Ulster University has announced the 25 exceptional leaders selected from diverse sectors spanning business, technology, health, education, law, finance, public affairs, charity, sustainability, peace-building, youth work and journalism, who will begin the prestigious 25@25 leadership programme in September.
These aspiring leaders from across Northern Ireland are Ulster University alumni who are currently rising to the top of their fields in international organisations such as PwC, EY and Factor Law; leading NI bodies: Translink, Catalyst, NI Fiscal Council and Belfast City Council; and well-known charities: Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Fund for Children and consultancy: Third Sector Connect; among many others.
Throughout the year, the cohort of leaders will take part in nine one-day sessions guided by an extraordinary lineup of talented guest speakers. Already confirmed are BAFTA-winning screenwriter, Lisa McGee; TV presenter and former Irish Rugby international player Tommy Bowe; Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and a trailblazer shaping the future of public administration, Jayne Brady; and CEO of Nextdoor, Sarah Friar.
Joining this line-up is Samantha Barry, Glamour's Americas Editorial Director and Irish native who will share her leadership insights with the 25. Based in New York, Samantha previously worked as a reporter for RTÉ, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC and CNN, where she was an executive producer for CNN Worldwide. Led by Barry, CNN's 2016 presidential election coverage received the first ever Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in social media.
In November, Barry will lead a session called ‘Becoming a Creative Leader’ along with Lisa McGee, playwright, screenwriter and creator of the BAFTA-winning Derry Girls who has just announced a new comedy-thriller series for Channel 4, called How To Get To Heaven From Belfast.
Samantha said: “I’m delighted to be involved in 25@25 – especially alongside my friend, Lisa McGee - and looking forward to sharing my journey and the leadership lessons I’ve learned along the way with this incredible group.
“I was preparing to finish school when the signing of the Good Friday Agreement happened, and it was momentous and historic. Twenty five years on I’m passionate about supporting and fostering this generation of amazing talent we have on the Island of Ireland and I’m excited to see what they go on to achieve next.”
Meet some of the 25
Among those excited to get started on the programme running until June 2024 is PwC’s Corporate Affairs Manager, social media influencer and regular BBC contributor, Gemma-Louise Bond who is passionate about using her influence for good. She is also the Place & Purpose co-lead for PwC NI, ensuring their 3,700 staff are embedded in the local community. She is joined on the programme by another PwC colleague, Rachael Toland who is Workforce Capability and Development Manager and a One Young World Ambassador after representing PwC last year in Manchester. One Young World is the biggest global gathering of the brightest talent from every country and sector to debate and devise innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. Ambassadors are counselled by influential business, political, and humanitarian leaders such as Mary Robinson, Justin Trudeau, Sir Bob Geldof and Leigh Anne Pinnock.’
Gemma-Louise commented: “I’m delighted to be part of the programme and grow my leadership skills to take back to use at PwC in my future career. I hope to be inspired by the experts who will impart their wisdom to us. I’m a proud young woman from our country and I hope this course helps to build a group of new leaders that will help steer us to more success over the next 25 years.”
Joining the group, Gary Rutherford, the Royal College of Nursing’s Nurse of the Year 2022 from Derry~Londonderry is a registered Mental Health Nurse and Addiction Therapist. Gary used his own past experience of substance abuse to launch ARC Fitness, dedicating his career to supporting individuals impacted by addiction and substance use through physical activity.
Gary said: “I am so excited to get started on the 25@25 programme. This is a wonderful opportunity to create a positive and long-lasting impact on my organisation, my team, the community, and my family. The calibre of individuals involved in providing input into the programme delivery are inspiring and motivating. What an excellent opportunity to learn and engage with these individuals listening to their insights, their learning and their advice.”
Including, Aaron Marshall, a 25-year-old Business Director from Belfast who previously graduated from Ulster University with a First Class Honours in Marketing. Aaron has co-founded a successful environmental conservation business, Responsible Plastic Management (RPM) which promotes sustainable practices on a global scale, across 16 different countries.
Aaron said: "I am beyond grateful to be selected for the 25@25 Leadership Programme. The Programme will help develop my leadership skills and enhance my contribution of championing sustainable business practices in Northern Ireland. I am excited to meet the other participants who are also doing amazing work for the benefit of Northern Ireland. I am excited to learn and discuss how we can create lasting change for the future of Northern Ireland."
And Katie McQuillan-Love, a Self-Employed Director and graduate in 3D Animation. Katie has become an award-winning Commercials Director, co-ordinating TV ads for global brands like Cadbury, EA Sports, FIFA and Visa where her work has surpassed over 15 million views.
