Vee: "There is no point, nor benefit in only ever having the same voices represented at tables where decisions are made. Diversity is not just a buzzword that people should use but rather a way of living that allows for all members of society to succeed."
Issue XII Cover Feature Empower
Interviewed Vanshika Gandhi
Edited by Aniruddha Khare
25th January, 2022
Vee Kativhu is a 23 year old YouTube visionary, education activist and founder of the initiative, Empowered by Vee. She uses her platform to share tips and advice to help underprivileged and underrepresented people from across the world recognise their own talent and potential. A graduate of both Oxford and Harvard Universities, Vee has been named a Diana Award Legacy Award Recipient, a Rare Rising Star, Future Leader and Diversity Champion. Recently Vee has published her debut book, ‘Empowered; Live your life with passion and purpose’, a practical and motivational self-help book. She has also taken on roles as a LinkedIn Changemaker, TEDx speaker and BBC Teach presenter, achieving many other accolades in the process. With a following of over 300,000 across her social media channels and her Empowered by Vee community, Vee is an inspiration to anyone who has faced adversity and made it through.
You started on your journey after you lost your father, moved from Zimbabwe to settle in the UK, attended state schools and worked long hours to support yourself and your mother. During this time, did you face any adversity or discrimination where you lost out on hope, before achieving all your goals? How would you put this whole journey into words? Was it overwhelming?
Vee: My journey since arriving in the U.K. has been an exceptionally interesting one, filled with excitement, cultural shocks and sometimes even sadness. Nonetheless, it has been one that has taught me quite a lot about life and the world around me. I always like to begin by highlighting the fact that I am extremely appreciative of every experience I have had in my life because every single one of them has molded me into who I am today and has taught me how to think on my feet. It’s such a cliché to say, but the best way to summarise my journey so far is that; the highs have been really high and the lows have been very low. I would say that the most overwhelming thing so far has been dealing with the drastic transitions - from learning a new language to adjusting to a new set of norms, and leaving the country you knew as home. However, while having that transition (which every migrant child has to take on), I also got to access new opportunities that were not previously available to me, such as free and quality primary school education.
There is a rollercoaster of emotions that exists between losing hope and achieving your goals. Speaking about myself, I have adjusted to these emotions and taken them as an integral part of life. This is important for your own success, but also equally important for your moments of failure so that you can learn from them. For me, it feels normal to experience the two side by side and it is just a part of my ongoing journey. Luckily, I also have an insanely supportive family who support me in ways I can't even explain. Having them helps me reframe the low moments or the moments of loss, as my family is really big on turning every moment into a celebration because even when things go wrong, we learn something from them. Thus, speaking frankly, I rarely get overwhelmed because I have a strong support system from my friends and family who help remind me of how far we have come and to enjoy every moment as it comes.
What made you embark on the path to create ‘EBV - EMPOWERING BY VEE’, and what are your dreams for it?
Vee: I created ‘Empowered by Vee’ when I was at university and had begun working on my YouTube channel. My viewers were asking some follow up questions on the videos I was making and wanted me to have one to one chats with them about university applications. At the time, I was a student and did not have the resources to be able to afford having 80 coffees with 80 students, so I decided, purely out of convenience for me and money saving tactics, to host an event where we could all meet at the same time. I really did not think of it as an organisation or anything that would last beyond that very day, and I was really surprised to see how many students turned up on the day and made it as successful as it was. I had also asked my friends to join me and share their expertise too, and the students found it immensely beneficial. Thus, out of convenience, wanting to help, and by having the right people around me, Empowered by Vee was born. I love this organisation so much and cannot believe the fact that we currently have over 15,000 students tuned into it. I am extremely grateful and very excited for the future.
The dreams I have for Empowered by Vee are to expand it further to other countries, to have a more defined mission statement and to get a team of people working on it around the clock. I want to turn it into a social enterprise and change its name so that it’s more universal and exists with a life of its own outside of me and my story. I want to empower people to follow their dreams and aim higher than the stars! I hope to have it relaunched and up and running by February 2022. I just have to figure out the logistics but otherwise, I am very excited about everything and cannot wait to see what the future holds for it.
Watch our interview with Vee Kativhu, Cover Feature of Issue XII
Your book ‘Empowered: Live Your Life with Passion and Purpose’ is an amazing guide for aspiring young people. What prompted you to write EMPOWERED and what are some things you have learnt and assimilated in this whole process?
