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In a session titled ‘Becoming a Strategic Leader’, the group heard from leaders in business and local government before spending an inspirational afternoon with Candice Mama, a South African Human Rights Activist and Influencer.

Named one of Vogue Magazine’s top 33 most influential women in the world, Candice Mama was a fitting guest speaker for the ninth session of the 25@25 programme, a core part of Ulster University’s programme of events marking twenty-five years since the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

A thought leader in forgiveness, reconciliation and trauma, Candice’s work began after her story of forgiving apartheid assassin and her father’s murderer, Eugene De Kock, made international news.

Delivering a keynote speech in the Great Hall in Derry~Londonderry, Candice shared how strategic leadership and inspiring change in others starts with knowing your own self and being comfortable with who you are as a person. Sharing her insights with the 25, Candice said:

“People learn from what they feel and see, and how they are left feeling after an interaction. Recognise the feeling you want to leave others with and show up authentically as that person. Lean into your space, share it, and don’t seek validation from others.”

Named in the Top 20 African Women by the African Union and United Nations celebration of women who have contributed to building peace in Africa, Candice views the post-conflict society of Northern Ireland as one of the greatest opportunities for young leaders. She added:

“Emerging leaders tend to prioritise humanity, you don’t need to teach them human value. The greatest thing Northern Ireland could do is spread that across the world, sharing the knowledge of this place and what has happened here and teaching others not to be defined by one part of the story. The greatest leaders that came from South Africa, including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, are those that came out and showed the world how it’s done.”

In a panel discussion chaired by Nigel Brannigan, 25@25 participant and Director at Factor Law, the group, who are recognised as rising to the tops of their respective fields from fashion to accountancy, also heard from Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council John Kelpie, and Gavin Killeen, Chief Executive at Nuprint Technologies Ltd.

Collette Cassidy, Project Officer at The John and Pat Hume Foundation said:

“The biggest takeaway for me came from our keynote speaker Candice Mama. We talked about her life story, forgiveness, and authenticity. The advice that no matter who you are speaking to, you always have to be yourself in every conversation and interaction, has reminded me that it doesn’t matter where I am in life or what anyone thinks, I know that I am being myself and a true leader.”

Jonathan McAdams, Chief of Staff at the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council added: 

“It was great to hear from leaders across different disciplines and sectors. For me, a common theme that stood out the most was that you can be a strategic leader wherever you are in an organisation, and at whatever level. If you put the right processes in place to give yourself space to think about the bigger picture, and you agree that with the people above and below who support you, you can add the value you are supposed to. The session has given me an optimistic view of strategic leadership that it doesn’t just belong at the apex of an organisation”