For as long as humans have roamed the earth, they have always dreamt of saving it. For some, that dream may be conquering a supervillain in a Hollywood-esque fashion. More recently, it may be living a wholly sustainable lifestyle. For Aastha Pal, saving the world has always been about improving people’s lives.
Politically astute from an early age, the 23-year-old from Leeds had just completed her MA in Diplomacy and World Order from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) when she stumbled across a placement that, in her own words, was ‘too good to be true.’
It was a six-month opportunity to work at the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), based in London – an opportunity that Aastha wouldn’t let pass her by. Using the knowledge she acquired across her master’s and BA in Politics and International Relations, she landed a role within a small team that worked on human rights violations, specialising particularly in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“When you’re growing up, you’re always asked ‘what do you want to do?’ and for me that was always helping make the world a better place,” Aastha said.
“Studying at DMU allowed me to explore my interest in the geopolitics of the Middle East and I even based my thesis on the Gulf Cooperation Council. So, when I applied for ECDHR, I was able to talk about human rights violations in the region and I think my passion really came across well.”
Throughout her placement, Aastha helped raise the political profile of human rights violations on behalf of ECDHR by organising meetings with MPs, writing questions for politicians to ask during Parliamentary sessions and arranging meetings between journalists and activists from Gulf countries.
Aastha said: “We were organising backbench MPs for debates on potential human rights violations in Bahrain, as well as meeting with the Shadow Foreign Minister to help get those voices of victims heard.
“Around two months into my internship, there was a cabinet reshuffle and Bambos Charalambous became the Shadow Minister for the Middle East. We worked hard to get ourselves in front of him and I was actually able to have a few one-to-one meetings with him, putting forward the testimonies from our contacts in these countries who have seen first-hand some of the violations.
“It was a surreal experience. I went from finishing my master’s to then chairing meetings with Mr Charalambous and building that professional relationship within such a short space of time. To have the team put so much confidence in me was really rewarding – a big confidence boost for sure.”
Following her placement with ECDHR, Aastha secured a role at one of the UK’s largest public relations firms, Weber Shandwick, where once more she can combine her passion for politics with her desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives.
Working as a public affairs consultant, she is helping her clients communicate with policymakers and opinion leaders in Westminster, and developing her commercial skills to generate new business for the company.“I feel that I’m an expert at interviews after applying. I had four interviews to get this role. Doing my research on both the company and the interviewers really paid off as I was able to connect with them from the get-go, allowing me to communicate a lot more naturally. That settled the nerves a lot.
“The role is similar in some aspects to the role with ECDHR. I’m meeting with political stakeholders and organising meetings to try to help shape potential policies or raise the profile of issues that our clients are facing.”
Aastha’s successful journey at DMU may not have even come to fruition had it not been for Clearing.
The despair after a disappointing start to results day soon turned to delight, and after finding a course that could combine her passion for politics and international relations, a move to Leicester was soon on the cards.
Speaking to DMU’s Clearing team, Aastha was able to enrol on the Politics and International Relations BA, book her accommodation and prepare for what proved to be the “best decision” she would make.
Her university journey went from strength to strength, working within the Model UN before securing the Best Student Performance Award during her master’s.
But it was through her involvement with the university’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), introduced by the United Nations, where she shone brightest.
“In my third year, I did the Politics in Action module which was based on the UN’s SDGs,” Aastha said. “We had to raise awareness of the goals by organising events and doing voluntary work. It gave me a better understanding of how the university applies the goals to its teaching.
“I think more universities should do it, especially as it’s becoming a big social issue and companies are looking at ways they can improve their sustainability commitments.
“We have a similar social action team at Weber, which I am working towards getting into. As a company, we’re always looking at ways to bring social action to the forefront of our clients’ work and putting their initiatives in front of political stakeholders to push for greater societal outcomes.”
DMU is the only higher education institution in Britain to be named as a global hub for the UN’s SDGs, promoting peace, justice and strong institutions.
As part of its role, the university has undertaken major projects including fighting modern slavery both domestically and internationally, tackling voter apathy amongst young people aged below 30 and leading the Build Back Better campaign to help redevelop areas of Leicester.
Posted on Wednesday 18th May 2022