Season's Greetings

2020 did not turn out quite as we expected, but in the midst of all the misery, our Laidlaw community values shone brightly, and across the world there were beacons of hope for a better future. With gratitude and best wishes for a happy holiday and a healthy, rewarding and joyous 2021, Susanna

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As I put my lights on the Christmas tree this year, I was reminded of our latest Leadership Quote of the Week, this time by Ella Baker, an unsung hero of the American civil rights movement. She said: “Give light and people will find the way.” I paused, and reflected that amidst all the hardship and dreadful suffering in 2020, there was actually significant light – globally and particularly within the Laidlaw community.

Our Laidlaw Scholars produced original, insightful research despite being locked out of labs and face-to-face supervisions. In every discipline and across the globe, they examined, identified, modelled, developed and optimised. Fola Olaleye’s research explored how traditionally disengaged groups are able to organise collectively to influence housing and planning processes. Nubaira Forkan identified diagnostic serum biomarkers for depression in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Joshua William Dexter reviewed modern methods of forming tertiary amides. The list goes on, all equally impressive, all shedding light. Next year, Scholars at the University of Cornell will join the prestigious list of contributors.

In the summer, Scholars joined the incredible makesense movement to help redress the impact of lockdowns on schools in disadvantaged communities. They found ways to provide light to pupils, parents and teachers and mobilised 100 additional volunteers to join them. Next year, our summer Leadership-in-Action programmes will include initiatives with Maggie’s cancer charity and with BiteBack 2030, the charity co-founded by Jamie Oliver, dedicated to reducing childhood obesity by 50% within the next 10 years.

Laidlaw Scholars taking part in the makesense COVID19 response project to help students, parents, and teachers with the difficult transition to home learning.

The Laidlaw Foundation started working with BiteBack 2030 this year, supporting their Cook with Jack programme, a series of live cook-alongs broadcast daily to teach viewers how to prepare quick, tasty and affordable lunches during quarantine, all within the weekly £15 school meal voucher budget.

It was one of BiteBack 2030’s youth ambassadors, Christine Adane, who pioneered the #FreeSchoolMeals campaign, mobilising over 430,000 people to make sure no child in the UK goes hungry. The BBC finally awarded her the recognition she was due by naming her one of their 100 Women of 2020.

Women’s ideas are still too often overlooked, claimed by, or attributed to men. This year we announced a partnership with Oxford Saïd’s Business School to fund MBA Scholarships for women, committing £1.35m to enable extraordinary young women with clear leadership potential to earn their MBAs. Our goal is to propel more women into leadership roles, where it is easier for their voices to be heard and where they can ensure that the women who follow them have genuine career equality.

The inaugural cohort of 20 Laidlaw Scholars at London Business School (LBS) matriculated this year. A truly extraordinary group of women, most the first to go to university in their family, all having overcome significant life challenges, and each of whom, I have every confidence, will go on to do great things, illuminating the path for the next generation of women. Heartfelt thanks to the brilliant François Ortalo-Magné and Susie Balch at LBS for sharing our vision and bringing it to fruition.

The Laidlaw Music Centre opened at the University of St. Andrews. A custom-built centre with a full range of soundproofed, acoustically-appropriate practise, teaching, recording and performance spaces for everyone in the St. Andrews’ musical community to use.

The University of Leeds appointed the award-winning O’Donnell and Tuomey to design the flagship new student and community hub which we have pledged to support; partnering with the university to provide outstanding facilities to enhance teaching and learning, educational outreach activities and student entrepreneurship.

At our Laidlaw Schools Trust (LST), a Multi-Academy Trust in the North East of England, we welcomed the outstanding Sedgefield Community College to the group and this month broke ground on the new Teaching and Leadership Centre being built there.

Teachers and pupils across the seven LST academies showed remarkable resilience and commitment through this turbulent time, pivoting to remote learning and beating national figures for engagement with online coursework. The Foundation provided laptops and Wi-Fi access where needed.

School leaders worked tirelessly to make the schools safe, complying with ever-changing regulations (often with almost no notice) and managing the complexity of isolating pupils and staff shortages. We are incredibly proud of, and grateful, to them all.

Across our global network, the Laidlaw community lived its values:

Each of our wonderfully ambitious Sixth Form students was accepted at the first choice of university to which they applied.

Brave teachers, who were not digital natives, produced YouTube videos, lessons on Google Classroom and virtual assemblies.

Curious Scholars posted 140 new research papers on the Network.

Women from diverse and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, determined to make a difference, won Laidlaw Scholarships at Columbia and London Business Schools.

An extraordinary group of scholars, spearheaded by Giammarco Di Gregorio, launched a Learn with Us Summer Camp for the LST pupils, providing Italian, Chinese, Science and even Harry Potter lessons.