Vee: The book ‘Empowered’ is my absolute baby and I am so proud of it! I cannot believe I have been able to share it with the world and it has received such a magnificent reception. I was once again, like most things I do in my life, promoted to write it by my audience. They kept on asking about how I do things, my methodology and wondered if I could write it down for them. Plus, I had always dreamed of writing a book and also of doing it with Penguin. Thus, when the opportunity came up, it was a no brainer for me. I really wanted to share my experiences and everything I know in case it could be of use to other people too.
Throughout this whole process, I have learned so much but the biggest lesson has been to trust oneself. I have always had confidence in myself and my family always encourages me. However, there were some moments when I felt insecure and asked myself, “what have you got to say that people haven’t heard before, why are you writing a book”. And honestly, the answer was and still is “nothing”. There isn’t anything in this book that people haven’t heard before, and that is fine. The unique nature of this book is not the advice I give, rather the angle I give it from. This is my story, my journey and one that only I can tell from this very specific view because I am the one who lived through it. However, (and here is the beauty in knowing that the answer was “nothing”) this story is not entirely unique, so many young people around the world can relate to it. I realised that the mission of writing this book was not to write something that the world had never seen before, it was to draw attention to the everyday struggles of so many young people growing up around the world right now. It was to show the stories of the lives that so many lead but don’t often see written about.
‘The Diana Legacy Award’ is one of the most prestigious accolades a young person can receive and you just won it. How does it feel to be receiving such an illustrious award and to attend the ceremony at Princess Diana’s family home?
Vee: I am still in utter shock that I was a recipient of the 2021 Diana Legacy Award. I had always respected the Diana Award charity and what they do, and used to tune in to see who had won the Diana Awards, so being on the receiving end of it now feels incredible. I am excited to continue my journey of working hard in my advocacy role and expanding the work to new parts of the world. I am really thrilled to have the support of the charity as they will help develop my skills further and open several doors of opportunities for me to reach more young people. The ceremony was amazing and I was really overjoyed to bring my family along so that they could experience something new with me.
Could you give us an insight into how you are overcoming Academic Imposter Syndrome and what would you suggest to people struggling with it?
Vee: I overcame Imposter Syndrome by journaling, using words of affirmation, and dancing. These methods may or may not work for other people, but they really helped me. Journaling helps me get to grips with what I am feeling and often helps me find out why I am feeling that way too. Being able to articulate what you are experiencing, even if it is through a scribbled mind map or full sentences on paper helps by letting you rationalise it. When I keep things only in my mind, that’s when the syndrome takes over. On the other hand, when I write it down, it kind of helps me lessen the burden because the thought no longer exists within me, it is now tangible and written down on paper.
The more I read what I am writing, the more I can give myself a rain check and challenge those thoughts. The words of affirmation make me joyful and remind me that I am beautiful, smart, kind and deserving of the things I want in life. The more I say these things to myself in the mirror, the more I believe them. Sometimes we feel strange telling ourselves things like this, but we need to normalise it. Life, as I highlight in the book, is not just about living with yourself, but also about loving yourself. Lastly, music and dance are helpful because they bring me joy. My mom taught me and my sister to use music as therapy and as something that helps us express ourselves. Dancing helps me feel powerful and in tune with myself and I take that energy, combined with my positive affirmations into my classes and use it to combat that imposter syndrome.
You are an Oxford B.A. & Harvard M.A. Graduate. Being a black student, have you faced any discrimination or inequality? Do you think diversity still needs to be addressed at schools?
Vee: Yes, I firmly believe that diversity still needs to be addressed in schools because it’s an ongoing issue that infiltrates many areas of school, college and university life. It's less about just setting quotas and more about committing to making a space inclusive, diverse in thinking as well as in its student body. Diversity is not just a buzzword that people should use but rather a way of living that allows for all members of society to succeed. There is no point, nor benefit in only ever having the same voices represented at tables where all the decisions are made. To have a fair society, a better school and better health care systems, we need diversity in every aspect of the world. For schools, it is especially fundamental to make the necessary changes to attract teachers of more diverse backgrounds because studies show that it makes a big difference to students when they get to see themselves represented in the people who are leading them. Then in the student body itself, it is important for students to learn from one another and to share different experiences.
