Interface opens doors to unique Scottish scholarship

11th February 2020

Perseverance – and support from Interface – enabled social entrepreneur Kathryn Pierce to turn a dream into a reality, bringing the first LGBT+ MBA scholarship to Scotland. Teale Failla is the first recipient of the scholarship at University of Edinburgh Business School. We caught up with Kathryn and Teale to find out more about why the scholarship is so important and the impact it has had both for Teale and for the wider LGBT+ community.

Kathryn – how important was it to launch the Somewhere MBA LGBT+ scholarship?

It hasn’t been an easy journey – perseverance has been key to achieving the first such scholarship in Scotland and just the second one in the UK (after Cambridge). It was as a result of my own experiences as a postgraduate student, and the findings of my Masters research which showed what a hidden and poorly-understood community the LGBTQ+ business community is. I felt passionately that there needed to be something to bridge the gap between university and industry, and as the conversations with the Business School developed over many months, their offer to co-found such a radical inclusion initiative was testament to their desire to both widen participation, and to take seriously the fact that such a high number of students go back into the closet when they start in the workplace. Pitching the opportunity at MBA level meant we would have the chance to work with influencers more likely to either start their own businesses, or to have positions of influence in industry. Our aim for the scholarship is both to encourage them to be open and out and also to be proactive in enabling and facilitating greater inclusion when they return to the business and enterprise environment.

How did Interface help accelerate your goals and make them a reality?

Through a meeting with Business Gateway, I was introduced to Interface, who became my first port of call with the enterprise aspect of Somewhere’s vision, and they were able to connect me in with the right people at the Business School, right away. Louise Arnold at Interface worked very closely with me to fully understand Somewhere’s mission, to explore how Interface could best support us, and to make all-important introductions on my behalf. It was akin to having a professional advocate to help open doors and also an amount of mentoring support for me as a start-up entrepreneur in a new city. It was the crucial first step in Somewhere making a difference, and the fact that Teale is here this year means the world to us.

Teale – Kathryn has said that when you read the outline of the Somewhere scholarship requirements you instantly thought that it was “made for you”. What were your thoughts about studying in Edinburgh and doing an MBA at University of Edinburgh Business School?

I love the city of Edinburgh and as I was thinking about pursuing an MBA, Edinburgh was the first place that came to mind.  I researched the programme and was impressed by their gender equality initiatives and Athena SWAN awards they won.  The programme now has slightly more women than men which is unusual in MBA cohorts.  However, as I was weighing programmes, I was still unsure about where I wanted to go.  I was awarded an MBA Scholarship, but it wasn’t as much as some other schools were offering. 

Then I happened to revisit the scholarship page at the Business School, just in case any other scholarships had been added, and the Somewhere scholarship leapt off the page.  I almost couldn’t believe what I was reading, it was like this scholarship had been hand crafted just for me.  Normally applying for scholarships, I felt like a needle in a haystack.  But with this one, I had a good feeling I was going to get it.  That sounds immodest, but it was just so perfect.  Of course, whenever I play the lottery, I feel like I’m going to win that as well, and that’s never happened.  But I think I hit the jackpot with this scholarship, not just because of the money, but because of the mentor and friend I found in Kathryn. 

How is it going?

The programme is very intense.  It’s a two-year programme condensed into 12 months so we basically eat, breathe and sleep (what little we can) business education.  The cohort has become really close because we’re with each other most weekdays 9 to 6 and in many evenings for group work as well.  However, there is little time for anything else.  It takes a lot of endurance and dedication, especially for those of us without a prior finance or business education, but it’s also gratifying to see how much the students help each other.  There is zero competitiveness here, we all feel like we’re in this together. 

The administration has come to understand that the first semester is too strenuous, and they are looking at ways to make it more manageable for next year.  I am looking forward to second semester which is more focused on strategy, operations and human organisation which is what interests me.  One of my classes will take us to Colombia and I am very excited for that.  We also have a Women in Leadership trek to London which I am very much looking forward to. 

