On 24th May we were delighted to host Hashi Mohamed, who delivered a truly inspirational Drive Talk to an audience of care leavers, corporate partners and reps from referral agencies.

“You have to deal with the world as it is, rather than as you would like it to be.”

Now a successful barrister in London, Hashi Mohamed has come a long way since fleeing his home in Somalia and arriving in the UK at the age of nine. In his BBC Radio 4 documentary Adventures in Social Mobility, Hashi reflects upon his own journey, transitioning from life at underperforming schools and being raised exclusively on benefits, to attending Oxford and becoming a successful and respected member of the bar.

Despite being an outstanding example of ‘social mobility’ himself, Hashi does not believe that any young person with a comparable background and a similar drive and ability could take the same route as he did.

“Telling children ‘hard work gets you to the top’ is simply a lie… working hard, and doing the right thing barely gets you to the starting line.”

Hashi spoke about the ‘unwritten rules’ young people need to know about in order to kickstart their career, including the fact that people tend to ‘recruit in their own image’ and that opinions of us are formed based on the way we talk, dress and behave. The room was filled with affirmative nods as Hashi made these points.

Throughout our careers, we have all experienced this kind of instant judgment – being assessed by merit of our looks or the way we conduct ourselves. This may invoke feelings of not-belonging and isolation, decreasing our self-esteem and making us feel incompetent and worthless. Often, the way we say something is more important than what we are actually saying. It’s the intonation, the confidence with which we speak and the choice of words that make others engaged or bored.

“I learned how to speak like this. The moment you open your mouth, people will judge you.”

At the same time, who amongst us can say that we haven’t ever done the same – that we haven’t put people in different boxes based on their appearances? We’re not just victims of social judgment; we all have to acknowledge our role as perpetrators as well. By realising our own prejudice and taking responsibility for our own behaviour, we can make better judgments about the people around us.

In his Guardian piece published in April this year, Hashi points the finger at how little difference ‘diversity and open recruitment’ initiatives have made to common employment practice. This is why we put so much effort into collaborating with employers. We provide workshops for staff that explains the various disadvantages faced by care leavers, workshops aimed at tearing down preconceptions and recruitment bias. Drive Forward’s corporate partners are exemplary in their engagement and commitment to actively improving recruitment processes.

“I am a member of staff who is also a foster carer. I just wanted to say thanks for a great presentation this morning. As you can imagine I attend numerous trainings/presentations via my local authority… I wanted to highlight the fact I thought the content was on point, relevant and clear. In addition, it’s great to see someone deliver this type of information in the way you did. You are clearly passionate about this subject and that really kept everyone engaged.” Disadvantaged Workshop participant 2016

Nevertheless, Hashi makes it very clear that no matter an individual’s background and experience, we mustn’t fall victim to the belief that there’s a system that doesn’t allow us to succeed. Young people have to be courageous and must not be afraid of being shaken out of their comfort zone.

“You have to deal with the world as it is, rather than as you would like it to be… you need to adapt yourself.”

We know that change is hardly ever easy. We are the sum of our experiences, the relationships with people around us and the environment we live in. Most care leavers have had a disruptive upbringing. They may have experienced severe neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and are lacking the stability and support of a loving family home. For most of them, the thought of going out into the world and becoming independent is scary and they often feel like ‘the system’ has set them up to fail.

Asked about what it was that inspired him to carry on and fight against the odds, Hashi says, “I was inspired equally by what I had in life as by what I didn’t have.” Seeing his grandmother struggling to put food on the table for him, his siblings and cousins, and experiencing the bitter feeling of shame and helplessness when being moved around from one temporary accommodation to the next, fostered his personal dedication to do anything it takes to break the circle.

“Nobody ever remembers the negative things that happened to you, but everybody will remember how you reacted to it.”

Hashi did study hard. He also learned how to speak to different people, in different contexts, at different times. He realised that adapting to his surroundings wasn’t the same as changing who he was or altering his personality. This approach opened doors for Hashi, enabling him to establish himself within the system, which puts him in the best position to change it – from the inside.

Follow Hashi Mohamed on Twitter @hm_hashi