Meet Our Team

Core Team

Professor Lynn Davies

Director

Lynn Davies is Emeritus Professor of International Education at the University of Birmingham, UK and Co-Director of the ConnectFutures. She has worked extensively in the area of education and conflict, and for the last 15 years specifically in education, extremism and security.

Major books in the field have been Education and Conflict: Complexity and Chaos (2004), Educating against Extremism (2008), and Unsafe Gods: Security, Secularism and Schooling (2014). Recent empirical research has included interviewing former extremists (far right and Islamist) about their family backgrounds for EU RAN (2018) and evaluating the Home Office funded Way Out Project: Supporting Muslims in Prison (2018), an action research project based on the lived experience of offenders. Recent reviews include the Review of Educational Initiatives in Counter-Extremism Internationally: What works? (2018),University of Gothenburgand this looked at 21 different types of initiatives in 23 countries and their evaluations. Another review is the Education and Radicalisation Prevention: Different ways governments can support schools and teachers in P/CVE (2019) for EU RAN This is a survey of 27 EU Member states of what their governments are doing in the area of counter-extremism.

She has acted as a senior consultant on areas of counter-extremism for a number of international agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, GIZ, OSCE and Club de Madrid, as well as the EU Radicalisation Awareness Network.

In 2014 she was given the Sir Brian Urquhart award for service to the UN and its goals by a UK citizen.

Zubeda Limbada

Director

Zubeda is a founding director of ConnectFutures. She previously worked for over 15 years in the public sector as a senior member in a wide variety of local, national and pan-European policy-orientated projects on topics such as extremism, equalities and leadership innovation. She developed an operational accredited mentoring programme on behalf of statutory agencies and partners for individuals vulnerable to violent extremism during a two-year assignment with West Midlands Police Counter Terrorism Unit, and worked for Birmingham City Council delivering aspects of the Prevent strategy from 2007.

Zubeda is a current EU RAN expert. She is the author of Education and Radicalisation Prevention: Different ways governments can support schools and teachers in P/CVE with Professor Lynn Davies (2019), “Counter-terrorism as conflict transformation (Routledge, 2014) and Formers and Families -transitional journeys and out of violent extremism in the UK (European Commission, 2015). She is a Clore Social Fellow (2014/15), an alumni of the IVLP programme (Dept of State, USA) and was invited to the White House Countering Violent Extremism (President Obama) summit in Washington in February 2015 as a result of the specialist work of ConnectFutures in developing community and schools based programmes.
She graduated from the University of Manchester with a BA in Politics and Modern History and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies.

Laura Zahra McDonald

Director

Dr Laura Zahra McDonald is a founding director of ConnectFutures and former academic at the University of Birmingham. After studying Social Anthropology with sub-honours in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of St Andrews, she completed her PhD at the Centre for Women’s Studies, University of York in intersectionality and Islam. Her post-doctoral work at the University of Birmingham investigated state-community engagement in the context of security and conflict post 9/11, within which she highlighted the importance of community partnership with leadership from young people and women.

She has extensive experience in innovative programme design, critical enquiry and evaluation for policy, practitioner and community-based organisations. She has worked to counter extremism, exploitation and inequality since 2003, engaging formally in understanding and developing preventative approaches to extremisms since 2005. This includes bringing young people together with the police for problem-solving in the community, and engaging ‘hard to-reach’ youth for dialogue and skills-building across diverse communities.

She has been a key developer – designing, testing and evaluating - in the OSCE’s new Leaders Against Intolerance and Violent Extremism (LIVE) initiative, which is a long-term training and capacity building programme for young leaders in Western Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia to tackle extremism in their local contexts. Laura has also contributed to the development of an online course for UNITAR around countering violent extremism within a human rights framework.
She has developed training modules for the HMPPS funded Way Out Project: Supporting Muslims in Prison (2018), an action research project based on lived experience of offenders. In partnership with St Giles Trust, she has been a key developer of the Building Resilience to Violent Extremism (BRAVE) programme for schools and colleges, and is experienced in evaluating the impact of different forms of intervention such as films and testimonials as well as social media and dialogue.

Annemarie Kiplagat

Social Media and Communications

Annemarie has fantastic experience internationally, having worked in the humanitarian sector and civil society organizations for the past 8 years in Kenya and the UK, including as a youth advisor to OXFAM.

