Monday 21 October 2019


Two delegates from Northern Ireland are among 50 emerging policy leaders from around the world to be selected for a prestigious ten-day leadership programme.

Matthew O’Neill, currently reading for a PhD in Politics at the Senator George Mitchell Institute, Queen’s University Belfast and Kain Craigs, a Partner Growth Manager at a Toronto-based tech firm,, have arrived in Cambridge today (October 21) 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, Poland, Tunisia, USA, as well as participants from the rest of the UK.

Now in its third 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. 

Future Leaders Connect delegates have previously debated peace and education with former UN Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, and presented their policy ideas at 10 Downing Street. 

This year’s participants were selected from 15,500 applications worldwide in a competitive process where they pitched their innovative policy ideas for global change.

In his application, Matthew (30), who is originally from Ballymoney, wanted to develop cybersecurity policy frameworks for Northern Ireland.

Speaking ahead of the programme, he said: “My vision is to develop a cyber security policy for Northern Ireland as we’re the only part of the UK which either doesn’t have one or in the process of developing one. Focusing on Northern Ireland post Brexit, I want to help improve digital literacy and increase job opportunities for people here.

“We have an excellent cyber security sector and we could be the world leader – but at present the focus is on more up-market high-scale companies. Instead, I would like to shift this focus to medium to small enterprises, giving them the best possible advice and training to implement better security measures.

“I think Future Leaders Connect will give me the practical experience needed to implement my ideas and rethink how policy should be done. I’m especially looking forward to working with the 49 other leaders and getting their perspective on how I can take my vision forward.”

While Kain, whose area of expertise focuses on business development, has chosen the environment as his global challenge.

He said: “I applied for Future Leaders Connect as I wanted to build my knowledge on shaping policy and make a difference in the public sector. My organisation, which is a food ordering app, works with 7000 shops and restaurants and I want to work with our partners to demonstrate best practice around waste and reduce our impact on the environment.

“Through the ten days I hope to learn as much as I can and in the long-term, bring this new knowledge back to Northern Ireland.”

After the programme, both Kain and Matthew will be part of a connected global network of emerging policy leaders made up of 150 exceptional individuals aged 18-35 from around the world. Through this network they will build valuable connections, develop their policy making expertise, and gain the skills to have national and international impact.

Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland said: “Our aim is to build a long-term, international community of leaders, whose global visions and policy ideas 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 and skills 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.”

The British Council, partners and the delegates themselves will be sharing all the highlights of the programme on social media. Follow the #FutureLeadersConnect hashtag for updates on the programme throughout October. 

A specially-designed British Council free online course, following the syllabus of the Future Leaders Connect programme, saw over 15,000 sign ups people from around the world when it launched earlier this year. The free course featuring speakers from the United Nations, UK House of Lords and The Elders will run again from 25 November and is open for registration now.

For more information on Future Leaders Connect or British Council Northern Ireland, visit or

Notes to Editor

For further information please contact: 

Claire McAuley, Communications Manager: T +44 (0) 28 9019 2224 | M +44 (0) 7542268752 Twitter: @BCouncil_NI, Facebook – 

Ideas for a Better World: Leading Change Through Policymaking

The British Council’s free online course, Ideas for a Better World, which is based on the policy and leadership curriculum of Future Leaders Connect will start again on 25 November 2019 in collaboration with the Møller Institute, Churchill College, University of Cambridge.

About Kain Craigs 

Kain Craigs hails from Northern Ireland but works internationally as a Partner Growth Manager at - a Toronto based tech company that is rapidly expanding across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. 

Kain studied Business & Finance at the University of Durham before studying Chinese Culture and Business at Beijing University.  Kain started his career as a consultant, working with a number of established hedge funds and fin-tech start-ups. 

After three years in London, Kain co-founded the Iconic Golf Group (IGG) to showcase the best of Irish life and golf to high-net-worth individuals in Asia. In 2016, IGG won the rights to host the world’s most-watched TV reality show (I - Supermodel - 270 million viewers).

In 2017, Kain was selected to join the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community. As the Curator for the Belfast Hub, he led the successful bid to bring the annual Shape Europe Conference to Northern Ireland in 2018.  

Kain has also trained with the Al Gore Foundation to become a Climate Reality Leader and has delivered programmes on climate science to inspire change at a local, national and international level. 

Consequently, Kain’s vision for change focuses around the environment, voter apathy and wealth inequality.

 About Matthew O’Neill

Matthew O’Neill is from Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland. He is currently reading for a PhD in Politics at the Senator George Mitchell Institute, Queens University Belfast. His research has focused on the European Union’s Digital Single Market and Border Studies. Matthew also holds an MA in Sociology from Queen’s University and a BA Hons in Media Studies from the University of Ulster. During the course of his PhD, he has presented his work extensively on the Digital Single Market, Cyber Borders and Brexit.

Matthew is a contributing writer for Northern Slant, a Member of the Belfast Global Shapers and a Washington in Ireland Programme Fellow. He is also a member of the Integrated AlumNI a supporter of Integrated Education within Northern Ireland. Matthew has also published several articles, his most recent, a paper on the practicalities’ and concepts of Cyber Peace Keeping for the Irish Defence Force Review.

Matthew’s main policy vision on a global scale is the development of cybersecurity policy frameworks between different institutions and how we develop an understanding of cyber resilience for the future. On a local level, he advocates for Northern Ireland to develop and implement its own cybersecurity strategy to aide and develop its economy.

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We work with over 100 countries in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Last year we reached over 80 million people directly and 791 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. We make a positive contribution to the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive a 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.