Aston 50th Anniversary: Anisa Haghdadi Q&A

50 Aston Greats - Anisa Haghdadi

Anisa Haghdadi

Anisa Haghdadi graduated from Aston University with a BSc in Business and Management in 2012. She set up her first social enterprise at the age of 15 and hasn’t looked back since. Her most recent social enterprise, Beatfreeks, aims to develop transferable skills in young people and empower them to create change on a personal, community and global level. In 2014 she was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to education and young people.

What is Beatfreeks and why did you set it up?

It’s a youth engagement consultancy. We engage young people through arts, media, training, enterprise and leadership opportunities. The main aim is to develop transferrable life and employability skills in young people, and also to unleash the natural power that lies in them to be activists, entrepreneurs, leaders, artists, creators, participants. The arts are a really powerful transforming agent, and we want to enable a mindset in young people that they feel they can affect positive change either socially, in their community, or in their own lives. We’ve found that we are solving problems for organisations in creative and playful ways, so any organisation that needs or wants to engage with young people - we can design something, create it and implement it by working meaningfully with the audience they wish to target.

This isn’t the first social enterprise that you’ve been involved with...

I set up my first social enterprise, a dance company, when I was 15. At the time I didn’t really realise that I was setting up a social enterprise, it was just something that I felt needed to exist. By the time I was 16 I was running three dance classes, co-ordinating events, mentoring young people and actually starting to get them incubating their own projects. From there I’ve worked on various social action and enterprise initiatives. I’m trying to bridge two worlds by bringing the professional to the creative and the creative to the professional. I’m interested in pioneering a genuine social enterprise - something that’s sustainable, and where social impact is embedded into the fabric of the business. I think we need to get rid of grant-reliance in the arts and fight back against the myth that all young people are riddled with apathy. We need to recognise that young people are in a place where, if something doesn’t exist, they’re going to go out and make it happen. The arts help them to do that.

How did you first become involved with Aston University?

I was really interested in International Business when I was in sixth form and so I actually applied to do International Business and French at Aston but switched to Business and Management. I struggled at the beginning of university, suffering from anxiety and depression. I was finding it really difficult but then got myself a meeting with Peter Shearer in the Business Partnership Unit and things have absolutely snowballed from there. Aston has been really supportive of me individually, but also the initiatives and ventures that I’ve been working on. I can’t believe how active Aston is; I feel like it creates champions because people go on to shout about how great it is.

What has your connection with Aston given you personally?

So much! Finishing university was a huge achievement, but for me personally it’s about belief… all of these people that take the time to sit with you and say “What are you doing? What can we do for you?” For me personally it’s that belief that has spurred me on. I feel really proud of being from Birmingham and having been educated in Birmingham.

What is the best advice you can give to today’s graduates?

Don’t wait for anybody to give you an opportunity - go out and grab it for yourself. And don’t always listen to the media and be disheartened about your prospects. Young people aren’t apathetic and there isn’t despair. Yes, we’re in a difficult climate but that’s to our credit, and if we can get through that we can get through anything. So I’d say - just keep up the fight and go out and create your own opportunities.