Empowering the potential leaders of the future - Penny Richards

I thought I knew Edinburgh. I have family there, and have popped up a lot over the years to hang out, embrace the weather on the Pentland Hills, and to marvel at the differences from London.

But I recently popped up again, in part with an aspiration to talk to as many business people as possible about a Fellowship my organisation runs, for deeply impressive 21–35 year olds across the UK. And I now realise I have much to learn, and much to admire about this great city.

Aspen Institute in the UK’s Rising Leaders Fellowship is bold, and exciting. It welcomes up to 250 of high potential ‘young’ leaders a year, empowering them to operate effectively in a world that is becoming increasingly diverse and polarised. It’s very active across the UK, we’re determined to have more impact in Scotland, and I wanted help in identifying some of the country’s finest.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I didn’t doubt Scotland is full of hugely impressive people, and I certainly shouldn’t have worried about the idea being embraced. Doors were opened, coffees offered, and a flood of meetings were booked. And then more introductions were made. And more. Within days I’d met a remarkable group of people, all of whom were immensely thoughtful, enthusiastic and happy to open their digital rolodexes.

Penny Richards, CEO, Aspen Institute UKPenny Richards, CEO, Aspen Institute UK
Penny Richards, CEO, Aspen Institute UK

I mentioned this enthusiasm and generosity to a friend, who has just relocated to Scotland after 20 years as an international journalist. He recognised this unusual ‘can do’ spirit immediately. It reminded him, he said, of the Scotland Can Do campaigned launched ten years ago by the Scottish Government, with partners across the public, private and third sectors. It seems that the spirit remains – no nudges are needed.

Another old friend recently launched a one-stop online store showcasing well-designed brands from across Scotland. With Made Scotland she is discovering the same as me – an immense ‘can do’ and generous spirit in a thriving scene of makers. But, unlike me, she isn’t surprised. As I said, I have much to learn.

One of the people I met was a young comedian turned entrepreneur. Anna Devitt has created Europe’s first accredited qualification in Comedy and Confidence. She’s already one of our Rising Leader Fellows – and is engaged in the UK-wide network we’re building. Like so many others, she was keen to spread word, nominating contacts from the creative industries and beyond.

Aspen UK is part of a global network of Aspen Institutes, which have inspired and empowered leaders around the world for over 70 years. We launched after Brexit, believing that dialogue is a means of promoting understanding – an essential step to repairing the political, social, and cultural divisions that exist in the UK. We believe that better dialogue can help deepen understanding of current issues. We don’t shy away from disagreement – we believe it can be thought-provoking and constructive, rather than threatening and polarising.

We’re always on the lookout for more impressive people to join us, from a broad range of backgrounds, experiences, communities and professions. It’s fully funded, so free for all participants. Do please feel free to nominate people, if they share the Scottish ‘can do’ attitude, and want to learn from others.

Penny Richards, CEO, Aspen Institute UK



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.