are both winners, and this translates positively into wider society.

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Valuing diversity through everyday inclusion