I’m very proud of my time at University, I’ll say that. I came here and I said I was going to take advantage of opportunities that were here for me and I really did. Everything that I said I was going to do, I did - and I actually exceeded my expectations. Something I'm really proud of is that I was president of Enactus Essex which is a global entrepreneurship society, so you start projects around the world to help people and they all have to be entrepreneur-inspired. Our society went on to make about £20,000 the year that I became president and it was in a deficit before, so it was really a proud moment for me to know that all the skills I learned at University, I was able to put into a society and then able to become president and use those skills.
I’ve had a lot of other opportunities here that I just went for too, so it’s been amazing. I’ve even represented the University at a competition in South Africa! So, when I became president of Enactus we said we wanted to win the national competition and then go to the global competition. We got to sixth place out of sixty universities and we were really disappointed because we wanted to come first. But then the first team needed help in South Africa so they called for the top ten teams to come together to help them out and go to South Africa with them and we were like ‘we don’t have the money to do this, but this has never happened before!’, so we went to speak to the University and they were like ‘this is an amazing opportunity, go for it’! So they gave us the money to go and that year England won the global competition, so we were part of the whole winning team. So that’s one of the things that I got involved in straight away and it’s just opened loads of doors for me, and it’s really helped me to develop. From a global perspective it really helped me with my course as well. It was really brilliant.
I’ve since started my own business called Ms Independent. After being part of Enactus I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur and that I was going to start a business. I didn’t know how, so I went to work in different industries and develop my skills. I then became president of the Students' Union, and that has really helped me in terms of management. Being president, you see all the departments so you know how HR works, you know how Marketing works and you know how Finance works because you oversee all of the decisions, so it developed my ability to know how a business runs. Then after I finished my dissertation, I kept finding my research was all about gender wage gap and asking ‘why does it still exist?’ So I kept going to seminars in my spare time. I became almost a little bit obsessed with the gender wage gap and some of the really interesting seminars I went to said that one of the causes is because a lot of girls in schools aren’t taught about taking risks or entrepreneurship, so then when they go in to the job market they don’t like taking risks, and they are less likely to take risks than men. I am a risk taker, so I felt like I should encourage other girls to take risks as well.
It started with me just putting up an Instagram page. A lot of people used to call me Miss Independent after the song by Ne-Yo, so it just became one of my nicknames and then I just thought let’s turn it in to a little bit of a brand; let’s put out inspirational quotes and articles on Instagram and Twitter. Then, it turned in to a school calling me to come and talk there, followed by a university in Spain calling me to come and speak over there. At that point I went up to the Careers Centre and I was like ‘I know I’m president here, but I feel like I have a business plan and I need you to help me develop it’. The Careers Centre, the University and everyone around me has been really amazing. I also went back to my Economics department here and they’ve given me articles to read and research, so it’s turned into a social enterprise and we now deliver empowerment workshops. We talk about leadership, skills and entrepreneurship that can help you in any field, and we talk about taking risks. It starts with little things and building that habit so you can take risks in the future. It’s just grown and grown, and my aim is to do that full time.
I didn’t always have the right attitude when I first came to uni, but I realised half way through my first year that I’m paying a lot of money to study so let’s make the most of it. As soon as I changed my attitude towards my course and everything, that’s when I just started taking risks. My first risk was that I ran for ACS President, I always tell this story, and I lost really badly and I felt like it was the most public thing ever, but then the President of Enactus said ‘Zoe, I love your energy, why don’t you become one of our exec members?’ and then I went from there. But I always say, if I didn’t take the risk in losing running for president then, then I would have never gone on to be president of Enactus and then the SU president, so me changing my attitude towards those opportunities has had an impact on everything that I’ve done so far.
I’m inspired by my faith. I’m a Christian and it’s just set the values and the foundation of my life and definitely everything about love; I love people because of my faith. Then I’m inspired by my family, my parents are African and I love it! I love the African and the British infusion that they’ve taught us and adopted into our lives. They’re just so hilarious my parents, they taught me to just not take life too seriously and to have fun and enjoy everything but always work hard, so I’m definitely inspired by my whole family. And I have a picture of Michelle Obama on my desk; she’s like the queen to me! I love her! She’s definitely the one who made Obama the President he was, in my opinion.