As 1 June marks the start of Volunteers’ Week 2017, we are are celebrating the work students (past and present) and staff do in their spare time to help others.
Today, we hear from alumni Mohammed Sheikh, who credits his passion for volunteering both within GSM London and for independent charities, as a key reason why he was able to land his current job in finance.
The 27-year-old BSc (Hons) Accounting and Finance graduate attended GSM London between 2011 and 2014 and during his tenure there became a student ambassador and volunteered for the institution’s Finance Society.
The South Londoner, from Purley, helped to stage a big fundraising project while general secretary at the Finance Society at GSM London, which was recorded on YouTube. He has also chaired a Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education inspection and delivered a speech to graduates at his graduation in November 2014.
He has also slept rough for 72 hours as part of an initiative to immerse himself in the experience of being homeless to better support those that are forced to do so as a key member of the ‘Who is Hussain’ charity.
Mohammed left GSM London with a first in his Accounting and Finance degree and went on to work first as a recruitment consultant before securing a finance job as a business partner at Dutch-British transnational consumer goods company Unilever.
“I did not have any professional finance experience but found that when I went for job interviews, the fact that I had volunteered at a number of organisations made me stand out against my competitors,” he said.
While working, he was still supporting the Imam Hussain Blood Donation Campaign, which stages blood drives three times a year in South London and got involved in the ‘Who is Hussain’ charity, which organises food drives for the homeless.
Mohammed had initially studied computer science at Kingston University but transferred after almost a year to read BSc (Hons) Travel and Tourism at GSM London.
“I had a passion for travelling and thought the course would be a right fit for me,” he said. “But when I met students studying Accounting and Finance at GSM London, I liked their drive and I wanted to be in that environment. I realised that I did not have to study Travel and Tourism to travel – I could do any job. So in my second year at GSM London, I changed to Accounting and Finance.”
Luckily for Mohammed, he did not have to restart his first year and was able to complete his course in two years – between 2012 and 2014.
He credits the lecturers for their commitment to supporting students and believes that his peers’ ambition to succeed provided the perfect environment for him to excel and develop his skills.
“In some of my classes, the number of students was as few as 10, which meant we had more opportunity for one-to-ones,” he said. “Afterwards the lecturers were always available to support up.”
Andrew Falconer, GSM London’s Director of Careers and Employability, was someone who stood out for him for his mentoring while he was at GSM London and continued support even when he had graduated. Mohammed came back to the institution to read an address to other graduates when he attended his graduation ceremony in November 2014.
“I felt that lecturers at GSM London wanted us to succeed. And among the students there was such an excitement – a buzz and hunger to study. I really think their ambition was really big,” he said.
Mohammed continues to learn and is in the process of studying for his professional Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualifications. In his spare time, he loves hiking and in May helped to raise around £2,000 with the ‘Who is Hussain’ organisation after climbing the Montserrat mountain in Catalonia, Spain.
The money will be used to extend the charity’s reach into Spain to help the homeless there. His next set of challenges are to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania; bike ride from London to Brighton and London to Paris for charity, and raise money during Ramadan (Friday 26 May till Saturday 24 June) for Iraqi orphans. This November, he plans to sleep rough for a second time for 72 hours. This will be the second time he does this, but the aim is to experience first-hand homeless life to improve how they support men and women living on the streets.
“When I did it, last year it was a truly humbling experience and it made me realise the struggles people have to endure just to find food and a safe place to sleep,” he said.