Tuesday 23 October 2018


  • Laura McNamee and Joe Devlin are part of 50 young people from around the globe meeting  world leaders, parliamentarians and academics in the UK as part of the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programme
  • The nine-day programme includes advanced policy and leadership training at the Møller Institute, Churchill College, University of Cambridge, and visits to the UK Houses of Parliament and No.10 Downing Street, London
  • Future Leaders Connect helps some of the world’s brightest 18-35 year olds sharpen their leadership and policy making skills
  • This year’s 50 winners were selected from 16,000 applications worldwide. 


Two of Northern Ireland’s emerging policy leaders have been selected for a prestigious nine-day leadership programme.

Joe Devlin, a Senior Market Analyst at Viridian Group and Laura McNamee, a Policy & Public Affairs Officer and Practitioner Support Officer at Housing Rights have arrived in Cambridge, England to take part in British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programme.

The duo will be joined by peers from Canada, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, the USA, as well as participants from the rest of the UK. 

Now in its second year, the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect initiative provides advanced policy and leadership development training, networking opportunities with world leaders and visits to Westminster to help build tomorrow’s leaders from around the world. 

The 2018 members are also participating in an evening of debate and conversation in London with Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland (1990-97), Ricardo Lagos, President of Chile (2000-2006), Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, and other dignitaries from among The Elders. The Elders are an independent group of world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, working together for peace, justice and human rights. 

As part of the selection process, both Joe and Laura had to outline one major global change they would like to see over the next five years.

Speaking ahead of the event, Laura, who was previously a Councillor for the Ormiston Ward of Belfast City Council (Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party group) and Board Member of Eastside Partnership, said:

“I never studied politics or law at university and in my previous role I was straight in the deep-end – so I would like to take this opportunity to learn the fundamentals and further develop my policy and leadership skills for my future work with Housing Rights.

“I’m really excited for the next few days, and want to get as much as possible from it -  it’s a great networking opportunity and I feel there is a lot to learn from my international peers.

“My major global change is to prevent homelessness, an issue affecting many countries around the world and through this programme, I hope to gain new insights and learn new perspectives from the other Future Leaders Connect members.”

While Joe, whose area of expertise is the analysis of energy markets, has chosen to focus on climate change as his global challenge.

He said: “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity and I want to use it as a chance to find out how the world works. In Northern Ireland, a lot of people want to change things, but don’t know how. I want to come home with a rock solid action plan, know who I should be talking to and make the right connections so that I can effect real change.

“The impact of climate change is not a distant threat. It is something that will affect us all if we don’t do something - and we can stop it, if we introduce strong policy changes right now. 

“During the programme, I’m most looking forward to meeting Mary Robinson who has made climate change her top priority.”

After this intensive leadership training, the group will remain part of this global network of emerging leaders and gain access to connections and their global peers, receiving ongoing training and opportunities. 

Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland, explains: “Our aim is to build a long-term, international community of leaders, whose global visions and values will help them tackle the world’s next challenges. Future Leaders Connect is an opportunity for emerging leaders to collaborate with their counterparts from all over the world, and to benefit from some of the best knowledge that the UK has to offer on their respective journeys for change. The selection process was highly competitive and I wish our Northern Ireland participants every success in the programme.” 

Anybody interested in policy and leadership can also join the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect worldwide free online training course (MOOC) in early 2019 at:  https://www.futurelearn.com/partners/british-council.

For more information on Future Leaders Connect or British Council Northern Ireland, visit http://nireland.britishcouncil.org or www.britishcouncil.org/futureleadersconnect.

Notes to Editor

For further information please contact: 

Claire McAuley, Communications Manager: T +44 (0) 28 9019 2224 | M +44 (0) 7856524504 Claire.McAuley@britishcouncil.org Twitter: @BCouncil_NI, Facebook – www.facebook.com/britishcouncilnorthernireland 

Applications for the next Future Leaders Connect will open in March 2019 at https://www.britishcouncil.org/future-leaders-connect/apply 

British Council research (Trust Pays) has found that: “Those who have had involvement in cultural relations – arts, education and English language activities – with the UK have great trust in people from the UK.”

Further research by the British Council’s Higher Education Policy Unit found 55 current world leaders, covering one in four countries, were educated in the UK.

Dignitaries present at the London event will include:

Louise Arbour – UN Special Representative for International Migration

Sir Ciarán Devane – Chief Executive of the British Council

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 2014 – 2018

The Elders

Gro Harlem Brundtland (Acting Chair) – Former Prime Minister of Norway

Lakhdar Brahimi – freedom fighter; Algerian Foreign Minister 1991-1993

Hina Jilani – leading Pakistani human rights advocate; Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan

Ricardo Lagos – President of Chile 2000-2006

Graça Machel – First Education Minister of Mozambique, co-founder of The Elders

Mary Robinson – President of Ireland 1990-1997, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 1997-2002

Ernesto Zedillo – President of Mexico 1994-2000

For full biographies of all The Elders and more information visit: https://theelders.org/about

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries. Using the UK’s cultural resources we make a positive contribution to the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust.

We work with over 100 countries across the world in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Each year we reach over 20 million people face-to-face and more than 500 million people online, via broadcasts and publications.

Founded in 1934, we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. The majority of our income is raised delivering a range of projects and contracts in English teaching and examinations, education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. Eighteen per cent of our funding is received from the UK government.