Gemma Perkins has been volunteering with Initiatives of Change UK since the age of 21. She was part of the second cohort of the School for Changemakers Programme and she is also the Founder of the Self Leadership Initiative (SLI), a training organisation which helps people develop the skills they need to be effective changemakers in society. Gemma tells Emma Brown about her deep affiliation with the School for Changemakers Programme and how it has shaped her development path in ways the national education system has not been able to fulfil.
As the oldest of four siblings, Gemma naturally fell into a maternal leadership role of wanting to help her younger siblings with their learning development. All of her brothers and sisters are on the autistic spectrum and so she got to experience the use of play therapy techniques and social interaction activities. These were so inspiring to her that by the age of 8 she had already decided she wanted to be a teacher.
Whilst at University studying phycology and gaining qualifications in teaching, Gemma signed up to a youth programme to further expand the space of what she wanted to do in the world. It was during this journey she found the School for Changemakers. This is where she learnt what her values system comprises and the importance of living by her values every day.
Gemma at a School for Changemakers event in 2015 with friends she now considers family
"I love having the opportunity to talk about big ideas and gain new perspectives on a local and global level"
“I started a business at age 25 with no experience or qualifications in business. This was a lot of fun but it was difficult at times. The most challenging part was having people tell me how it is supposed to be done and me wanting to do it my own way. I had to trust myself and convince people that my way was the right way to do this thing for myself.”
Gemma says the people she met through the School for Changemakers Programme helped her to shape and nurture her business through their ongoing support, ideas and honest feedback. They are now like a family to her and are integral to her life’s path. She says: “I love collaborating with these people, from all walks of life, with unique values systems. Everyone benefits. This community has given me the confidence, courage and strength to value my own autonomy and do things my way, driven by my purpose. Although it is important to achieve GCSEs and A Levels, you don’t get soft skills like this through the current education system.”
She continues: “A really special aspect of the School for Changemakers Programme is, during events and conferences, we create community group spaces, made up of 6-10 people who really get to know each other on an intimate level. It is a shared space for quiet time, reflection and to build trust with each other. We talk about big ideas and have personal sharing which builds empathy and helps us to see topics from different perspectives, on a local and global level.”
Intimate trust-building sharing sessions, with a space for quiet time and reflection
One of Gemma’s proudest moments was helping to coordinate and facilitate the School for Changemakers 10-year anniversary in India. She says: “Like with most sessions, our focuses included understanding personality archetypes and how to use them in teams, motivational language goal setting, coaching skills and how you use it in personal development and work settings. We looked at how dance and movement can be used to overcome trauma and conflict resolution techniques, as well as the foundations of effective listening.”
“I had never travelled outside of the UK before the age of 25. I grew up in a very white working-class community. Now I was in India facilitating a learning programme and experiencing new cultures. It is amazing to see how pivotal these moments have been in helping me see myself as part of a global community as opposed to a Sheffield one.”
Gemma in India at the start of 2020 for the School for Changemakers 10th Anniversary event
"This community has given me the confidence, courage and strength to value my own autonomy and do things my way"
Gemma continues to share her experiences and deliver development initiatives to her students. She hopes that one day soft skills will be incorporated into the academic syllabus. Until that day comes, she will carry on offering this one piece of advice to future changemakers:
“There is so much in the world that can be changed and it can get overwhelming. Don’t spread yourself thin. Connect to your inner world. Spend time working out what your purpose is, be honest with yourself, compare yourself to yourself and not to others, be reflective, and focus on your niche. Looking to the Japanese method of Ikigai can help you establish your calling.”
For more information on the School for Changemakers Programme, click here.