30 Under 30: Briana Pegado

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Briana Pegado, 25, currently lives in Edinburgh

It would be an understatement to say that chatting to Briana Pegado, as she discusses her life and achievements over the last 7 years, is inspirational.

Briana came to Scotland in 2010 to study International Development at The University of Edinburgh. She soon realised however, that she was most passionate about the environment, sustainability, social justice and ethics and so changed her degree to Sustainable Development.

Heavily involved in student politics, in 2014 Briana was elected Edinburgh University Students Association’s first ever black woman president in its 130-year history. Being President of the first UK Students Association was no easy feat; at 21 Briana was directing a company with a 10 million pound turnover whilst actively working to impact the lives of 35,000 students and young people. Her presidency marked a big change in the way things were run at EUSA, as a young black woman, a boss woman and an American she faced a lot of kickback and censorship from student press and media.  She dealt with a lot of covert racism and abuse from her fellow officers, she was 21 and managing someone who was twice her age, but it was her Presidency at EUSA that gave Briana the confidence to start her own social enterprise after her Presidency and so the Edinburgh Student Arts Festival (ESAF) was born.

“The idea for [ESAF] was for the arts to be accessible to everyone and to bring students across the city together, it was about breaking down some of the elitism that exists within universities that separates them from colleges.”

In its first year (2015) ESAF won the National Union of Students of Scotland Best Student Opportunities Award, it was nominated for the Creative Edinburgh 2015 City Award and in 2016 the festival was recognised by Social Enterprise Scotland as an ‘inspiring youth enterprise’.

In 2016 Briana was named one of ‘Scotland’s Top Ten Social Innovators’. In 2017 she received the only full Sundstrom Scholarship for Women Leaders to study an MBA in Social and Ethical business at the University of the Arts London.

She is setting up a consultancy, Povo, to look at using design thinking methods to unpack social issues, ESAF is launching a new and exciting project in the new year – stay tuned – and Briana is also one of  The Young Women’s Movement’s new trustees.

Having a positive impact is fundamental to Briana’s experience. Everything she does is to support young women to step into their power and unlock their full potential.


What is your proudest achievement?

To date, my proudest achievement would be receiving the Inspiring Youth Enterprise Award from Social Enterprise Scotland and being recognised for creating an organization that is young person led. To be recognised for it in a country that is so forward leaning and pushing the boundaries in terms of social enterprise and values led and purpose led business. This achievement encapsulates what has been going on recently.

What women have inspired you/continue to inspire you?

So many, the first is my mother and my grandmother. These are two women that have achieved a lot of firsts in their lives. My grandmother was the first to go to university and, as a black women growing up in the US, this was a big deal. She was a teacher and she was always helping people. She died in 2014 and her funeral was full of people she had helped.

My mother achieved a first in the US Government. She was the assistant secretory and director general of the foreign commercial service, working under Ron Brown; who was Director of Commerce for the Clinton Administration and she has achieved so much.

I think I have learned from my mother and my Grandmother that it is important to surround yourself with like-minded people and women. I am surrounded by so many women that inspire me all the time from their own enterprises and charities and organizations and are breaking down barriers and are doing so much. One of my best friends set up a platform and a campaign called Sprint For Her; it’s a hashtag that has gone viral and she runs marathons in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. Another friend set up a platform called “she can code” trying to push boundaries and ask questions around coding and STEM subjects. Kara [director of the Young Women’s Movement] is a good friend of mine, I am just surrounded by really amazing women who are pushing things forward for women in the world. There was never this idea that I could not do something, because my mom had done it.

What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in the next 10 years?

The biggest change that I would like to see is equality. That sounds so broad but narrowing that down I think of sexual equality. I am just so aware that  sexual education in Scotland is not the best and because of that young women are not understanding their own pleasure or their own needs. There are so many issues around body image and eating disorders and also the representation of women in the media and I think, of course, that is all wrapped up under the larger heading of  ‘equality’. I am more concerned about young women’s sexual equality, liberation and understanding of themselves because I think it would actually address a lot of other [equality] issues.

What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?

We have to take other women with us, whether or not it’s suggesting another woman for a job vacancy, making sure we have gender-equal boards, making sure when we’re volunteering we’re taking women with us and showing them what we do. Making sure we are not just surrounding ourselves with only like-minded women. Intersectionality is so important and if you are only around middle class women you should spend time with women who are not from the same class as you or make sure you have a better understanding of what diversity of women looks like and that your friends reflect that. I think that’s really important. I think the only way we will change policy, culture, government, society and businesses is if we bring examples and take women with us. We can use a statistic and talk about something until the cows come home but if someone sees that person or that example standing in front of them then that is how things will change.

What 3 women (past or present, real or fictional) would you invite to your dream dinner party/picnic?

The first is Frida Kahlo because she has enjoyed so much notoriety and fame ultimately after her death but the amount of suffering and struggling she went through [would be amazing] to hear about and learn from. I have anxiety and mental health issues and deal with chronic pain myself and I am really interested as an artist, a woman and a human being about how she was able to handle that in her life. Her life was extraordinary but she was suffering and this idea that artists always have to suffer, I don’t think is true.

The second one which is pretty embarrassing, but I don’t care, J.K. Rowling. I am the biggest Harry Potter fan on the planet. Her twitter account is honestly one of my favourite things. She is such a powerful figure and I don’t always believe in her politics but I think the way she articulates herself and makes these really crushing arguments is brilliant and I am so inspired by her.

The third is Nzinga warrior princess as she is an Ancient Angolan Queen and I am Angolan. I only discovered her in the last few years but her fortress is featured in the African American History Museum in the US. She was a warrior princess that was bisexual, non-binary and I don’t think she subscribed to any gender roles or gender norms. She became Queen because her brother was captured but she is known for having some of the most amazing military strategy and prowess and that’s something that is very much tied to my culture and I would love to meet her if I could.

What’s your message to girls and young women in Scotland?

My message to them is to fiercely and unapologetically be yourself, even if it’s dangerous, if you’re scared, even if it’s really difficult. At the end of the day only by being yourself will you change the world. I think the more that people have the courage and bravery to be authentic, the more that we will be able to change hearts and minds and how backwards society can be.

You can find Briana on Twitter @briana_pegado and Instagram @brianapegado

Pictures courtesy of Laura Meek Photography and ESAF

You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature  a different finalist every day throughout November.

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