Alumni to watchDanielle Critchley shares the stories of alumni who are making a difference around the world

Hamna Zain

Bar Professional Training Course, 2012

“Being a Barrister, I have always felt that miscarriages of justice remain a reality in Pakistan, as are the challenges of the judiciary,” said Hamna Zain.

Hamna completed the Bar Professional Training Course at The City Law School in 2012. Since returning to Pakistan and entering the legal profession over a decade ago, she has made it her mission to make a difference.

“In my view, it is a medium through which I can serve my nation and people. It offers endless complex problems to solve and demands a wide variety of skills.”

“During my studies in the UK as a Barrister-to-be, I discovered that the judiciary and legal system in Pakistan, despite having its roots in the English system of law, needs a lot of work and needs to keep pace with the dynamic demands of society.”

Returning to Pakistan, Hamna began to pave the way as a female legal professional, initially encountering significant discrimination.

“Working as a female lawyer and barrister in Pakistan for the past 12 years in a male dominant society has been quite challenging for me,” she said. “The largest challenges were to find my place in the legal profession while, for example, not being welcomed in meetings, receiving unequal pay, and not being heard in official gatherings at the beginning of my legal career.”

Hamna is now running her virtual law firm in Pakistan, working as a corporate lawyer providing legal services to clients based outside Pakistan and giving opportunities to many female lawyers, offering flexible hours and fair compensation.

Hamna has worked for large companies like Coca-Cola, Wateen Telecom and K Electric. She is also running a series of educational opportunities for those who otherwise have little access to legal advice.

“The legal profession has been historically referred to as ‘the profession of Lords’. Unfortunately, in a country like Pakistan, the access to justice has also become limited to the Lords, i.e., the elite, and my aim as a legal professional is to change this norm,” Hamna said.

“This change can be brought about by educating the masses who have never had access to legal assistance or guidance.”

In her experience, women in rural areas are the most marginalised group, and this is where Hamna is focusing her efforts.

To do this, she has organised Legal Aid Camps that cover a wide variety of topics, including honour killing, divorce, custody, rape, sexual harassment, women’s rights, minority rights, child labour and dowry.

Recently, she also facilitated workplace harassment workshops in three major cities in Pakistan to raise employees’ awareness of their rights.

When asked what advice she would give someone who wanted to follow in her path, Hamna said: “Be consistent. Hard work always pays off and always dream bigger.”

As for what the future holds, she added: “I hope to be a part of the judiciary in the future and able to make a difference for the women of Pakistan.”

Helen Richardson-Walsh MBE

MSc Organisational Psychology, 2021

“What goes on in the mind is really the biggest thing in achieving high performance” said Helen Richardson-Walsh MBE. “Like dealing with pressure or doubt and learning how to cope in uncertain or chaotic situations.”

Part of Team GB’s gold-winning hockey team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Helen knows how to handle pressure: she was one of only two players to score during a tense penalty shootout in the final.

With a playing career stretching more than 18 years, Helen understands what it takes to be part of a winning team.

“When we were at our best, we were really consistent in performance, which came from consistent behaviours. We worked hard on our self-awareness – holding that mirror up and asking ‘How am I being and how am I impacting my team on and off the pitch?’. We were lucky because we had access to some fantastic psychologists who helped us develop the skills we needed to get our minds in the right place before training and competition.”

It was this insight which led Helen to first study Psychology with the Open University, and then pursue an MSc Organisational Psychology at City, graduating in 2021. Later that same year she published a book with her wife, and fellow gold-winning hockey player, Kate Richardson-Walsh OBE. Winning Together: An Olympic-Winning Approach to Building Better Teams, has plenty for hockey fans, but is primarily a book on team culture and leadership, with insight that is easily applicable to any kind of team.

“We had such long careers and we learned so much about ourselves as people and as leaders, whilst being supported by psychologists. We also experienced everything working in a team has to offer and we really wanted to share those experiences and the lessons we learned.”

Helen has transferred those lessons to sport and business, joining Leading Edge as a team coach and also spending three seasons as the performance culture coach with Tottenham Hotspur Women, something she thoroughly enjoyed.

