Our Reason To Be...

Enabling People To Achieve Their Full Potential

Since the beginning, it’s been our aim to make a difference in the lives of young care leavers. Regardless of background and circumstances, we’re here to help them make some momentum, find their way in the world and realise their individual potential.

is to develop a sustainable model of best practice which is replicated across the UK.

is to enable care-experienced young people to achieve their full potential through sustainable and fulfilling employment.

is a society where care-experienced people enjoy opportunity, empathy and respect.


Why We Do It

We all remember the day we leave home. It’s a heady mix of excitement and apprehension at striking out in the adult world alone. But the trouble is, some of us are exactly that–alone–without the safety net of mum and dad, or gran and grandad to help dish out a little bit of advice, some support or even just a hug.

There are about 80.000 children in care in England, with some 10,000 aged 16-18 branching out on their own in every year. And we’re determined to make sure that they have the support and help they need to stand confidently on their own two feet and not be thwarted by low expectations of what they can actually achieve.

Where We Come From

Drive Forward was originally called Partners in Hope, a UK charity founded in 1993 which has been working with vulnerable children and young people for the past 20 years. Its work was focused in Russia, specifically helping young people from institutional orphanage care.

Typically, young people will leave, what is for most a lifetime in care, with reasonable educational qualifications but no independent living skills and limited job opportunities. Of the 500 orphan graduates in Moscow each year only 10% will make it through to a normal job/family life.

Our work was about finding and creating higher education and job opportunities with a view to challenging the statistics and developing an environment for real and lasting change on behalf of these young people.

When it was no longer politically viable to work in Russia, our founder wanted to make the most of the hard-won corporate relationships to transfer the opportunities to UK care leavers and after 4 months of research Drive Forward was set up as a job brokerage in 2010 to help young London care leavers without professional networks to begin their careers.

So, in 2010, after months of carrying out research on the challenges facing young care leavers in the UK, we launched our first employment training and personal development programme in London. As it emerged that more fundamental training and holistic support was required, Drive Forward was launched to provide more practical and emotional support to care leavers, helping them develop key skills, confidence and motivation for work, education or training.

That was in 2012 and we haven’t looked back since, inspiring, motivating and supporting hundreds of young care leavers as they make their momentum.

Our founder - Martha Wansbrough

Martha dedicated over 20 years to supporting disadvantaged youth to achieve their full potential. From Russia to the UK, she worked with local experts and corporate partners to develop programmes that help young people live more independently. Martha founded the UK Genesis Programme in April 2010, which has since evolved into a holistic service model tailored to enabling care-experienced young people to achieve their full potential through sustainable employment. After a year-long battle with cancer, Martha sadly passed away in 2021. We honour her memory by continuing to fight for and support care-experienced young people with the same passion and dedication as Martha.

Our Team

Riona Athisegaran, Programmes Director

Riona Athisegaran

Operations director

Riona has been working with disadvantaged groups for over 18 years, supporting them into employment and education. She has a particular passion for working with people whose mental health is preventing them from finding and sustaining employment. She is also enthusiastic about people development and completed a Masters in HR Management to give her the “additional” tools to support her workforce to both excel in their roles, and more importantly be happy in the workplace.

Anton Babey


Anton began his career in operational roles in the commercial market before founding a sales and project management business, which he exited in 2009 to pursue roles in the third sector. He subsequently spent four years working in homelessness services, establishing social enterprises before joining Drive Forward as Operations Director in 2014. After the sad passing of Drive Forward’s founder in 2021, the Board decided to put the charity under his leadership. Anton passionately believes in tackling social disadvantage and that peoples’ past does not need to equal their future. He is happiest when trying to track down that elusive gem in second-hand record stores.

Juno Schwarz

Director of Fundraising, Policy & Communications

Juno has been working in the youth employment sector for the past 10 years. Before settling in the UK, she studied International Development at the University of Vienna and worked with an international NGO coordinating youth skills-building and empowerment projects. Juno always had a deep sense of fairness and passion for social justice, which all have steadily grown since she joined Drive Forward in 2015. Having listened to countless stories of young people working with Drive Forward, she admires the level of motivation, creativity, and talent, and is committed to our mission of enabling them to fulfill their potential. On the weekends you may find Juno running around London with her camera trying to find the 'extra' in ordinary.

