Trustees & Founders

Ajay Sood - Trustee

Ajay SoodAjay Sood was born in Kisumu, Kenya and has lived in the UK for the past 30 years. He attended Pembroke House School in Gilgil, Kenya, becoming Head Boy there, after which he emigrated with his family to Canada where he finished his schooling, obtained degrees in Commerce and in Law and was called to the Ontario Bar. He later completed an MBA at London Business School and worked in general management for American Express. With Antonia, his wife, he co-founded and ran for 16 years a publishing business in the finance and management sectors which was eventually sold to a UK public company. Ajay's interests are in enterprise-building and youth leadership development.

Having originally set up The Beacon Scholarship, Ajay is looking to bring in external partners and extend the Beacon model into other countries.

 

Contact Ajay

 


 Antonia Sood - Trustee

Antonia SoodAntonia Sood was born in the UK and completed a degree in Russian at the University of Bristol. She worked for the UK Ministry of Defence then, after travelling widely, worked in the third world aid sector focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa. She subsequently completed an MBA at London Business School, after which she worked in financial publishing before co-founding a publishing business. The business was successfully sold after 16 years and since then Antonia has been involved in local community projects. Antonia's expertise is primarily in sales & marketing and sponsorship/fundraising.

Having set up The Beacon Scholarship with Ajay in 2008 as a fellow Trustee, Antonia is involved in all aspects of the Beacon, but has a particular focus on The Beacon Scholarship for University, a tertiary scholarship for top African students into international universities. 

 

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Africa Team

Dr Utheri Kanayo - Regional Beacon Representative

Dr Utheri Kanayo small

Dr Utheri Kanayo (née Susan Kiragu) was born and raised in Nairobi and Nakuru, Kenya. She studied Education at Undergraduate and Master's level at Kenyatta and Nairobi universities, and then won a full scholarship in 2005 to pursue a PhD in Education at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, UK. After her studies, she stayed on in the UK for five years (2009-2013) working as an academic researcher at The Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, and later as a Research Manager for Camfed International. She is well exposed to Africa’s educational landscape, having carried out research in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, and Swaziland. In 2013, Utheri and her husband Kanayo quit their well-paying jobs in the UK to return to Kenya and established an NGO called Children in Freedom. They offered scholarships and mentorship to African children, encouraging them to love their African heritage, and use their talents to innovate solutions for their communities. Their powerful mentorship programme received recognition from President Uhuru and Margaret Kenyatta. In 2018, three years after her return to Kenya, Utheri co-founded the first Afrocentric school in East Africa, Children In Freedom School. CIFS has grown to be a gifted and talented centre, dually grounding children to embrace their Africanness (who they are), and preparing them to be global leaders – just as good as their peers abroad, if not better. She is a Metis fellow, and in 2019 Utheri was selected to join African Leadership Academy’s Anzisha Education Accelerator. 

Utheri has been The Beacon Regional Representative since 2016, a role that enables her to continue serving her passion for nurturing great African children who are, and will become, the ethical change-makers that Africa and the world needs. Her role gives her the fantastic opportunity to train and mentor gifted African minds in leadership, ethics and responsibility – preparing them to use their giftedness and leadership to help their countries and Africa actualise their true, rich potential.

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Debborah Odenyi - Kenya and Uganda Beacon Representative

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Debborah Odenyi was born and raised in Kakamega, Western Kenya. She studied at Kakamega Township Primary School, then Bunyore Girls’ School Kenya, and went on to study Education. She attended Eregi Teachers Training College, The Kenya Institute of Education, Sir Humphrey International College, and Kenyatta University College where she obtained her B.Ed. (Early Childhood Studies). She worked for the Teachers Service Commission, Kenya for 18 years, teaching in different public schools until 2011, when she joined the private sector. She taught at Oshwal Academy, Nairobi before going on to become Headmistress at SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) - Kibera in 2014. She is currently Director for Programs and Education, Kenya and Tanzania for Girls on Fire Leaders. GOF provides early adolescent girls in the slums of Kenya and Tanzania with transformative leadership skills through educational travel, sustainable community projects, diversity engagement and global connectivity.

Debborah brings to the Beacon a wealth of experience in teaching and mentorship. Having worked in public and private schools, which employed both local and international curricula, she has interacted with and taught children from very diverse environments. She is passionate about transforming young people’s lives through mentorship and empowerment.