“It was almost like having to start again, forging a new career in my late thirties” she says, reflecting on what it is like to do something new after close to two decades as a professional athlete.

“Once again, I was taken out of my comfort zone and was being challenged in many different ways – the mental skills I learned as an athlete definitely came in handy and probably always will do. It was great being part of a sports team again though and trying to help them be at their best as a group and as individuals.”

Whether in sport or business, Helen says one key to developing better teams is self-awareness and learning how to respond to various stimuli and the feelings that evokes in us.

Together with Kate, she has founded Be Create Inspire, which provides bespoke team and personal development to enable teams and individuals to reach their full potential. Psychology and self-awareness play a big part in their approach.

“I always encourage people to notice what’s happening to them. What thoughts and feelings are you experiencing and how are they affecting you? Once you start to notice those things, you become much more in control of your behaviours and move them in the direction you want.”

“Your brain is a muscle as much as the muscles in your legs and your arms, and it’s adaptable. It has the ability to grow stronger and adapt to the different contexts that we put within it and once we understand that, there are very few limits to what we can achieve.”

Yehya Al-Khairi

BEng Computer Systems Engineering, 2018

“It was a great experience, but I struggled with knowing what to do,” said Yehya Al-Khairi describing his trip to the Middle East after the Covid restrictions lifted. He visited several cities over three months and used existing technology to structure his travels.

“I like planning my trips, so I usually spend a lot of time doing online research and adding labels to Google Maps.”

When examining the significant amount of time it was taking him to read up on his destinations and label the places and activities that interested him, Yehya realised there should be something out there that could do this for him. And so the idea for travel app Velz was born.

“Velz simplifies the art of travel by enabling efficient planning and enriching on-the-go experiences,” said Yehya. “We’ve built an interactive map that not only helps you navigate but also showcases must-visit locations and exciting activities. And soon, we will guide you to the perfect spots to capture stunning photos, ensuring you take a piece of your journey home. Essentially, Velz turns every travel experience into an effortless adventure, filled with authentic and memorable moments.”

Currently, the app covers five cities in the UK, including London, and one international city, but Yehya has big plans.

“We want to be the go-to travel experience when you are exploring a new city. You just arrive and trust that we have done the research for you.”

Velz was recently recognised as one of five winners of the CitySpark entrepreneurship competition this year. The winning startups receive a £5,000 cash prize and become part of CityVentures’ incubator programme Launch Lab, meaning they can access business support and mentoring.

As the founder of Velz, Yehya leads a small team that currently focuses on development, research and strategy. The startup has made progress quickly, taking the app from idea to Beta version within three months.

“If anyone wants to build an app, they need to have experienced the problem. If you have personally experienced what you are trying to fix, it’ll give you an advantage when developing a solution.”

Looking ahead, Yehya envisions a future for Velz where travellers from all around the globe are connected through the app. But he is clear that the goal is not to tether travellers to their screens. Instead, Velz is being designed to complement and enrich real-life experiences. Yehya emphasised, “Our business model is different; it doesn’t depend on screen time. We’re more interested in the miles you cover, not the minutes you spend on the app.”

“At Velz, we are on a mission to make travel planning effortless, recognising that travel is no longer just a luxury but an essential pathway to personal growth, cultural understanding, and the creation of lifelong memories in our increasingly globalised world.”

“I want to completely shift the travel tech industry. It’s been pretty stagnant and travellers deserve better.”

Yasmeen Cohen

BA Journalism and Economics, 2014

When Yasmeen Cohen attended a TEDx talk about the impact plastics have on the ocean, it changed her life.

“For me, it was really that moment where I had my conscious awakening to what was happening around me,” Yasmeen said, recalling the suffering of vulnerable marine animals.

“I was kind of shocked by my own behaviour, the fact that I never thought: Where does my trash go?”

Yasmeen approached the speaker after the talk to discuss how her own work could benefit the environment, and she has not looked back since.

“I’ve solely dedicated myself to trying to help and protect our climate and fighting climate change.”