Carys Evans

Head of Programmes & Impact

Carys has 10 years experience working in communities and with young people in third sector organisations. Her specialism is the design of interactive programmes that seek to challenge, integrate and develop confidence in the attendees. She has extensive youth work experience, most notably in alternative education settings that encourage social integration and community-led development. Carys has a first class Masters degree in Terrorism and Political Violence from the University of Birmingham where her specialisms were far right extremism, gender and terrorism and countering violent extremism. She has written papers on the constructions of gender in public responses to women who engage in terrorism, as well as chapters on intersectional responses to all violence and the incorporation of a contextual safeguarding approach to CVE projects in educational environments.

Craig Hands

Project Manager & Senior Facilitator

Craig is an experienced facilitator, working across a wide range of groups including young people, new arrival communities and those with additional support needs.
With over 9 years working in the third sector supporting individuals he is passionate about making a difference and building skills within people. Alongside this, he has supported and led on projects aimed to build integration within communities and break down stigma around differences between people.

Malik Harrison

Lead Facilitator & Creative

Malik is a professional hip-hop artist, as lyricist and MC with MD7, and a solo career that has seen him touring with artists including Jay-Z, Mark Ronson, Professor Green and Wiley. Malik is a highly skilled facilitator, performer and public speaker, using his skills to work through music and spoken word therapeutically. He has worked with at risk young people within secure units and other institutions for over 10 years. His work with ConnectFutures includes national delivery for our BRAVE, Racial Justice, Contextual Safeguarding and Fake News programmes in targeted and assembly formats with a specialism in PRUs and SEND schools, large scale workshops, mentoring and 1-2-1s.

Junior Higgins

Senior Mentor & Facilitator | Youth | SEMH & SEND

Junior is an experienced youth worker specialising in work with young people with complex needs, SEMH and SEND. Junior supports young people and their families in community settings, mainstream educational settings and alternative provision including Pupil Referral Units (PRUs). His innovative programme designs and delivery take a culturally sensitive perspective, raising awareness, reducing stigma, and educating to support mental health, resilience and emotional well-being. As a musician he utilises the arts in his work, as well as sport to develop programmes which connect with young people's needs and interests.

Sami Baloch

Marketing and Communications

Sami Baloch is a masters student at the University of Birmingham studying International Development, following his completion of a BA in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Liverpool. He has worked on a number of projects with organisations such as the NHS, KPMG as well as programmes designed by ConnectFutures, focussing on effective messaging of complex subjects to young people. Sami has written for the Guardian Newspaper on his family's political history and standing up for what you believe in. His interest in politics and development thus stems from his family's social, political and community legacy combined with his 4 years of high level studies.

Jacob Astley

Researcher | Educator | Facilitator

Coming soon!

Associates

Alex Long

Consultant Facilitator | Youth & Professionals

Alex has worked with with young people and in education for the past 10 years. His experience originated in working with youths from both Unionist and Nationalist backgrounds in Northern Ireland in order to further cross community relations and reduce violence as part of the peace agreement.
Since then, Alex has gone on to manage several youth programmes which aim at young people from all backgrounds. He is an experienced public speaker, D.S.O and youth worker who specialises in Pupil Referral Unit intervention.

Kyle Lowe

Consultant Facilitator

Kyle is a passionate programme facilitator of young people and professionals with past experience in coaching and mentoring.

Kyle gained his Bachelors in Policing & Criminal Investigation from the University of Central Lancashire and has previously served as a Special Constable within Lancashire Constabulary with a focus on community policing and youth engagement

A confident public speaker with over 10 years experience in sales within the FMCG sector who utilises his experience to connect with young people as a programme facilitator

Sean Monaghan

Senior Consultant for Serious Youth Violence

Sean has worked for over seven years as a trainer and frontline practitioner supporting young people across the UK and for a short project overseas. His specialism lies in working with vulnerable communities and youth at risk of, or involved in: Youth violence, knife crime, gangs, extremism, CSE/CCE and substance misuse. His practice is through a contextual safeguarding approach, mediation, training and direct intervention work.

Alongside his frontline work, Sean has also conducted consultation pieces for various organisations on inclusivity, cultural competency and practice development for services working with vulnerable youth.

Connor Natella

Senior Facilitator | Youth & Professionals

Connor is a senior youth worker, football coach and expert public speaker, working on the National Citizenship Service (NCS), now based at West Ham United. His role with ConnectFutures as a facilitator includes BRAVE delivery to young people of all ages and educational needs, and specialist training to professionals around youth, violence, extremism and positive skills building.