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Dr Lilian Benjamin - Tanzania and Zambia Beacon Representative

Lilian SmallDr. Lilian Benjamin was born and raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and completed her Bachelor of Medicine Degree (M.D.) in 2017 at the Hubert Kairuki Memorial University based in Dar es Salaam. Lilian volunteered as a freelance Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) counselor from 2014-2018 at a national health helpline. She championed access to differentiated service delivery models for young people living with HIV in 2017 with the International AIDS Society; she has also taken part in a number of leadership programs including AVAC Fellowship (2018) and advisory youth committees at both national and global levels.

Currently Lilian is leading an advocacy program with a local NGO focusing on improving access to HIV and integrated SRH services for young people. She is passionate about bringing the voices of young people to life by unleashing their leadership potential through quality education, mentorship and meaningful engagement. She recently founded a local organization, DARE, focusing on young people's full involvement in community mobilization, advocacy and research. She believes for any sustainable positive change in our communities, one must invest in young people!

Contact Lilian

UK Team

Dr Sean Kassen - Beacon Operations Manager

Sean Kassen smallDr Sean Kassen is a Biomedical Researcher who initially trained and worked as a management consultant within the professional services, advisory and consulting industries with Accenture, EY, and PwC Consulting where he maintains an active role as an alumnus. His financial and consulting experiences spanned a total of 13 years which included change management, organisational development, strategic HR and business improvement and process re-engineering initiatives in the Banking, Public Sector and NGO sectors.

In 2008, after migrating and settling in the UK from South Africa, Sean planned a career change and started re-training for a biomedical research and academic career which culminated in him completing his BSc with First Class Honours, his Master of Research degree and then his Doctoral Clinical Medicine Research degree at Imperial College London as part of the prestigious Imperial College Medical Research Council (MRC) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). After graduating in April 2019, Sean worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Imperial College London as well as lecturing in biomedical science at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. Sean is an active alumnus with the Imperial College Alumni and Career Services, and a MRC DTP alumnus and mentor on the Imperial Alumni Mentorship and Work Shadowing Scheme.

He is very passionate about supporting those who face barriers with their academic, career and life goals through his private work as an academic and career coach and mentor. In addition, his focus is helping students from lower income and ethnic minority families and also assists students moving abroad with their adjustment and transition, drawing from his own experiences with immigrating to the UK as an ethnic minority.

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Kendi M'Marete - UK Beacon Representative

Kendi MMarete

Kendi M’Marete attended boarding school, high school and university in Kenya, qualifying in Community Development, Projects Planning and Management. For 17 years she worked in the NGO, iNGO and public sectors in various parts of Kenya, including the infamous Dadaab Refugee Camp with UNHCR as well as the slums of Nairobi and rural Kenya where she empowered local women and girls on human rights, helped set up SMEs for poverty eradication and established projects to support disabled children and young people. Kendi moved to Cambridge 10 years ago where she worked with various charities while at the same time pursuing Inclusive Education research based studies for her International Development qualification at Cambridge University’s Madingley Hall. Her career and passions have predominantly centred on the International Development and charity sectors with a focus on Disability Inclusion, Education, Poverty Reduction, Human Rights, Child Protection, Gender Empowerment and Socio-Economic Development through the Theory of Change. She now works for the UK Civil Service on Private Pension Policy and is currently leading on policy reforms for the Fraud Compensation Fund regime to ensure it is sustainable and fit for purpose to rescue pensions lost as a result of dishonesty. Prior to this she worked on European Union and International Policy where she influenced policies aimed at improving global labour standards including elimination of indecent work, child labour, modern slavery/forced labour and promotion of gender equality and safety working practices. She mentors young people in the Civil Service and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in Policymaking at the Institute for Government, King’s College London. A great lover of books and travel, she spends her spare time exploring new places, reading widely or going for walks near her home in Cambridgeshire. She has bravely skydived in a few continents to raise money for some of her favourite charities.

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Jean Cooke - UK Beacon Coordinator

Jean Cooke

Jean Cooke has worked in investment for 30 years, as head of administration and compliance and company secretary, latterly with a London based fund management company specialising in emerging markets. After Simon Langton Grammar School for Girls in Canterbury, Kent, Jean travelled widely, including a year in Madrid, but then settled in the south east of England. She has now decided to use the skills developed in her business life for the benefit of others. Accustomed to multitasking, working to deadlines and decision making, she understands the importance of attention to detail and accurate reporting. 

Jean is actively involved in her local Church, where she serves as a Deanery Synod Representative and sits on the Parochial Church Council. She is also responsible for organising the Church Flowers and occasionally sings in the choir.

Jean has been involved with the Beacon since 2014 and provides invaluable administrative support for the Beacon Programme.

Contact Jean