Alumni Interview With Ade!

Tell us about yourself and your career journey! How did you get involved with Debate Mate?

My name is Ade and I started working at Debate Mate a very, very long time ago now – I mean over a decade ago! I joined as a Programme Director in London. And actually, before that, I’d done a lot of work with Debate Mate already. So my journey actually started as a student on the programme, learning to debate there and then going on to becoming a mentor whilst I studied Economics & Philosophy at the University of Nottingham. After this, I went to work in the office, where I managed a number of different programmes.

One of these was Debate Mate’s Accelerate programme, that works with students with challenging behaviour who are disengaged with education. I also helped manage our Debate Box programme, that combines debating and boxing, in recognition of the shared skills needed to excel in both: strategy, discipline, competitive and critical thinking, resilience, determination, commitment, and self-confidence. Aside from these, a large part of what I did was running the Nottingham programme, which was amazing! I also got the opportunity to work in Rwanda, which was an incredible experience with a lot of young people across the world.

After that, I joined the Civil Service, working specifically on space policy. Yes, the UK does have a space agency – everyone asks me that question! Following that I stayed within the Civil Service but joined the Cabinet Office where I was actually in the COVID-19 Task Force working on health security, which was an amazing experience. Being so close to the centre of government at such a pivotal time was incredible. And then post-Civil Service, I became a consultant. And so that’s what I’m doing now!

What is the most important skill that Debate Mate taught you, that you use in your professional career?

I think it’s all elements of communication. It all revolves around communication. Primarily, I think this is the skill that people always say, but listening is also so important. So when you’re invited to speak in a debate, you only have a short amount of time to come up with your case but also a short amount of time to receive what the other side is saying. You have to take a lot of care to try to preempt what they’re going to say where possible. But then, also be very careful about taking in the the message that the other side is propounding. And that is the kind of thing that I think anyone who’s done debating and then gone into the professional world will say – it’s an invaluable skill.

Things will be said. Points will be made at 100 miles an hour. Being able to distill that into your own words is, I think, critical. Whilst listening isn’t necessarily the skill I would have said earlier on in my career, since I’ve joined the professional world I’ve realised in hindsight just how valuable listening really is. Of course, being able to communicate and put forward a convincing case is hugely important. But I would really put emphasis on being able to listen effectively.

Why do you think the skills Debate Mate teach are so valuable in the modern workplace?

I think there’s a multitude of reasons. I’d say, ultimately, our work is a system of relationships between people. It all comes down to a set of people trying to achieve objectives together, right? And what is important in that sort of context is being able to be understood by the other people in the room and also to be able to collaborate and work effectively together with them. We’ve all seen situations where miscommunication slows things down! And so, being able to refine your communication effect in the professional world is huge. Whilst I think communication has always been massively important, in the current workplace it has only grown in value because of how much an individual has to be able to work collaboratively with other people. Communication is this bridge that does that, connecting you to the people around you that you work with.

If you had to give one piece of advice to young people embarking on their early careers, what would it be?

Now that is a big question! What I would have liked someone to say to me would have been – throw yourself into everything. Try to do difficult things, try to do a lot of things. That is how you learn what you like, what you don’t like. Where you sink, where you swim. It positions you best for the next step in your career, whatever that may be. If you’re nervous about something, say putting your hand up to do something new, ignore those thoughts (at least at the beginning). It’s a learning process!