Our community’s response to the crisis was fast: William Liu, a Tufts Scholar, worked with a bicoastal engineering team to enhance PPE for medical professionals using snorkelling masks and 3D printing.

Our Laidlaw Alumni continued to do good post graduation, with the amazing co-heads Emma Franck-Gwinnell and Lucy Manukyan launching a series of Career Panels to help current Scholars learn about and access sectors and opportunities.

Adapters 3D-printed by Tufts Scholar William Liu to help with PPE shortages during COVID-19.

On the global scale, too, there were beacons of light for a better future. The international outpouring of protest after the brutal killing of George Floyd has forced politicians and businesses to step up and support Black Lives Matter; and empowered athletes and celebrities to add vocal and visible support.

Carbon dioxide emissions dropped by seven per cent globally, with France and the UK seeing 15 and 13 per cent declines respectively. The cost of renewable energy sources is declining and lockdowns forced us to abandon our cars and rediscover walking and biking. With the U.S. set to re-join the Paris agreement and China pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, the world is beginning to take seriously what Greta Thunberg has been challenging world leaders to do since she led the school strikes for climate awareness.

Schools and universities around the world discovered that it is possible to deliver engaging and effective digital education; with rapid advances in A.I. enabling individual learning pathways for pupils, providing opportunities to support the less academic and stretch the most. A sector that has seen very little innovation in decades has the potential to be transformed.

Vaccines were discovered, tested and manufactured at unprecedented speed, with scientists, universities and manufacturers cooperating across national lines: first to decode the virus and then to produce the vaccine.

A record number of Americans turned out to vote in the national elections, pandemic notwithstanding, and a significant majority, 81 million of us, voted for decency, a belief in science, and to elect Kamala Harris: the first female vice-president, first Black vice-president and first Asian-American vice-president.


Also in America, the Supreme Court ruled that no one can be fired for being gay or transgender. Switzerland banned discrimination on the basis of sexuality. In Northern Ireland the first same-sex couple married. Sudan lifted the death penalty for homosexuality; and in Barbados, discrimination on the basis of sexuality has become illegal.

Advances in telehealth have brought expert medical healthcare to remote and developing parts of the world.

The self-evident truth that world leaders who act intelligently, decisively, with integrity and empathy are better at governing has finally been recognised.

The Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus have all been officially designated as essential workers.

We have learnt to be more resilient, to care actively for our neighbours, to be more conscious of our and others’ health, to appreciate which jobs are truly important and what good leadership looks like. We have proven that we don’t need to be in an office to be productive. We know now that we can dramatically change our environmental impact, if we choose to do so.

In 2021 we have to choose whether we revert to convenient, old norms, or we move forward: actively promoting inclusion and diversity, protecting the environment, reducing poverty, supporting scientific discovery, demanding facts, decency and an openness to people and ideas.

My Christmas wish for us all, is that we choose the latter. 

Susanna Kempe (she/her)

CEO, Laidlaw Foundation

A graduate of Cambridge University, Susanna’s professional experience includes over 15 years in senior leadership roles in international B2B and learning businesses. Susanna began her career at the Institute for International Research (IIR) where she first worked with Lord Laidlaw, rising to Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). When IIR, which was the world’s largest organiser of commercial conferences, was acquired by Informa plc in 2005 Susanna was appointed CMO of the enlarged group and also led the public company’s investor relations programmes. She subsequently joined Emap Ltd as Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer and CEO of Emap Networks, that group’s conferences business. Later she became CEO of the fashion industry forecaster WGSN and was latterly Group Content and Marketing Partner of the leading strategy consultancy Brunswick Group. A German-American raised and educated in the UK and a committed internationalist, Susanna has been involved in globally trading businesses throughout her career, directing activity in the Americas, across continental Europe, and the Asia Pacific. Susanna has been extensively involved with education and professional development over many years. She was Head of Group Training and led the commercial acquisition and integration of a portfolio of corporate training businesses whilst at IIR; and created learning academies at both Informa and Emap. She believes experiencing and appreciating different cultures promotes better global understanding, creativity and leadership. She is passionate about the power of education to transform lives; and believes that we need to develop a new generation of diverse leaders who are curious, bold and devoted to decency, truthfulness, and innovation. Susanna is committed to diversity not only as a societal imperative but as a critical component of commercial success. As an advisor to the trustees of the Foundation, Susanna first learnt about its purpose and programmes before becoming its Chief Executive responsible for the Laidlaw Schools Trust, the Laidlaw Scholars and its other education programmes. Susanna read English and Philosophy at Newnham College, University of Cambridge. She has five half blues in swimming and water polo; and played netball and rowed for Newnham.