Ruth Ibegbuna

Ashoka Fellow
United Kingdom,
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when Ruth Ibegbuna was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
As major capital cities increasingly attract the country’s top talent, financial resources, service industries, government structures and even citizen sector resources, regional cities and their sprawling suburbs are at risk of being left behind. Ruth Ibegbuna set up RECLAIM in 2010 to activate the latent talents of young people in those working-class areas that are most at risk of being excluded from meaningful life opportunities and mainstream society. She has developed a mechanism to spark individual-level change, and link this to fundamentally challenging the UK’s damaging cultural conception of why the poor are poor. Ruth’s youth-led regeneration approach constructs cohort groups of 30-40 young peers aged 13-15 from across a tough neighborhood, who launch their new leadership journeys by designing their own Youth Manifesto and recruiting active support from citizens and businesses in their local area. Over the course of 8 months, they engage with a series of carefully designed RECLAIM leadership challenges, from constructive dialogue with the police and local decision-makers to starting their own youth-led projects for local and national-level change.

Ruth’s new idea rests on the innovative methodology she has designed to deeply engage a sector of youths who would never normally engage with existing programs or social action. She is bringing young people who often struggle both academically and in the home on a transformational, long-term journey to become their communities’ powerful changemakers: local role models and activists for social justice at the national level. Her innovation resides in three key insights. First, she is re-defining what leadership means: demonstrating that the “disadvantages” faced by young people who face the greatest challenges in pressurized communities can be inverted into powerful “advantages”: unique skills, resilience, and strong local leadership. Second, her youth-led approach and peer-to-peer marketing is changing incentive structures so that teenagers who would never normally come forward self-nominate to RECLAIM. Third, rather than create diversionary activities to keep young people out of trouble, RECLAIM brings them outside of their comfort zones with a focus on activism, challenging them to exercise their political voice and tackle the social injustice they experience head-on. Furthermore, where existing school-to-work programs focus on creating single-track avenues, for example into construction and hairdressing jobs, RECLAIM co-creates unique leadership plans for every young person, whether this means going to university, crafting non-traditional career paths, pursuing entrepreneurship or becoming a caring mother not reliant on state support.

Ruth’s approach works at multiple levels to disrupt society’s conception of why the poor are poor. She is systematically bringing working class youths’ position in UK society from the periphery into the core: activating their political voice and changemaking potential at the school, community, and national level; designing new paths into employment that reflect the genuine ambitions of working-class youths; and creating bridges to key institutions, businesses, the media and policy-making. Ruth is ultimately changing society’s expectations for working-class youths by putting young people from deprived backgrounds in places and positions where society would not expect them, and ensuring they are “being seen, being heard and leading change”.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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