The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Stephanie Leonard-Wong

Stephanie Leonard-Wong
I am Founder and Director of Act Build Change, a learning community supporting people to organise across the United Kingdom. With communities, I have organised to secure a Deputy Mayor for Integration in 2017 (1st time in UK history), supporting young people to access their right to citizenship. I supported the resettlement of 29 Syrian families into two London boroughs and won 4 Living Wage campaigns putting hundreds of thousands of pounds back into staff pockets. I have helped people win elections and now I mostly work on disability justice issues and dismantling the hostile environment.

What I like about this work is I get paid to do what I love. I have won on issues that matter to me and the people I work alongside. When we have lost, we experience that loss together and push on with solidarity. What I find challenging is now I am a CEO and never planned to be one. So, I have to learn about finance and governance which is not the reason I do social justice work, but now is important.

I am from London originally and was attracted to the SDP MSC programme because of its modules, practical application of theory and it had a part-time offer. I paid for my studies independently and would not have been able to afford to learn anywhere outside of London. Working full time and studying part time was a challenge and should I go back, I would have perhaps tried to work less hours so I could have enjoyed more of the full experience of being part of an MSc. 

I owe a lot to the opportunities the MSc provided me. The hands-on experience of putting theory to practice. I was able to travel to Kenya and learn from people and environments so different to my own. I was challenged in my thinking, and I laughed a lot. The women who I shared studies with whilst in Kenya are all remarkable - coming from all over the world with a variety of experiences. I learnt how to be a better human in some ways because of the women I got to share this MSc with. 

You will benefit from some remarkable teachers who are passionate about their teaching and the students they teach - which is not always the case. I teach on a few MSc courses now so I experience a lot of different academic cultures, and the SDP programme is special. I was introduced to community organising through my MSc and got a job at Citizens UK. I worked at Citizens for three years, and also was a guest lecturer for the SDP programme teaching organising methodology and practice for MSc students. After travelling a little to learn about organising outside of a UK context I created my own organisation. This is when Act Build Change was born, and I have been building this organisation for three years now. To be explicit I would not be where I am today without the SDP programme.