10 Downing Street: Sami Dar believes attitudes towards disabled talent are beginning to shift
The vital work of Management graduate Sami Dar to help Disabled people win internships at blue-chip firms recently saw him celebrate the foundation’s success at a Downing Street reception for Black History Month.
Sami co-founded the non-profit initiative 10,000 Able Interns, part of the 10,000 Interns Foundation, two years ago after experiencing his own frustrations of being a Disabled person trying to find work placements. Having had a brain injury at birth and being in a wheelchair since he was an infant, Sami defied expectations to win a place at his local grammar school in Slough and then to go on to graduate from Warwick Business School in 2021 with a BSc in Management.
However, his battles did not end there. “I think, if you look at the numbers, you would see that the representation of Disabled people across some of the most well-known companies is actually quite low,” Sami says.
“Certainly, that was what I felt when I was applying, and what many people with disabilities feel. You can put so much effort into an application and for whatever reason you may not be moved forward.”
So, when Sami did break into the corporate world with global auditing firm Mazars a few months after graduating, he wasn’t going to rest on his laurels. He had seen the change that was needed, and was determined to see it happen.
“I thought ‘if I’m ever going to start something, it’s going to be now’,” the WBS alum says.
The idea of a venture to help university students with disabilities and long-term health conditions accomplish their dreams at the UK’s blue-chip firms had been in his thoughts for a while, especially as, wherever he looked, there weren’t many programmes targeting this specific niche.
But the problem, he knew, was that he wasn’t sure where to start. In order to set up his project, he sought after the advice of individuals who shared his vision, but also had entrepreneurial experience in this area.
Step forward Jonathan Sorrell of asset management firm Capstone who had co-founded 10,000 Black Interns two years earlier to tackle the under-representation of Black talent in investment management and other industries.
“I had a skeleton of a programme, and I had spoken to a few banks and employers to explore the viability of it, when I decided to get in contact with Jonathan,” Sami recalls.
“I think it took him only about five minutes to say ‘how do you feel about working on this together?’ We both knew we had a promising concept in front of us”.
Blue-chip firms offering internships
Together with the existing 10,000 Black Interns team, the two soft-launched the Able Interns programme in the summer of 2022, with 10 prestigious companies signing up a pilot scheme, offering paid internships of 8-10 weeks.
“We received around 85 applications from Disabled students for 25 internships. And we ended up getting positive feedback from both the companies and the interns,” says Sami. “The most important thing was that firms were receptive, so at that point, we knew we were in business.”
More and more blue-chip firms have come on board since that early experiment, offering close to 150 work placements to students with disabilities in the 2022/23 internship cycle, and around double that number in this year’s round.
Sami is incredibly proud of that achievement, and even more so of the people he has helped to win paid work experience at the world’s best companies. One of them was a student with paraplegia at Durham University who was placed at an investment management firm.
“He was halfway through his degree when he sustained severe injuries in a diving accident, and he just didn’t know what to do after that,” the co-founder of 10,000 Able Interns remembers.
The internship helped the student to turn things around, becoming not only a life-changing experience for him, but also, in the words of the company, “an invaluable experience for them”.
“They described him as an outstanding candidate.”
Another success story was a visually-impaired student at Royal Holloway, University of London, who was taken onto the payroll at international corporate law firm, Simmons & Simmons, after his placement.
Although it is always a balancing act to maintain the quality of placements and of candidates as opposed to quantity, Sami is hoping for more than 500 placements in next year’s round, and perhaps even a thousand the year after.
“Sustainable, consistent growth is the goal. We don’t want to do too much too soon, but we have to keep pushing the programme to the very limits of its potential.”
This mirrors the huge growth in placements that the 10,000 Interns Foundation, which now runs both the Black Interns and the Able Interns programmes, is driving.
How corporate culture is changing
The aim is to change the face of British business, and Sami believes that a culture change is definitely happening. “A representative from a law firm who signed up to the 10,000 Able Interns told me recently that the programme had been a real wake-up call for the firm in terms of what they had to do in terms of accessibility and inclusivity.”
“I do think attitudes towards disabled talent are beginning to shift.”
Now concentrating on his Interns initiative full-time, Sami is moving into a more ambassadorial role, involved in nudging companies to change their culture even further and take on more Disabled interns. “I think that Behavioural Economics module I so enjoyed in my Management Degree at Warwick Business School is now truly coming into play,” he laughs.
He sees himself more actively involved in public speaking and community engagement in the future.
But just for a moment, he can look back with pride at just how far he has come already. A conversation about his work with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, following an invite to 10 Downing Street, was a reminder of that.
“The window had just closed on our application season, and the Downing Street reception was a great way for the whole team to celebrate our work across the 10,000 Interns Foundation.
“You never really think about how big it is behind that iconic black door, but there are so many rooms and corridors - I definitely got lost a few times!”
The BSc Management Degree at Warwick Business School is ranked 2nd in the UK by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.
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