Our Partnerships Team

Rachel Neuer, Employment Consultant

Rachel Neuer

Head of Partnerships

Rachel spent 13 years working within the corporate sector but was keen to use her persuasive nature to do something more rewarding. Interested in issues surrounding social equality and mobility, she was inspired to start a career in the charity sector. Since 2010 she has been a Programme Manager helping people at a disadvantage get into employment. Rachel is a huge fan of stand-up comedy and has an almost photographic memory for trivial historic facts. Although she has been known to take the odd Kickboxing, Zumba and tennis class she really is much happier in a pub with a roof terrace or log fire and a gin and tonic of an evening.

Sarah Dyson

mentoring programme lead

Sarah has spent over 12 years working in theatre and education, delivering workshops to children and young people in building self-confidence, trust and exploring social issues. After graduating with a degree in Community and Applied Theatre, she mentored young people wanting to pursue a career in the arts and facilitated work experience placements. Having spent the past 8 years working overseas with ESOL students, charities and corporate partners, Sarah is ready to bring home all her international knowledge and empower the youth of the UK to high aspirations. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys going to the theatre and baking sweet treats. She also hopes to get back in to netball by the end of the year.

Nina Dei, Head of Mentoring

Nina Dei

Community Partnerships Manager

Nina has 15 years’ experience working directly with children, young people and vulnerable adults, specialising in social action and community engagement initiatives. Volunteering and mentoring programmes can support in gaining new skills and experiences for employment whilst mentors can bring enormous insight and guidance in helping programme participants by empowering them to overcome barriers. Nina is driven by the knowledge that once members of any community have access to opportunities, their quality of life and societal contributions can foster long lasting generational change. Nina is also part of a youth-led band, based in Battersea.

Our Careers Team

Heaven Teshome, Employment Consultant

Heaven Teshome

Careers Manager

Heaven was born and raised in Eritrea, but came to the UK to study, graduating in Politics and International Relations. She has since gained work experience with legal advisors, asylum seekers and refugees, as well as working as an HR Manager for a school in London and fund-raising for her university. Whilst working with care-experienced young people at Drive Forward Foundation, Heaven completed a Master's degree at SOAS. She loves Bollywood movies, savours Lithuanian cuisine and adores nothing more than a lazy afternoon listening to Jazz or reading a book about political humour.

Justin Sesay Barnes

Careers Manager

Justin has over 10 years’ experience working with hard to reach young people around the capital. Coming from a sports background, he moved from starting a successful youth football team to delivering anti knife crime workshops around the country. Justin has been part of a team that helped mediate peace between rival gangs in West London and uses his own experiences to help those he works with get positive outcomes. Fun fact: Justin can balance a ball on his head for 5 minutes without dropping it (Follow us on Instagram to see whether that’s true or not!).

Felix Fry

Careers Specialist

Felix has a background in advice and guidance with charitable organisations and believes passionately in supporting people to achieve their full potential and engage positively with the barriers that hold them back. He loves listening to jazz and can play a decent blues on the saxophone!

Shereen Taha

Careers Specialist

Shereen's background in Journalism and Mass media has given her the privilege of working in some interesting places over the last 20 years and has met some high-profile people! In her most recent position, as a Senior Employment Specialist, Shereen worked closely with clients, helping them to find and maintain employment. Shereen has always enjoyed working with people from all backgrounds, to the point where she was involved in campaigning, mentoring and supporting young people from ethnic minorities in London. Shereen enjoys going out, discovering new places, playing pool, cooking on the weekends, and trying out new restaurants. Her favorite place is Camden Town Markets, where she enjoys the historic buildings and walking down the canal.

Manisha Kaur

Careers Specialist

After graduating with a degree in Criminology, Manisha started working in prisons at the age of 21. An exceptional opportunity that taught her how to see life from other people's eyes, an experience that she will keep with her forever. Now Manisha is keen to use what she has learned to support young people that come from all different backgrounds to go above and beyond their goals and increase their quality of life and believes everyone deserves to love the life that they live. Outside of her professional life, she loves to explore the city with her endless "restaurants to try" list and loves nothing more than a spending an evening indulging in sushi and good music.

