Ella Mae Lewis, a founding team member and Director of Product at Apolitical
Ideally, using your talents shouldn’t just be about finding something highly paid or stable, but about using those advantages to create a positive, lasting impact in the world.
I studied at Exeter partly thanks to the full opportunities bursary for students from low income backgrounds. I grew up in council housing and my school was in Ofsted Special Measures. I couldn’t have been more thrown by interviews in what looked suspiciously like an ivy-clad sandstone palace, but the History tutors’ patient coaxing managed to put me at ease.
Whilst at Exeter, the concept of ‘rights’ most caught my interest. Throughout papers spanning different eras, what captivated me was the same questions being explored anew: What does society owe its citizens? Who are its citizens? Does how we interact depend on these questions, or something more fundamental? I decided that human rights and public policy were the natural paths for my interests – though notoriously they’re not easy ones to crack into!
It took a year of volunteering to get a job in the space I wanted. Before then I worked as a live-in nanny in Barcelona and in the evening I volunteered through UN Online Volunteers and cold-outreached to non-profits. An Australian foundation called Walk Free eventually took me on as a supply chain researcher; with them I did a stint with the House of Lords lobbying on the Modern Slavery Bill, before deciding to get away from the desk and out into the field itself. I became the senior field advisor on human trafficking in Africa for the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, based in DC. There I conducted in-country investigative research into sex trafficking and child labour in Ghana, South Africa, and Mozambique, which got me interested in data and technology solutions to solve complex problems.
After meeting two wildly impressive women who were founding something visionary, I moved to Berlin as Head of Knowledge and Research for the still-nascent Apolitical. It was a risky move, but I couldn’t resist the chance to do something with such grand ambition – to make government globally more inspired, informed, and connected. Initially I conducted interviews, surveys and research, but more and more I became interested in turning those insights into a digital platform – after a couple of years of training in UX, product strategy and coding I became the Director of Product and moved back to London. The platform now has policymaker members from 140+ countries, and I oversee the design, membership, data and engineering teams.
I strongly feel that those deciding what they want to do after Oxford should think carefully about what they’ve been given – one of the best educations available anywhere. Ideally, using your talents shouldn’t just be about finding something highly paid or stable, but about using those advantages to create a positive, lasting impact in the world.