Si Philbert

Consultant Facilitator | Youth

Si is an experienced youth mentor and worker with Luton Tigers and St Giles Trust who has worked for many years around radicalisation, extremism and racism from a grassroots perspective. He has also worked with EPEX and Recora.

In his spare time, Si is a renowned musician and rapper with over 20 years worth of experience in the UK hip hop industry.

Jacob R

Consultant Facilitator | Youth

Jacob is a passionate and experienced speaker, engaging powerfully on the toughest topics. Drawing from challenging lived experiences, he understands the pathways into and out of gangs, serious violence and radicalisation. Jacob works as a facilitator for both St Giles Trust and ConnectFutures, bringing insight and presence to the fore.

Elise Manon Smith

Consultant Facilitator | Youth & Professionals

Elise has 5 years experience working with young people in the UK and abroad. The bulk of this work has been spent working for a national charity providing young people aged 16-19 with enrichment & development opportunities. Elise is an experienced trainer and mentor having created and delivered a range of training to young people in her professional career as well as through ConnectFutures. She is an experienced public speaker, focussing on youth engagement.

Mike Younis

Consultant Facilitator | Youth

Mike is a powerful public speaker, MMA fighter and actor, who utilises his skills to connect with young people as a programme facilitator.

Advisory Board

Hashi Mohamed

Advisory Board

Hashi Mohamed is a barrister at No5 Chambers and a Broadcaster and a published author.
In 2010, he joined The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and completed his barrister training in London in 2012. Now at No5 Chambers, Hashi practices in public law; his main area of focus is Planning & Environmental law. He represents clients from across the country, including housebuilders and local authorities.
Hashi presents documentaries on BBC Radio 4, most recently on planning, politics and housing; 20 years since the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and on access to the top professions. Hashi writes regularly in various newspaper publications, including The Times, The Guardian, Tortoise Magazine and Prospect Magazine.
Hashi’s book on social mobility in Britain, People Like Us, What it Takes to Make it in Modern Britain was released in January 2020, and was BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. He grew up in Brent arriving in the early 1990s as a young unaccompanied child refugee, raised exclusively on state benefits attending some of the worst performing schools in the borough.
Hashi’s second book, A Home of One’s Own, focusing on the housing crisis and what we need to do about it, is out in September 2022.

Professor Gabe Mythen

Advisory Board

Gabe Mythen is Professor of Criminology, based in the School of Law and Social Justice at the University of Liverpool. He has over three decades of academic experience in researching the impacts and effects of societal risks, including political and religiously motivated violence, state harm and the climate emergency. He is currently the UK Principal Investigator on DRIVE, a European Commission funded project exploring the connected dynamics between processes of social exclusion, marginalization and gravitation toward extremist beliefs.

Njoki Yaxley

Advisory Board

Njoki Yaxley is an experienced governance and risk management professional, having worked on both sides of the Board table. Initially as a Deputy Company Secretary/Governance Manager and more recently as a Non Executive Director for Norfolk Community Health & Care NHS Trust- a post she has held since February 2020.

Her passion and motivation lies in social housing where she spent over 15 years in various roles, including as a rents officer, development officer and governance officer. In 2017, she became a governance and risk manager/ Deputy Company Secretary at Flagship Housing Group. She holds a degree in Law from the University of East Anglia, a Masters in Social Housing from the London School of Economics and is a Clore Social Fellow (Social Housing, 2014 Alumnus).

When she is not working, she enjoys gardening, reading and looking after her young son. Njoki is excited to join Connect Futures' inaugural board and looks forward to sharing her expertise to help grow the organisation.

Professor Diane Kemp

Advisory Board

Diane Kemp is Director of the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, and Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Birmingham City University. She was Deputy Chair of the Broadcast Journalism Training Council for 8 years and still chairs the committee which oversees their Placement Assistance Scheme. She is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and was a consultant on diversity in journalism for the Council of Europe leading, and contributing to, a variety of programmes. In Birmingham she worked on the cross-city initiative ‘Birmingham Partners’ of which Birmingham City University was a founder member, while also representing them on the city’s child poverty action forum and was a Poverty Truth Commissioner in the city for two years.

Coming soon...

Advisory Board

Creating Change Together

Harnessing the experience and knowledge of an internationally respected team, ConnectFutures provides independent expertise to a wide range of clients.

Our unique approach combines academic excellence with extensive practitioner experience and is informed by our strong ethical framework and commitment to justice.

Our academic backgrounds include expertise in law, education, criminology, social anthropology, political science, and sociology, with practitioner experience in the fields of equalities, policing, security and peace-building.

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