Edith John

Careers Specialist

After a successful career in the corporate world driving growth and forging lucrative partnerships, Edith made the radical decision to change into the social sector. With a strong desire to use her skills and experience to create a lasting impact, Edith moved into employability and careers services. She is passionate about enabling people regardless of their background to take the steps necessary to build positive and sustainable lives for themselves. This is why Edith joined Drive Forward, to encourage and inspire young people to identify their passions and take up the opportunities available to them to further their education and careers. Dedicated to lifelong learning and development, Edith is an avid traveler and excellent amateur chef!

Daniel Dwumfour

Early Careers Specialist

Daniel has had an interesting career path full of transitions from being in the news industry to playing football semi-professionally and now to working with young people! Being a creative individual, Daniel loves singing and dancing with his children to fitness and photography. Daniel believes in making a positive impact on the world in and it’s that energy that Daniel wants to bring to the young people at Drive Forward to show them that anything really is possible if they believe in themselves!

Ahmed Qazi

Careers Specialist

Ahmed has been supporting vulnerable people such as mental health and learning disability into meaningful employment for just over 10 years. During this time, he has worked on several employability projects as well as being a Volunteer Coordinator for two charities and a Service Manager for another. Ahmed is passionate about bringing the best out of people he supports. Previously worked in retail management so was able to bring his recruitment , training, and development experience to the Charity sector. Fun fact about Ahmed is that many moons ago he was a Gymnast who competed at national level and has the medals and bruises to prove it. Ahmed enjoys keeping fit by going to the gym as he believes it to be good for his physical and mental health.

Sunraj Bolina

Careers Specialist

After obtaining a degree in Psychology (BSc) from Loughborough University, Sunraj has had a variety of roles including mergers and acquisitions consultant, project manager and welfare to work - employment advisor. Sunraj is passionate about helping young people unlock their full potential and transform their lives for the better. Outside of work Sunraj enjoys playing football, going to the gym and learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu martial arts.

Our Fundraising, Comms, and Policy Team

Mija Valdez

Social Media & Content Lead

With over 10 years of experience, Mija is a digital marketing native specialising in content creation, social media management, branding, and campaign strategies. With a passion for crafting engaging and impactful digital experiences, Mija has honed their skills in developing compelling content that resonates with target audiences. Their expertise in social media platforms and trends allows them to effectively drive brand awareness and engagement. Through strategic branding and well-executed campaigns, Mija has consistently delivered exceptional results, helping businesses establish a strong online presence and achieve their marketing objectives. With their creativity, analytical mindset, and in-depth knowledge of digital marketing best practices, Mija is dedicated to leveraging their expertise to help brands thrive in the dynamic and ever-evolving digital landscape. After dedicating the last 4 years to DCMS, Mija is now embarking on an exciting new journey with Drive Forward. Ready to embrace fresh challenges and make a difference, Mija brings a wealth of experience and a passion for driving positive change.

Will Kerridge

Political engagement & Policy Officer

Drawing from his diverse background in youth work, children’s and adult social care, education, and fundraising, Will brings a well-rounded approach to his policy and advocacy work at Drive Forward. With a background as a children and families social worker and holding a masters in Social Work along with a degree in Anthropology, he offers a unique perspective and a wealth of knowledge and front-line experience to his role. Passionate about addressing systemic inequalities, Will firmly believes in the power of research and policy to tackle societal inequalities and create a more equitable future. In his role at Drive Forward, Will supports, facilitates and collaborates with the Policy Forum members to campaign for issues close to their hearts as they advocate for improvement in policies for care experienced adults. He utilizes his understanding of various fields to inform his work and uses this experience to facilitate and contextualise the Policy Forum campaigns into national policy debates. Will enjoys organising music events in his spare time and relaxes most when watching or playing sports. He also dedicates time to staying informed on politics and current affairs through reading, films and podcasts.