How feasible would it have been to do without the scholarship/support from Somewhere?

Even though Edinburgh was my first choice, had I not received the Somewhere scholarship, I probably would have pursued an MBA at a different business school that offered more assistance.  Yes, the money is very important.  There are so many talented people that want to pursue an MBA who cannot because of the cost.  The MBA is one of the most expensive degrees there is and even with assistance, it takes a huge investment of money and time. 

But there are also a lot of LGBT+ and allies who think the MBA is not for them or that a business education is the enemy of the good.  I think business can be an agent of social and political change, a champion of wellbeing and a leader in human rights.  When a business school invests in a scholarship like the Somewhere MBA, it shows a commitment to a changing landscape and encourages non-traditional applicants to use business as a force for good.  For me, that’s just as important as the money. 

What’s next for you, once you have completed the MBA?

Well, I still have a long way to go to complete the MBA.  I have Semesters 2A and 2B as well as the Capstone project in the summer in which I hope to work with media organisations to research how they manage creative talent such as their writers, directors, editors, videographers, etc, and what diversity initiatives they have both in their staffing and programming.  I hope to work with organisations such as the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and STV so I am currently reaching out to them.  It is difficult though since as an international student, I have few contacts here. 

After the MBA, I would like to stay in the UK and work in a media organisation with one foot in management and one foot in the creative side.  I have worked in media for 15 years but felt it difficult to move into executive management because I was always focused on the creative side directing, writing and editing.  With this business education, I already feel more confident leading all aspects of a media organisation.   So, I will look for employment where I can utilise both my creative side, hopefully working in comedy, as well as business leadership skills to help a media organisation be an agent for positive social change.

Kathryn – you are planning to launch a magazine in 2020. Tell us more about this and other plans for Somewhere?

It’s a big year for us, as not only have the Business School re-commissioned the Somewhere scholarship for a second year (deadline is 8 May 2020 for all full and part-time MBA students), we have lots of other plans in the pipeline.

The flagship project is our Somewhere: For Us magazine, which will be championing and celebrating LGBTQ+ culture and enterprise across Scotland and beyond. We are delighted to have received an UnLtd grant to help launch it, and we are currently commissioning writers and getting our launch team together. We are looking at publishing at the beginning of May, in time for the busiest part of the ever-expanding Scottish Pride season and to give us a chance of spreading the word over the summer. Depending on the success of the launch issue, we hope to be able to follow with Issue 2 before the end of the year.

Our crowdfund and subscription site are now live, so people can “buy us a coffee” to donate to our projects and/or subscribe by becoming monthly and/or yearly members and receive a copy of our magazine and a free mug as a thank you. Crucially, a proportion of the proceeds will help to found two new funds, which is our wider vision for Somewhere: The Somewhere: Arts and Culture Fund to help finance more LGBT+ creative work, and the Somewhere: Enterprise and Research Fund to support more LGBT+ businesses and business owners, and to encourage more academic research to fill the big LGBT+ data gaps which exist in many academic fields.

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What would you say to other businesses thinking of partnering with academics, but are unsure about it?

Combining the worlds of academia and business can be a challenge as they are very different realms with different rules, but in the case of social enterprise in particular (Somewhere is a community interest company), it offers huge opportunities. HEIs want to diversify their student communities and are cultivating a greater sense of having a pivotal role in creating social good. By connecting up and supporting minority enterprise, they are both actively demonstrating a desire to create positive social impact through collaboration, and also a willingness to address uncomfortable truths around levels of discrimination and stigma which continue to exist in the workplace. If both parties are able to match values and goals, then an academic/business partnership can be very fruitful indeed for all involved. In fact, we have been so inspired by this first collaboration, we have successfully secured a funded PhD internship for this year, this time with the University of Glasgow, through the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities, also made possible by the fantastic work at Interface! There’s no stopping us now we’ve got going!

Interested in accessing academic support? Please contact us.