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Eighteen-year-old Shafik Ali was born and brought up on the Mozart housing estate in West London. At a young age his father passed away and Shafik’s role models became the drug dealers and gang members running the estate. Before he even entered his teens, Shafik’s only priority was to get enough money day to day - for basic things like food and running errands for the drug pushers and the gangs. It wasn’t long before Shafik began dealing in drugs - the norm in the area - to get the cash he wanted.
As Shafik himself says: “Growing up on my estate I had no role models. I wanted quick money, I wanted the clothes the drug dealers wore, I wanted to drive their cars and I wanted the money they had in their pockets, I wanted cash in my pocket and wanted it quick.”
Shafik made his first court appearance for ‘possession of a class A substance’ when he was just 12 years old and 12 others followed over the next two years.
It was at his 13th appearance in court that he finally realised that this wasn’t the way forward and there had to be another way, so he started to turn his life around. Shafik remembers the moment clearly, “I was electronically tagged and the magistrate told me if I was arrested again I’d be going to a young offenders’ institute.
“The magistrate then made me turn around and look at my mum who was broken. She sat in court sobbing. They say you need to hit the ground hard enough to wake up, I hit the ground really hard that day, I was at rock bottom, but luckily for me, that set my mind towards improving my life and not ending up inside like many people I know.”
A turning point - Shafik meets James
Then everything changed as Shafik met James Arnold from Investec Capital Markets, UK, his mentor as recommended by Arrival Education.
When Arrival Education first approached Investec all they had was a diagram of a programme that they wanted to build some experience working in schools and with young people.
However the insights of the programme – approaching the problem of social mobility with a long-term, rigorous development process based on cutting-edge principles of leadership and success, rather than short-term programmes or simple show and tell visits – struck a chord with the team at Investec who wanted to make sure that any support would genuinely transition young people into successful adulthood, rather than simple ‘show and tell’ visits or superficial training which wouldn’t deal with the real issues. The two organisations share similar values in terms of being entrepreneurial and placing a high value on integrity.
With Investec’s support Arrival Education has built what is widely regarded as the most ambitious, innovative and impactful youth development programme in the UK, developing young people from challenging backgrounds into adults genuinely capable of success.
Shafik joined the award-winning ‘Success for Life’ programme, run by Arrival Education, when he was 14. The non-academic programme works with 14 – 19 year olds from disadvantaged communities across the UK, providing them with opportunities and the skills they need to do well, something that peers from more affluent families are taught by their parents. He was talked into filling in the application form and, fortunately for him, got a place. Shafik was asked what sector he may be interested in and he responded with ‘finance, investment banking or business’.
Through Arrival, Shafik met James and arranged to meet him on a regular basis. Shafik still remembers his first time at Investec, in awe of the large trading floor, the huge computer screens and the action that followed.
The intention was for James to provide Shafik with inspiration to change, through his life as an accomplished banker in the City. However the journey was not as simple as that.
A bumpy road towards change
James remembers the first few meetings – filled with trepidation, Shafik would listen as he would try and draw him out, building trust slowly through an exchange of stories. It took a few sessions for Shafik to understand and appreciate the world that James came from and also to grant James the credibility of being a mentor irrespective of their hugely different backgrounds. James tactfully spoke about his childhood, his upbringing and the less than perfect life of a middle-class teenager. And it was through James’ mistakes that Shafik discovered that change was possible.
The school noticed a radical shift in his attitude and behaviour immediately.
A brighter future
As Shafik himself says: “When I started the programme I still wasn’t in the right mind-set to make it work and run with it. But after I hit rock bottom and realised I wanted to follow a different route, I remembered meeting some really inspirational business leaders and entrepreneurs who had £50-60 million large accounts. It showed me that life could be very different if I wanted”
A few years ago Shafik sat his GCSEs. He was expected to get a handful of C’s but came away with three A stars, two A’s, two B’s and a distinction star. He has also completed his A – levels and got good grades in maths, physics and chemistry and is currently on a gap year working for Arrival Education while applying to study physics at university in 2013.
He concluded: “Four years ago my life was pretty much ruined. Now look at me! The programme has given me huge aspirations and opportunities I wouldn’t get from anywhere else. My mum is really proud of me and my younger brother, who was beginning to follow in my footsteps, has already turned around after seeing that with the right support and opportunities, anything can be achieved.
“I still see the drug dealers and gangs I used to work with and hang around with. They’ve criticised me, telling me I fight on the wrong side of the war, but I say, I’m on the right side, one that might change my life. In my early teens people looked up to me in my community because I was dealing and making a little bit of quick cash. Now I want them to look up to me, and say that if this is what a young person form a west London estate could achieve and has the potential to become, then my own potential is endless.”
As for James, the relationship continues beyond the scheduled period of the mentoring program. Shafik keeps in touch with James on a regular basis and goes to him for career advice. Shafik is contemplating taking a year out to get some work experience and James is the first port of call for suggestions and advice.