Alumni Services

The student and the professional

Vanessa Ombura is a student of Civil Engineering, a MasterCard Foundation scholar and a recipient of the Edinburgh Award for Transformative Leadership. Josh MacAlister is an inspirational graduate of Social Policy and Politics who offered advice to the scholars at the awards ceremony. We spoke to both.

Vanessa Ombura and Josh MacAlister
Vanessa Ombura and Josh MacAlister

The Edinburgh Award in Transformative Leadership

Vanessa and her fellow MasterCard Foundation scholars have completed the first Edinburgh Award in Transformative Leadership.

The University's Edinburgh Award scheme enables students to gain recognition for activities beyond their curriculum, and this new award recognises students' work to maximise their impact and excel as a transformative leader. These students have worked purposely and actively to develop their role as leaders through various activities on campus and in the community. They received their award at a ceremony in April.

Q&A: Vanessa Ombura

How does it feel to be among the first recipients of the Edinburgh Award in Transformative Leadership?

I feel very honoured. Being in the first cohort of students undertaking the Edinburgh Award gave me a lot of room for discovery that brought about a deeper and authentic understanding of transformative leadership. It also gave me the wonderful opportunity to participate in the creation of this new award with the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, and challenged me to live up to the discussions we had had on what transformative leadership entails.

What inspires you to strive to be a transformative leader?

The people that enabled me (and continue enabling me) to be the best version of myself inspire me to be a transformative leader. I have had such wonderful opportunities that have enabled me to be where I am in life because of people who invested (and keep investing) in me. They have opened my world to a love for knowledge and community development as well as innovation and openness. The desire to honour these people’s investments in my life, as well as the want to give back to others who would benefit just as much as I have, inspire me each day.

What support have you received from the University?

One of the most immediate forms of support I have received is from the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program without which I would not have been able to be a part of this amazing institution. Beyond offering me a scholarship, they have been a reliable and true all-round support, from being my greatest motivators and cheerleaders to pointing me in appropriate directions for help. 

How do you inspire your fellow students?

I have been told by my peers that my sense of responsibility, honest feedback and empathy are a source of inspiration to them. I am humbled to have numerous opportunities to keep developing these skills through my curricular and co-curricular activities and to be surrounded by a University community that challenges me to keep upholding these traits.

How does hearing from other graduates, such as Josh MacAlister who spoke at the Award reception, inspire you to do well?

Graduates such as Josh MacAlister validate my belief in the fulfilment of being a transformative leader. They inspire me to hold on to the desire and need to experience authentic self-development as well as play an active role in community development. Hearing from others who were once in my shoes and are now making positive contributions in their various fields challenges me to not only effectively utilise the opportunities I have but also relish these moments with the desire to reach a point like them where I can be a source of motivation to other students in the future, thus continuing this cycle and network of inspiration and proactive change.

Q&A: Josh MacAlister

Alumnus Josh is Chief Executive of Frontline, an organisation that transforms the lives of vulnerable children by recruiting and developing outstanding individuals to be leaders in social work and broader society. He spoke and offered advice at the award ceremony.

Why did you volunteer to speak the the Edinburgh Award ceremony?

I now run a charity that recruits a large number of graduates. Being able to speak directly to students who have demonstrated a commitment to go above and beyond their normal degree programmes is a great opportunity. 

Why is it so important that students hear from graduates who have gone on to have successful careers?

Being able to consider your options after university is one of the most enjoyable parts of the university experience. Students deserve to hear from graduates who have gone and done a wide range or jobs so they can decide on the best career move.

Why would you feel moved to give back to Edinburgh students? 

I have a fondness for the University and it's a pleasure to be able to contribute something back after having had such an enjoyable time studying in Edinburgh. 

Which moments or activities during your studies really influenced your subsequent career choices and opportunities?

Being president of the Students' Association was particularly influential. It gave me an appetite for campaigning and making change happen. It was also a practical way to apply my degree, which was in Social Policy and Politics.

What do you wish you’d known as a student?

That you will never have as much free time in work as when you were a student. So make full use of the time and opportunities! 

Your insights

If you are an Edinburgh alumnus and are interested in participating in one of our events to offer advice to students, please contact CJ Cochran, Alumni Manager:

Email CJ Cochran

Related links

Transformative leadership