In conversation with Piumi Mitchell 💬

Tell us about yourself and your career journey.

I’m the eldest of four children and my parents are first generation UK immigrants from Sri Lanka, a beautiful island rich in history and culture just south of India. My parents instilled in me from an early age the importance of having a strong work ethic, that effort and diligence are rewarded and to dream big. I’m forever grateful for these subtle life lessons and I try to pass these on to my three young girls. I enjoyed school life and was fortunate to make strong friendships, have good supporters around me and the opportunity to go to university. I loved languages yet for some reason I decided a Finance degree was a good option – in many ways it’s served me well, opening up the door to train as a Chartered Accountant and it became my spring board to develop finance transformation and advisory skills.

Through the years I’ve had a range of opportunities to support various consumer and fin tech organisations adapt to business change, implement new technology systems, design strategies to optimise processes and performance and drive people and culture change programmes. During the pandemic, I realised something was lacking for me – I didn’t feel this intrinsic sense of fulfilment through my work. I wanted to be involved in something which felt more purposeful to me and had that connection to wider society.

Through reaching out to my wider network, I figured out that my skillset was valuable and transferable from client facing work to support charities and social enterprises and I could do this staying at Deloitte. Over the past two years I have had the privilege to shape Deloitte’s Social Value partnerships approach for our Government and Public Sector practice. I work closely with voluntary, community and social enterprises as well as purpose led SMEs to integrate their initiatives and programmes into our client work, whilst supporting the third sector develop sustainable commercial revenue streams enabling them to support their beneficiary groups more.

Our social value partnership with Debate Mate that I’m proud to have established with Jess, Joe and team is one of our most trusted, credible and shining examples of how together we are enabling more young people to have access to critical thinking and confidence building skills.

How did you get involved with Debate Mate?

During the pandemic whilst wrestling with the idea of a career shift, I happened to read an email where Deloitte was looking for volunteers to act as mentors as part of a Debate Mate activation – this involved school children pitching an idea with the prize being the opportunity to launch their product with the support of Deloitte. This sounded fantastic – I quickly signed up. Little did I know this one hour mentoring session would be the catalyst to empower me to start a new career journey. What struck me during the Debate Mate session was the power of debating to build effective communication, leadership and teamwork skills and that irrespective of stage of life, we can all benefit hugely from flexing this muscle more. So that’s what I did- I started to build confidence that I could articulate how my skill set could be effective in a different space, away from my comfort zone of Finance and into some unknown area. This led me to lead the firm’s social value partnership, a role which I’m hugely passionate about.

What do you think is the most important skill that Debate Mate teaches that you personally use in your professional career?

For me, it’s the focus on using communication skills to influence others and increase impact that has been the standout skill I’ve absorbed through the variety of Debate Mate workshops I’ve participated in individually and as part of a group. A key part of my role involves building trust and confidence with a variety of third sector partners, internal and external stakeholders and leadership. I regularly draw upon the rounded skillset that Debate Mate teaches including ‘emotional capacity’ and creative thinking to bring people with me when I’m presenting a new strategic approach or having a challenging discussion.

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

Now more than ever with technological advancements, particularly the increasing use of AI, Debate Mate skills are critical as they foster collaboration and promote consideration of alternative perspectives which ultimately leads to better decision making and problem solving, whilst boosting  leadership abilities. These are some of the important skills we all need to be equipped with to thrive in the workplace of today and tomorrow. The fact these skills are taught through the medium of debate is genius and is a unique attribute of the Debate Mate model.

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

Now this is a tricky question! I’m inclined to say something like this; ‘Prioritise learning, be open to new experiences, embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and maintain a positive attitude’. Reflecting on my own career experience, I would also strongly encourage seeking mentorship and building a strong network around you early on in your career. A final parting word from me is a phrase attributed to Mahatma Gandhi which I hold dearly ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. For me this has meant playing my part in driving better representation of ethnic minority working mothers into leadership roles as well as making a small contribution through my work to improving life chances for underserved communities. What change do you want to see in the world….