Six years later, Yasmeen is the Sustainability & Climate Analytics Lead at Deloitte in London and has recently published her first novel; The Helix. The novel is the first part of a fantasy trilogy for young adults, which falls into the relatively new but growing literary genre of climate fiction or ‘cli-fi’, an abbreviation coined by journalist Dan Bloom.

“This is a new genre looking at a much more optimistic message and empowering readers. It’s trying to draw on the type of sentiments that are actually going to create change rather than dread,” Yasmeen explained.

“Hopefully readers will be prompted to take their own local action, think about what they can do in their daily lives and what changes they can make as of today.”

Writing her first novel was not without its challenges.

“I’m dyslexic, which people usually automatically think of as spelling, which is part of it, but not the biggest part. For me, personally, it impacts my short-term memory.”

Having a ‘goldfish-type memory’, as Yasmeen calls it, meant she needed to keep a strict log of ideas, facts, plot twists and character arcs. This structured approach to writing was something she learned on her BA Journalism and Economics.

“I loved the course. It taught me how to write, and I’ve continued using everything I learned.” Many of the skills she uses in her daily role at Deloitte are those of an investigative journalist and storytelling also plays a big part.

“I lead our sustainability and climate analytical accelerators in the UK. I’m very much looking at how we can use technology to accelerate sustainability. Or, in more simple language, how do we help the private sector decarbonise?”

Recently nominated for Technology Consultant of the Year, Yasmeen sees a parallel between what she does with large businesses and what she is trying to do with her novel.

“A big part of it is giving the knowledge and support businesses need to make these moves with confidence, while also trying to find ways for them to be resilient to the changing climate.”

Yasmeen is now working on the second novel of the series and was recently accepted into a competitive writing course with Curtis Brown, one of the world’s leading literary and talent agencies.

A writer with a bright future, Yasmeen hopes that her readers will be inspired to make positive changes which lead to a brighter future for us all.

Follow Yasmeen on Instagram @yasmeencohenauthor

Peter French

MSc Real Estate, 2017

With first-hand experience of the challenges of being an international student and finding somewhere to live while studying in London, Peter French was one of a trio of MSc Real Estate alumni who spotted a gap in the market. Working with colleagues Dagfinn Hansen Seglem (2019) and Tuo Jin (2019), they founded startup Estate2 to help others overcome some of the issues they had faced.

“As we all came from abroad, we each had our own ‘moving to London’ experience.” Peter said.

“Finding a home to rent in London is an extremely difficult, exhausting, opaque and expensive experience.”

Born from those personal experiences, Estate2 helps international students find homes to rent in London as they start or continue their university education.

Peter explained: “Estate2 was designed to simplify and standardise the moving-to-London process and give students a sense of confidence and trust on their home search.”

“We start by helping students figure out which neighbourhoods meet their criteria and budget. We then connect with our network of agents to find on and off-market homes in those neighbourhoods. We visit the homes and provide students with detailed reports that tell them everything they could want to know about the home and surrounding area. We connect them to the agents, help them review and understand their tenancy agreements, as well as help them setup their home utilities. Throughout the process, we are by their side to answer any questions they may have. The process to date has been very labour intensive for us, however we have just hired some very bright students to research and develop software which will bring our knowledge and experience to the students’ fingertips.”

Prior to his MSc Real Estate, Peter completed a BSc in Architecture from Via University College in Denmark. “I felt I had developed a reasonable knowledge base of the built environment from both a design and financial perspective by the time I graduated from Bayes. The technical skills I developed at Bayes enabled me to get my first job where I worked in private equity real estate development in Vancouver, Canada.”

Peter moved back to London in mid-2022 to focus on Estate2. “The ability to analyse large amounts of data and make informed business decisions was a skill I started to develop at Bayes and have used throughout my career in real estate development, as well as in Estate2.”

What advice would he give to others looking to follow in his footsteps?

“I would recommend that you first start to work on your idea in your free time, while simultaneously gaining valuable experience in an established business. Once you feel your idea gains traction, re-evaluate the balance of working full-time for the startup then.”

“And be prepared for a mix of highs and lows as both struggle and success will be commonplace.”