Winners of the Vice-Chancellor's Social Impact Awards 2019
Cambridge Hub is delighted to announce the winners of the first ever Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Awards in Cambridge, held in February 2019.
5th February 2019
With the support of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, Cambridge Hub launched the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Awards this year to recognise and celebrate exceptional achievement in social impact amongst University of Cambridge students.
From a total of fifty-five nominations, the panel of judges chose four winners, and two highly commended. These students came from a variety of courses and levels of study,
and have been involved in a large range of social and environmental issues. The judging panel consisted of Rachel Newell, Social Enterprise Manager at Wintercomfort; Frances Meegan, University of Cambridge Careers Adviser; and Charlie Hamilton, CEO of Student Hubs.
The awards were presented by Professor Toope, in a ceremony on the 5th of February in Emmanuel College. In his speech the Vice-Chancellor spoke about the importance of recognising social impact achievement within the university:
“We can all agree that Cambridge students are bright; that Cambridge students are good leaders; that Cambridge students are enterprising. What we don’t always recognise is that so many Cambridge students are also generous, and socially aware. When this awareness, and this generosity, mix with their brightness, their enterprising streak, their talent for leadership, the result is very powerful.
While academic or sporting excellence are often recognised, very often the incredible work that many students do in contributing to their local community can go overlooked. That is why my Office has supported these awards since the idea was first proposed. It seems essential to me that we are not only rewarding academic or sporting excellence – of which there is an abundance – but also excellence and accomplishment in contributing to society.”
The winners received tailored support from Cambridge Hub to help expand their impact, alongside the opportunity to be fast-tracked onto the Worthwhile graduate scheme.
Below are more details on the winners and highly commended, congratulations all!
Tiara Sahar Ataii - Winner
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Alongside her undergraduate degree in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Robinson College,
Tiara is the founder of Solidaritee, an international movement which sells T-shirts to raise
money for legal aid for refugees. During her time volunteering with a legal aid NGO in Greece,
Tiara realised the devastating impact that a lack of access to legal aid could have on refugees
seeking asylum.
In January 2017, Tiara bought 600 t-shirts to sell to friends and family, delivering them around
Cambridge by bike. SolidariTee has since grown rapidly and now operates in 30 universities,
raising over £50,000 in total for legal aid for refugees. Tiara now manages over 450 students
with the national team, and is registering with the Charity Commission to keep up with her
growth, as SolidariTee is projected to raise over £200,000 this year.
Alongside launching three social media campaigns to inform the public about the crisis, her next
focus will be on providing grants to British students and graduates looking to volunteer long-
term in legal aid, aiming to provide sustainable solutions to the refugee crisis.
The judges unanimously described her work as “humbling and incredibly inspiring”. They saw
the project as having made a profound impact on the lives of refugees through practical,
financial support. They noted especially that though now a huge operation, Solidaritee remains
rooted in community need and empathy with beneficiaries.
Stephen Cole - Winner
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Alongside his undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at St. John’s College, Stephen is the
President of Cambridge Homeless Outreach Project, or CHOP, where he has organised
projects, fundraisers, and speaker events aimed at supporting homeless people in Cambridge.
He has organised numerous collection drives, a weekly student-run cafe at Wintercomfort, a
Christmas Dinner fundraiser, volunteering projects with Cambridge Cyrenians, and panels on
LGBT+ homelessness, and homelessness and mental health. His Jimmy’s Treats and CHOP
Chocolate Fudge fundraisers have raised £2000 over two terms. Recently, Stephen has begun
to drive long-term systemic impact by representing CHOP at the Cambridgeshire Homelessness
Summit, and setting up a new Campaigns and Research subcommittee to help follow on from
this, campaigning for the Living Wage and researching housing and welfare policy.
Stephen’s nominator said that ‘There is no way to truly quantify the compassion Stephen has
brought to his social movements, no doubt influenced by his role as a dedicated volunteer [...]
Stephen’s commitment to non-profit causes is worthy of the highest commendation.’
The judges
were particularly struck with the way in which he built networks and forged connections between
existing groups to help them achieve more together, and how his commitment to long-term
impact has increased during his involvement with CHOP.
Matt Mahmoudi - Winner
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Alongside his PhD in Development Studies at Pembroke College, in October 2016 Matt brought
together voices across Cambridge to found Declarations: The Human Rights Podcast, to help
bridge the divide between academics, activists, and the general public in the conversation on
human rights.