A more diverse cohort ensures a diverse way of thinking which in turn helps create a generation of future leaders who are more tolerant, accepting and understanding of each other’s walks of life. I think that things such as racism, discrimination and lack of tolerance are still present due to ignorance and also a lack of exposure. People use scare tactics to induce things such as xenophobia and that’s how stereotypes are perpetuated, by never being exposed to different cultures to know that it is a stereotype. Therefore, I think that it is important for young children, young people and even young adults to have a wealth of cultural experiences. Hence, for me, diversity definitely needs to be addressed at schools in order to create a kind, loving and more accepting society.
How has being surrounded by inspiring people and having conversations with them changed you as a person?
Vee: Being surrounded by and interacting with inspiring people like my friends and family has been and always will be one of my favorite things about life. I think it’s so cool to be able to look within your circle and find people who genuinely motivate you to be the best version of yourself. I have written a lot about this in the book as it is especially important to find your empowerment circle and to choose them carefully. It needs to be a group of people who care about you, your goals and your happiness. They need to be people who are invested in you and want to help keep you accountable about the things you want to do! Having conversations with both inspiring people and also people who want to empower me and see me do well has undoubtedly changed me for the better and has helped me see that encouragement is unequivocally important. Receiving such kind words to continue my work or advice on how to improve it from people that I respect has given me a boost of confidence that I did not know I needed. In turn, I make sure that I give the same courtesy, time and love to people I meet who are a part of my online community. I listen to them very attentively and provide genuine advice and help.
I also believe that apart from receiving advice from people who inspire us, it is also really important for all of us to let the people who inspire us know that they do. I also go out of my way to message someone online whose work, content or advice has benefited me, as I always really appreciate hearing from people around the world who have found my videos helpful; it keeps me going and makes me feel appreciated.
You have won several reputable awards and held many speaking engagements and executive positions. But, what is it that you consider as your biggest accomplishment yet?
Vee: I find this question really difficult to answer; because I consider everything I’ve done at each moment to be tremendously exciting. I value every single one of the things I have been able to experience and achieve. I don’t think I have any one thing that I consider to be my biggest achievement because it all ties in together. But if I had to choose a moment that I won’t forget anytime soon, it would definitely be opening my acceptance letter for Harvard. I really did not expect to get in and the longer it took to find out, the more my Imposter Syndrome began to kick in. I was nervous and didn’t know which way it would go. The email for acceptance arrived really late in the evening; I was in my Oxford bedroom, wigless and had just finished an essay or a piece of reading. When I got a notification on my phone, I just wasn’t expecting it to be that so my nerves were really high and I was caught off guard. I felt so delighted, emotional and excited because this is something I had wanted for as long as I could remember. Therefore I would consider it to be the thing that has made me the happiest as well as something I was the most nervous about.
“Youtube which makes Studying Cool” describes you. Can you enlist a few tips and tricks in brief which would help young students to tackle exam stress?
Vee: I think that when dealing with exam stress, it is really important for people to plan ahead. If you have exams coming up, make a schedule as soon as you can. Calculate the number of exams and the number of days you have left along with how much time can be dedicated to each paper in the order of priority, as well as what you struggle with the most, while trying to be as realistic as you can. Forward planning can save your grades, help you feel calmer and allow you to perform your best. Stress is often a huge factor in how students perform, thus, doing everything in our power to make a stressful period easier, more relaxed and manageable is worthwhile. I would also recommend watching my ‘essay crisis guide’ videos and my ‘exam saving methods’ videos as they have step by step guidance on dealing with exam stress.
Last but not the least, how does it feel to see the beaming pride of your mom and your family members whenever you achieve something? Who is your biggest pillar of support?
Vee: It feels absolutely incredible to be one of the reasons why my mom smiles and walks tall with pride. I love her with all my heart and have dedicated my life to making her happy and proud. My mom is really amazing and has never put pressure on me to do anything apart from just exist. The way she parents is really excellent and effective and it fills me with confidence in myself and my abilities. I have never been worried about disappointing my mom because she always tells me that even if I were to say I’m done with wanting to do or achieve anything else in life, she would still be the proudest parent alive. I’m extremely lucky that the rest of my family is also the same, like my sister and my brother. They are always there for me, have never made me feel like I’m doing too much or get annoyed that I am always having celebrations or winning things. In our household, each person’s success is viewed as belonging to everyone, so for them whenever I win, they win and I really love that mindset.
If I had to choose my biggest pillar of support, I would have to say it is both my mother and my sister. They have both raised me and made me the woman I am today and for that, I love them forever.