LifeSkills Champion Mohammed Usman explains how he went from being afraid to speak in front of the class to addressing an audience of 12,000 at Wembly Arena with Richard Branson.
After surviving a major heart operation at the age of eight, Mohammed Usman pledged to take control of his future and break down barriers for others.
His peers at the time were “hanging about on the streets of Bradford, West Yorkshire, and not doing much with their lives”.
He volunteered locally and, at the age of 14, represented a humanitarian charity at the United Nations in New York, meeting world leaders, including Kofi Annan.
Now in his final year at Warwick University, he explains how he became Barclays’ first LifeSkills Champion, and how the programme has shaped his direction and ambitions.
Putting LifeSkills into practice
“After one of Barclays Lifeskills’ charity partners promoted the programme at a school assembly in 2013, I went straight to the library to sign up. I was the type of person who wouldn’t dare speak in front of the class, but I knew I had to overcome that if I wanted to change anything.
I completed modules every day – before school, at lunch, after school – then put them into practice in my daily life. Within weeks, I saw a difference in myself, and felt it would be selfish to not help others to benefit too.
I asked the school’s senior leadership if I could deliver workshops to tutor groups, but was told there was no time or funding.
I didn’t take that advice, instead speaking to the individual tutors and delivering workshops to their groups, creating a team of young people in my school to support me. We started seeing benefits and asked Barclays to deliver workshops.
As work experience wasn’t available at school, we made our own programme, with activities to go out and see local businesses, and CV clinics with the local LifeSkills team.
As work experience wasn’t available at school, we made our own programme, with activities to go out and see local businesses, and CV clinics with the local LifeSkills team
I got a work experience placement at a Barclays branch in Bradford. It was the first time I’d worked in a business; I’d never had a part-time job, though I’d always been entrepreneurial. But I wanted to get more involved in the LifeSkills programme itself to see how we could get more young people benefiting, so I got in touch with Kirstie Mackey and the team. It’s a programme for young people, so that voice needs to be included.
I spent a week at Barclays’ HQ, meeting the people behind the programme, including the CEO, and suggested a Youth Advisory Council. Two years ago, we started recruiting young people from different backgrounds, who meet three times a year.
Become a leader of social change
LifeSkills has helped shape me, my direction and my future career. I’ve spoken at Wembley Arena at an event with Richard Branson in front of 12,000 people. I never thought I’d study at Warwick because everyone from my city went to a local university. I work part-time at Barclays in Coventry and, as a LifeSkills Champion, always promote the programme. We developed champions to share their experiences and become leaders of social change. The message hits harder when someone of a similar age and background tells their story.
I’m keeping my career options open, but I like finance and supporting companies to reach young people in disadvantaged areas through corporate social responsibility. I also have a few businesses of my own and want to complete a Master’s in the next few years, and an MBA within the next 10. I’d love to become the CEO of Barclays one day.”