More recently, he has been working to develop and launch The State of Things, an online
platform for citizenship education to be used in schools. Matt has also spearheaded important
work in documenting human rights violations, beginning with his involvement as an intern and
later Program Lead with The Whistle Project.
He also set up the first Amnesty International Digital Verification Corps in Cambridge, training a
team to use digital tools and media to verify human rights violations; and their project on migrant
labour abuse in Qatar has been used by Amnesty’s Migration team to directly support their
advocacy work.
Matt’s nominator said that he ‘has spearheaded fantastic work on important but often
overlooked human rights issues [...] Matt has started a number of important initiatives at
Cambridge that have a positive impact on the university community and beyond; increasing
awareness for important social justice causes and providing advice on how to work within
academia to support stronger human rights provision.’
The judges were above all struck by the profound impact of his work, especially with the Digital Verification Corps, in providing frontline workers with vital data with which to continue their work.
George Rosenfeld - Winner
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Alongside his undergraduate degree in Arabic and Russian at Trinity College, George is the
founder of May Week Alternative, an initiative that invites students to donate the cost of a May
Ball ticket (around £150), to a set charity, and then gather together in May Week to celebrate
the money raised, as well as the end of exams. Set up in January 2018, in its first year May
Week Alternative reached 40 people, and with matched funding raised £12,000 for the Against
Malaria Foundation, protecting over 15,000 people from malaria.
Prior to this, George founded and later managed an a cappella choir, Kol Tov (formerly The 4
Sons), which has raised £58,000 for the charities Chai Cancer, Emunah, and WaterAid through
CD and ticket sales. He was also the Founder and President of a Social Responsibility Week,
campaigning across the Jewish community in over 35 organisations, driving the community’s
first coordinated discussion about social responsibility as a key theme in Judaism.
George has also been involved with WaterAid for many years, acting as an ambassador for the
charity in Westminster and at the United Nations Youth Assembly.
One of George’s nominators said that ‘I feel very lucky to work with George, as he is one of the
most caring people I’ve ever had the fortune to meet. He gives his all to every project he
undertakes, and that is epitomised in MWA. [...] He improves the lives of his friends and associates, while simultaneously striving to make the world a better place’
. The judges were particularly struck by his bravery and fortitude in setting up May Week Alternative in the face of opposition while challenging the status quo. They were also impressed by his understanding of the impact of his work, and the tangible effects of his fundraising on beneficiaries.
David Izuogu - Highly Commended
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Alongside his PhD in Chemistry at Wolfson College, David has headed and piloted the first ever
Graduate Buddy programme to help new graduate students settle into Cambridge in his role as
the International Officer of the Graduate Union. He has campaigned for graduate rights and
mental health provision, and worked with the Careers Service to increase its visibility to
students. He is the founder of the Africa of our Dream Initiative, a foundation aiming to provide
access to quality education and Medicare in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as empowering women
and young people.
In this role, he has organised a Cambridge-Nigeria Outreach Programme in three different
Nigerian universities, started a Science Festival and a ‘Code your way out of poverty’ project,
forged research links between Cambridge and Africa, and used his own savings to provide
bursaries and pay application fees for talented Nigerian students to come to Cambridge.
David’s nominator said that ‘These initiatives are very important, precisely because, for many
African students, there is a myth constructed around Cambridge that makes the University
unreachable to them’
. The judges were impressed with this outreach work, and noted his strong
dedication and passion for the work. They also praised the steps taken to leave a sustainable
legacy after his time in Cambridge.
Verner Viisainen - Highly Commended
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Alongside his PhD in Engineering at Pembroke College, Verner established Meat Free Mondays
at Pembroke during his time as the MCR’s Environmental Officer, and in May 2017 he founded
Pembroke College Gardening Society, recruiting 40 students to grow food in a college allotment, and holding talks on gardening and permaculture approaches to help students learn how to grow their own food.
Following his participation in Cambridge Hub’s Engage for Change programme, Verner set up
CamBridge2Environment with two others, a 7 week project to connect students with local
environmental groups through different hands-on volunteering sessions and discussion groups.
For this project Verner collaborated with Cambridge Carbon Footprint, Transition Cambridge,
FoodCycle, CamCycle and the University’s Environment & Energy Section.
Verner’s nominator said that ‘More than one of these partners has commented on what a
delight Verner was to work with [...] Verner is a remarkably motivated and passionate individual
who has demonstrated persistence and leadership in furthering environmental action across the
The judges noted his genuine passion and dedication to environmental causes, as
well as his initiative in setting up an ambitious project.
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