Katie said: “With the world-class line up of speakers and the reveal of the ’25@25’ cohort, I am so excited to be in the same room with so many exceptional leaders. I am hoping the programme catalyses my personal growth and builds my leadership capability. I am also looking forward to collaborating with a new network of friends and mentors who share a passion of and commitment to shaping Northern Ireland’s future.”
Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, University Provost, Ulster University commented;
“This year will be the start of a new chapter in Northern Ireland’s history. By pairing the up and coming leaders of our future with the leaders of today who can share their experiences and expertise of success, Ulster University will play a vital role in shaping the future generations of entrepreneurs, innovators, and change-makers to be the leaders that we have the power to educate and inspire.
“Today’s titans of industry in the creative arts, healthcare and sustainability, among others, know what needs to be done to secure a bright future for Northern Ireland and thrive on our successes, and Ulster University are providing the platform and the opportunity to do it.
“The future leaders on the 25@25 Programme are going to be world-class because of the world-class leaders that are stepping up to guide them”.
About the 25@25 programme
Ulster University’s fully-funded 25@25 Leadership Programme is a cornerstone of a year-long programme to mark 25 years since the signing of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
The 25@25 Leadership Programme is a learning and leadership development programme for graduates from Ulster University who live and work here and who are committed to our place in Northern Ireland and who choose to lead Northern Ireland’s future.
It is designed to expand experiences, grow leadership capacity, and build a long-lasting network of change-makers, with a firm focus on enhancing and defining the next 25 years ahead for NI. Learning will be focused on topics such as Foundations of Leadership, Becoming a Creative Leader, Leading with Sustainability, and Leading for the Future.
The young leaders will also have the opportunity to undertake an incredible week-long residential at the prestigious Babson College, Boston, where they will adopt Babson’s pioneering Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® methodology, which sets leaders up to drive economic growth and social change.
As well as learning from these trailblazers, the participants will benefit from a mentoring programme, including a partnership with the Institute of Directors NI, where participants are partnered with a senior leader from across the region. Additionally, they will each receive a series of one-to-one coaching sessions with experienced and credentialed International Coaching Federation (ICF) Coaches throughout the duration of the programme.
The programme is kindly supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation, to learn more about the programme visit www.ulster.ac.uk/twenty-five
The Cohort of 25@25
Among those excited to get started on the programme running until June 2024;
Amy Anderson, Founder, Creative Director, Designer, Kindred of Ireland
A Fashion & Textiles graduate. After spending time in London and Australia, she returned home and founded her clothing brand, Kindred of Ireland. Deeply rooted in her own lineage, it breathes new life into our Irish linen heritage through contemporary design, forming a connection between past and present. A significant part of the Kindred journey involves providing employment opportunities to individuals who have been trafficked, reflecting her commitment to social justice.
Gemma-Louise Bond, Corporate Affairs Manager at PwC and Social Media Influencer
A graduate in Communications, Advertising and Public Relations. Gemma-Louise is part of the UK Corporate Affairs team at PwC, looking after media relations for consumer & leisure sector across the UK. She is also the Place & Purpose co-lead for the NI team, ensuring their 3,700 staff are embedded in the local community. She has been an online influencer for over 10 years and is a regular BBC contributor.
Jenna Bradley, Client Manager at Brown O'Connor Communications
Graduated with a BA (Hons) in History with Education and MA Journalism with distinction. Working as a public relations and communications manager at Belfast agency Brown O’Connor Communications, she delivers media relations, public affairs, political and stakeholder engagement and social media support to clients in the IT and technology, accountancy, legal, and charity sectors. A qualified journalist, she holds a Gold Standard Diploma from the National Council for the Training of Journalists and previously reported for a leading regional newspaper.
Nigel Brannigan, Director at Factor Law
He holds a Master’s graduate in Management and Corporate Governance, complementing his Bachelor’s degree in Law. Nigel has cultivated a multifaceted skill set that bridge the domains of legal acumen and strategic leadership. His current role sees him with a leadership remit for more than 70 individuals.
Collette Cassidy, Project Officer at John & Pat Hume Foundation
Psychology graduate Collette has over 6 years’ experience in supporting, motivating, and inspiring young people in voluntary and professional roles. She currently holds the role of Project Support Officer for the John and Pat Hume Foundation. She has represented, advocated and lobbied for students as Vice-President of Ulster University’s Derry~Londonderry Campus and President of the Ulster University Students’ Union.
