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Jovana Tuffnell: South West Network Manager of The Girls Network

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Jovana Tuffnell is the South West Network Manager for The Girls' Network.

The network of professional women has the mission to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities, by connecting them with a mentor and role models. This mentoring is very broad and continues beyond the initial school years.

Stef Nienaltowski: Good afternoon, I'm sat here talking to Jovana Tuffnell, the Network Manager from The Girls’ Network, and she works and operates as the South-West Network Manager. The Girls’ Network is a fantastic organisation, that gives an unlimited future to all young women. Good afternoon Jovana.

Jovana Tuffnell: Good afternoon Stef, thank you so much for having me.

SN: A pleasure. Amazing strapline to your organisation. Before we talk about The Girls’ Network, I wondered if you can tell me a bit about yourself and your background, and how you became involved with this network.

JT: Absolutely! So yeah, as Stef said my name is Jovana Tuffnell, but my maiden name is actually Radosavcevic, and I'm originally from Serbia, and lived in Bosnia when I was younger. I came to the UK during the Bosnian war, so actually as a young woman, I understand of the struggles that a lot of young people go through, and a bit more really. I came here in '92 with my family, we just had a suitcase between us, and through the power of networking I would say, through people that we met, through people that introduced us, we were able to thrive in this City, and I owe a lot of thanks to Portsmouth as a City for my family.

I went to University in London in the end, and I ended up doing a PGCE back in my hometown of Portsmouth, and ended up working as an English teacher in a local school in Portsmouth and absolutely loved it. I worked there for about 5 years, I worked as an English teacher, I also worked as a head of year, I was also in charge of an alternative provision which was amazing, and those experiences that I've had in schools, as well as being a teacher and working in pastoral care, just made me realise how much schools do first of all, but also how much schools aren't able to do because of time, because of funding, and I just wanted to give a little bit more back. So when this job came up at The Girls’ Network, I thought it was absolutely perfect for me personally, so that I could help young women grow their futures in this City.

SN: Wow, that's a great intro and I appreciate that. So tell us how The Girls’ Network now got started, and how long has it been in existence, and why did it ever get started?

JT: Absolutely. So, The Girls’ Network is a national network, we are not only in the South-West, but we are in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and we're launching all over the UK as the years go by, so we're national, but actually started first of all in London, and it was started by two fantastic women called Becca Dean and Charly Young, and actually Becca Dean is from Portsmouth, she went to a local Portsmouth secondary school, and that's how it grew into Portsmouth, but through the TeachFirst programme, who are absolutely amazing, they both started teaching in London, and they kind of realised as they were working, the disparity between some kids and the opportunities that they had.

What Becca Dean did one day was took some of her girls from her tutor group to a walk around the City, just to let them know what kind of buildings are around, what kind of people work in those buildings, and as they were going round this walk, they got to the Gherkin. As we know, the Gherkin is a massive business hub, and one of the girls saw a woman in a suit, and she turned around to Becca and she said "Miss, why is that woman wearing a suit?" and Becca said "Well, she works here", and the girl couldn't believe that.It was at that point that Becca realised, it's not that these girls don't want to aspire to be in positions like that, it's actually they don't realise that these positions exist. 

We coined an informal phrase which was 'You can't be what you can't see', and that's where it really began, that moment, that penny that dropped, and what Becca and Charly decided to do from that moment was to gather some friends and family to come to the school, and mentor just some of the girls in the school. So, I think there was only about 5 or 6 girls, 5 or 6 mentors, and even from that first session, one of the girls burst in after that first session to Becca's classroom and said "Miss, Miss, guess what? Did you know that you can have a baby AND a job?" And Becca said "Yeah, absolutely, of course", and it was moments like that that she realised that this is exactly what we needed to be doing. We needed to be showing all women across the world the opportunities that are out there for them, and the fact that they have a choice in those opportunities, so that's really where it began, and it's grown and it's grown and it's grown, and it's absolutely amazing. 

SN: Fantastic story. So remind me of that saying again, 'You can't...'

JT: 'You can't be what you can't see'

SN: Wonderful, I'll remember that, I'll write that down. So that's great, and I guess implied in what you've said are the aims and objectives of The Girls’ Network, but I wonder if you could just, for the listeners, maybe just reiterate those, what they are?

JT: So, our mission is to inspire and empower girls from the least-advantaged communities, by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional female role-models. So, essentially, we want to connect as many young women as possible with other young women in the Cities around the UK who have really succeeded, and a lot of them just want to give back, and one of the ways they do that is by mentoring these young girls, and just showing them what's out there, what's available to them. That's our main ambition.

SN: Wonderful. And I think I understand it correctly, you carry on that relationship and the support to the girls, long after they've left full time education?

JT: Absolutely, so our programme runs for around 12-months, and it is one hour of mentoring per month with a professional woman, as well as two workshops that we provide for the schools as well. But as you can imagine, that's not long enough really to make as much impact as we want to, so what we offer the girls is a life-long membership to The Girls’ Network, and after they've passed through our mentoring programme, they then become an Ambassador, in our Ambassador programme, and like I said that's throughout their whole life. And it means a couple of things for them really. It means a) they'll have a mentor they can contact for the rest of their lives, because they've connected with a professional woman.

It also means they can connect with us as The Girls’ Network the rest of their lives; it doesn't matter where they are in the UK, or even the world I would say. For example, we had a young woman who was going to University, she wanted to be a radiologist, but she didn't know anybody who was a radiologist, so she rang us and she said "Can you help me, I need some work experience, even just a day" and we were able to connect her with a mentor, who was able to give her some work experience in a radiology department, so that she could apply for University. So, simple things like that, just a connection, a network, but also, we provide Ambassador events, and they can be from a social event, so I've taken girls to the cinema, some girls this evening actually are going to the theatre together. We also provide them with what we like to call round-table events, so networking events essentially, where we have lots and lots of mentors, volunteers, who give up their time to have a networking event where the girls can go around and speak to these women, the women can tell them about their experiences, how they got to where they are, and just give them some more confidence at whatever stage they are in their lives, so it's a life-long experience.

SN: Amazing. We're almost out of time already, I've been fascinated to listen to you, so maybe the last question that people often say to me afterwards is, how do I get in touch with The Girls’ Network, and what is the best way of doing that?

JT: Absolutely. Like I said, The Girls’ Network is throughout the UK, so it doesn't matter where you are or where you are listening, you can get involved. And you can get involved in lots of different ways really, actually, so the first one is to become a mentor, so you would be volunteering one hour a month of your time to mentor an individual, from the age of about 13 to up and towards 20. All that encompasses is one hour per month, and also a three-hour training session that I run, or another network manager would run in their City.

So, it's quite a short amount of time really to get involved, but if you can't give up your time in that sense, you can also become a supporter, you can be part of our networking events, you could speak at our events, you could support us in any way you can. And that's as an individual, but of course we would love businesses to be involved, so if you are a business and you would like your colleagues and your employees to get involved, you are more than welcome as we always need more mentors, because we always have schools that want to come onboard, and we want to provide them with the best professionals that we can. So, the best thing for anyone who's listening who wants to get involved is to go on our website, which is www.thegirlsnetwork.org.uk which you'll find lots of information about The Girls' Network, or alternatively you can email myself as well if you want to get involved in Portsmouth, but you'll find all that information on the website.

SN: Fantastic. Jovana thank you very much indeed, ten minutes has run by very quickly. Fantastic to have met you, looking forward to working with you in the coming months.

JT: Thank you so much Stef.

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