Drive Forward is a great charity, providing help and support at what is often a crucial turning point in young people’s lives.

Our Trustees

Maggie Collier

Maggie is a Co-Founder and for many years was Co-CEO of Flamingo, a consumer insight agency which is part of the Omnicom Group. She has expertise in consumer research and brand communications. Flamingo had a long standing relationship with Drive Forward and Maggie has seen at first hand the life changing work of the charity and the valuable contribution care leavers bring to a business. In 2017 Maggie exited Flamingo and with more time to give was delighted to join Drive Forward as a Trustee.

Jordan Morgan

Jordan is the Director of Programmes at Forward Thinking, a London based conflict resolution NGO. He is experienced in frontline mediation, negotiation, and the facilitation of national political and community dialogue processes. He works at the political and diplomatic level in the UK, US, Europe and the Gulf-MENA region. He is care experienced and founded DFF’s Policy Forum. He is passionate about empowering young people from care to use their experiences to advocate for political and legislative change to the British care system.

Richard Johnston

Richard is the former Chief Executive Officer of Endemol Shine UK, the leading TV producer behind a diverse range of hits including Big Brother, Peaky Blinders, Masterchef and Deal or No Deal. A qualified Chartered Accountant, he began his television career in 1996 when he joined Bazal Productions (subsequently acquired by Endemol), the independent production company established by Sir Peter Bazalgette, as financial controller. He went on to hold a number of senior positions including Head of Business Development, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer. Richard is currently Chair of ScreenSkills, the TV and Film industry’s skills and training body, and is also a Trustee of Heritage of London Trust and a non-executive Director of CariFit Ltd and has also been a trustee of LAMDA (London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art). He is committed to improving education, training and access to the creative industries, and to any cause that aims to create a more inclusive society.

Tony Simpson

Tony is a Partner with the global Management Consultancy Oliver Wyman. He sits within the organisations Media and Organisational Effectiveness group with a particular expertise in Sport, Media & Diversity. His clients include major broadcasters, news groups, sports federations and government institutions. Tony has a particular interest in young people, is a former member of Hertfordshire Police Authority as well as the Black Cultural Archives in the UK. He has a particular affinity with care leavers and provides the organisation with both lived experience and a broad business network.

Shona Nichols

Shona Nichols is currently CEO of the Aldridge Foundation CIO, a youth development and social mobility UK registered charity. Shona joined the Aldridge Foundation in September 2018 after some 30 years’ experience of working with leading businesses and consultancies across both the private and public sectors. She brings a wealth of board and senior management experience and expertise in business strategy, corporate communications and stakeholder relations. Directly prior to joining the Foundation, Shona was Executive Director, Corporate Development & Communications at Capita plc and a member of Capita’s Group Executive Committee. Shona has been involved in charity and social outreach initiatives throughout her career, and has held non-executive, industry body and advisory board positions with Fera Science Limited, TechUK, and the Aldridge Institute for Enterprise & Entrepreneurship. She is currently a trustee of KAA’s Intrepidus Trust. Through her work at the Aldridge Foundation with young people from areas facing the highest levels of deprivation in the UK, she has become increasingly passionate about ensuring all young people have an equal chance in creating the lives they wish to lead. She believes in ensuring that young people have the life and employability skills that will enable them to thrive and fulfil their potential and wishes to draw on and share her experience to enhance Drive Forward Foundation’s support for care experienced young people.

Our Ambassadors

Drive Forward Ambassadors are people who have gone through our services and are now using their experience, networks and knowledge to drive positive change in the care system.

As an Ambassador you will:

          support our charity providing valuable feedback and advice on our service offer, programme development and engagement;

          raise the public profile of Drive Forward by representing us at events and conferences;

          attend meetings and be invited to workshops and training sessions;

          put forward your ideas and suggestions relevant to the topic at hand;

          be part of or support the Policy Forum in their mission to communicate the disconnect between policy makers and the reality for care leavers;

          meet with representatives from political institutions, partner organisations, activists and young people from across the country;

–   take part in discussions and events in Westminster, the Greater London Authority, and other institutions to achieve positive change.

Our Impact

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