Katrina Gormley-Bradley, Founder and Director of Numerasee
On completion of a Master’s degree in Music in 2008, Katrina worked as a peripatetic music teacher within the Education Authority for 8 years. She completed a PGCE at Ulster in 2016, receiving both the GTCNI Star Award and the Biggar Award in Educational Studies. Katrina founded Numerasee, an award-winning maths movement in October 2021, to reverse the social stigma placed on mathematics, whilst supporting and engaging parents and children alike. She was elected into the UK Young Academy in January 2023, 1 of only 3 Irish members. Katrina is a proud STEM Ambassador.
Cathy Keenan, Enterprise and Business Growth Manager at Belfast City Council
Cathy is responsible for leading a team in Belfast City Council who are focused on supporting the economic growth of the city by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship activity, business start-up, growing existing business and identifying opportunities to attract investment. Cathy has worked in economic development focused roles for over 12 years and has a particular passion for entrepreneurship and encouraging new business start-ups. She holds a Master of Science in Business Development and Innovation from Ulster.
Conor Largey, Senior Youth Worker at Holy Trinity Youth Centre, West Belfast
Conor has been working with ‘at risk’ and vulnerable young people for ten years, after completing a degree in Community Youth Work. He has been instrumental in the delivery of a number of successful key youth work interventions with young people including, Street-based and Detached youth work strategy development and delivery. He represents the Voluntary and Community sector on the Education Authority Local Advisory Group.
Michael Lynch, Senior Business Development Executive at Datactics
He holds a PG Dip in International Marketing from Ulster. Michael works in international business development for Datactics, an indigenous Belfast-based tech firm. He is the Community Lead for Belfast Junior Chamber (JCI Belfast), serves as a Trustee of the Integrated AlumNI, a charity formed of past pupils and campaigners of integrated education in Northern Ireland and works as a part-time tour guide in Belfast for the past 11 years, showcasing Belfast to visitors from all parts of the globe.
Meg Magill, Invent Programme Manager at Catalyst
Meg Magill is the INVENT Programme Manager at Catalyst and part of the Entrepreneurship and Growth team. INVENT is a programme of support that recognises and celebrates upcoming entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland through collaboration with multiple stakeholders between corporate, academia, and innovation communities. Before joining Catalyst, she worked extensively in Northern Ireland’s arts sector, managing and producing theatre productions. She holds a Masters in International Event Management.
Aaron Marshall, Director Client Engagement at RS Standards Ltd
A 25-year-old Business Director from Belfast who previously graduated from Ulster University with a First Class Honours in Marketing. Aaron has co-founded a successful environmental conservation business, Responsible Plastic Management (RPM) which promotes sustainable practices on a global scale, across 16 different countries.
Jonathan McAdams, Chief of Staff at NI Fiscal Council
Chief of Staff at NI Fiscal Council, a New Decade New Approach Agreement commitment between the NI Executive and UK Government. He holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Public Administration. He was previously a senior civil servant in the Department of Finance, and in the Northern Ireland Office during the absence of the Executive. Before joining the senior civil service, he held policy and delivery roles in four different NICS and Whitehall departments. Jonathan is also a director on the Board of Action Mental Health, a leading Mental Health Charity with over 240 employees.
Nuala McAdams, Manager at EY
A Chartered Accountant and Global Capital Markets graduate. Nuala Is based in Derry and is a Manager with EY Northern Ireland’s Government & Infrastructure Advisory team working across the island of Ireland, predominantly in the transport sector. Nuala is very active in a number of voluntary roles including Chartered Accountants Ireland, serving on the Ulster Society and as Chair of Young Professionals Group; Young Leaders Northern Ireland, as a committee member and Treasurer; and Centre for Global Education, a local charity, as a Trustee.
James McCarthy, Journalist at Belfast Live
Politics and Journalism graduate. During his career he has worked at the Belfast Media Group, where he contributed to the Andersonstown News, North Belfast News, South Belfast News, and The Irish Echo in the US. Recently, he joined the Reach team where he is a journalist across Belfast Live and The Mirror.
Aine McCaughey, Principal Software Engineer at Instil
First Class Honours Graduate in Computer Science. Aine currently works as a principal software engineer with Instil Software and her career to date has been heavily influenced by her involvement with various school’s outreach programmes. She passionately believes that encouraging the next wave of IT talent, with an emphasis on encouraging young girls, is crucial to ensure Northern Ireland cements its place as a centre of IT excellence.
Mairaid McMahon, Policy Manager, Macmillan Cancer Support
An advocacy professional currently working in the health sector at Macmillan Cancer, with significant experience across the public, private, voluntary and community and social enterprise sectors within Northern Ireland, at Westminster and beyond. As Chair of the Board of Governors, she has recently led a successful, albeit ongoing, campaign to save her local school from closure. She holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Human Resource Management and an Advanced Diploma in Sustainable Investment in the Third Sector.
Katie McQuillan-Love, Self Employed Director at Freelance Commercials
First-class honours graduate in 3D Animation. Katie has become an award-winning commercials director (JAK). Directing TV ads for global brands like Cadbury, EA Sports, FIFA and Visa, alongside collaborating with talent such as David Beckham, her work has amassed over 15 million views. Her short films, driven by a deep desire to contribute positively to the larger narrative of Northern Ireland have gained viral acclaim and her background in creative technologies led her to direct a flagship virtual production film in NI. An entrepreneurial spirit, she's currently developing a product-based venture in Belfast.
Kevin McStravock, Lead Policy Officer (Nations and Europe) at Quality Assurance Agency for HE
A first-class honours graduate in Journalism with French. Kevin advises senior management and leads stakeholder engagement across the devolved nations in his current role with the Quality Assurance Agency, the UK's independent quality body for higher education. An accomplished student advocate, Kevin served five years in a range of local and national student leadership roles with UUSU and the Union of Students in Ireland. His passion for inclusive education and student engagement has led him to recently complete a Masters in Student Engagement at the University of Winchester.
Gavin Nelson, Chief Operating Officer at Third Sector Connect
Gavin has spent over two decades working in the community and voluntary sector across Northern Ireland, England, and America. He currently holds the position of Chief Operating Officer at Third Sector Connect where he supports community groups, charities and councils with a variety of projects. He holds an Executive MBA from Ulster. Gavin embarked on his journey as a volunteer at 16, subsequently assuming diverse volunteer roles. He currently volunteers on two boards - one within a national governing body of sport and the other with a community development charity.
Laura O’Hare, Youth Engagement Lead at Cancer Fund for Children
A Community Youth Work graduate, Laura has worked at a number of different youth organisations’ and is now Youth Engagement Manager at Cancer Fund for Children, where she has worked for the past 7 years.
Victoria Poole, Public Affairs and Engagement Manager, Education Authority
Victoria works in the education sector as a Public Affairs and Engagement Manager, leading on public affairs, stakeholder engagement and strategic communications to support children and young people. She volunteers with several UK cancer charities and campaigns to keep cancer high on the political agenda in Stormont, Westminster and beyond to accelerate cancer progress and create hope for other patients and their families using her own personal family experience as her motivation. Victoria played a key role in the development of a new Northern Ireland Cancer Strategy and she was recently named 'Ambassador of the Year' 2023 by a national cancer charity in recognition of her dedication to cancer campaigning.
Gary Rutherford, Mental Health Nurse professional and addiction therapist
A registered Mental Health Nurse professional and addiction therapist from Derry/Londonderry. In 2019 he launched ARC Fitness, a Derry based non-profit organisation supporting individuals impacted by addiction and substance use through physical activity, professional support, and community. Gary is also a person in long term recovery from substance abuse, something that drives him to advocate and provide hope for others. Gary’s unique approach towards supporting individuals get and stay on the road to recovery has been highly commended. Gary’s work has been recognised by the Royal College of Nursing, awarding him ‘RCN Nurse of the Year’ 2022.
Chris Shannon, Managing Director & Co-Founder at Startium
He holds a first class Honours Graduate in Marketing. He is currently a Director and Co-Founder of Startium, a solutions company helping universities and local governments deliver better business support and Venture Folk Ltd, a social enterprise focused on community regeneration and economic development. Chris was also a political candidate in the 2023 NI Local Government Election. In 2020 Chris was awarded a National Enterprise Education Award and appointed as an Influencer Fellow of Enterprise Educators UK.
Rachael Toland, Learning and Development Manager at PwC
She is passionate about the future of Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to Social Mobility and Gender Equality and regularly volunteers across these initiatives with local charities and social enterprises. In 2022 Rachael represented PwC at One Young World in Manchester, an annual global conference of young leaders who are committed to driving positive change and action across people and planet.
Danielle Whann, Graduate Operations Management Trainee at Translink
Danielle is a Business Studies graduate with a diverse background in regulation and investigation roles across the motor finance, banking and retail sectors. She is an advocate for positive social change and has demonstrated her commitment to community development by securing funding through local council for a regionally leading community innovation project. Currently participating in an Operational Management Programme at Translink.