SistersIN mentorship programme triples in size

SistersIN, the all-female leadership programme dedicated to enabling, empowering, and developing young girls across Northern Ireland, has announced it has tripled in size in 2024. Almost 400 sixth form schoolgirls from 28 schools are participating in the programme this year.

The programme is a collaborative ecosystem between the schools who deliver leadership training, senior female leaders who mentor the pupils, and the pupils who put their leadership into action through projects in their schools, local communities, and often, wider society. Its growth not only signals the ongoing demand for professional development opportunities for young women, but also a willingness from the local business community to support female leaders of tomorrow.


SistersIN originated as a pilot in 2019, under the leadership of Assumption Grammar School’s principal, Peter Dobbin. Following its success, the SistersIN charity was officially formed in 2022 – with founding partners ICC Belfast | Waterfront Hall | Ulster Hall, Danske Bank, Education Authority, The James Kane Foundation and Queen’s University Belfast – to broaden its impact and reach to more schools and pupils.

Peter Dobbin highlighted how important it is to provide young girls with meaningful development opportunities, “Tripling our participant numbers in 2024 is a testament to the dedication of our partner schools, our mentors and, most importantly, the young girls who have been involved. It’s incredible to think that this year we’re supporting 400 schoolgirls from across Northern Ireland, many of whom may not otherwise have had the opportunity to experience such a sustained period of one-to-one leadership.

“There is that great phrase – you can’t be what you can’t see – and I think at its very essence that’s what our SistersIN programme is about. The concept is simple but powerful, and we’ve seen first-hand how it can build confidence and help schoolgirls to see their full potential at a crucial time in their lives. We’re very grateful to our mentors, and I’m looking forward to hearing from them and their mentees at the Celebration Event this month.”

This year, programme participants will host a major celebration event at ICC Belfast on March 12, with over 800 people expected to attend. Gill Tierney, Consultant Surgeon and President of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland (ASGBI) has been secured to provide the keynote address, whilst a panel discussion with a selection of some of Northern Ireland’s Leading Female Leaders will also take place. Representatives from local companies across the digital, pharmaceutical, financial services, and business tourism sectors are invited to exhibit.

Julia Corkey, Chief Executive of ICC Belfast, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall, and founding partner of SistersIN, said, “We really value our partnership with SistersIN, and this year we are delighted to offer our venue and event management services once more. The hands-on experience the pupils gain from shadowing our team to organise this year’s celebration event, gives them a glimpse of what it takes to deliver a world-class business event. It also gives them an insight into the key role that business tourism plays in Northern Ireland’s economic development. It’s been wonderful to see the unique perspectives the students have brought to the planning process, whilst also seeing how fulfilling an experience the programme is for our team.

“At ICC Belfast celebrating diversity is in our DNA and a commitment to gender balance across our venues helped us achieve the Bronze Diversity Mark last year. Led by our Board Chair, Steve Daniels we are currently developing a robust Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Strategy with input from our 300 full and part-time team members.”

This year’s participants will receive mentorship from global and local firms including Danske Bank, Queen’s University Belfast, KPMG, BT, Almac, Version 1, Concentrix and NIE Networks. Four female leaders from ICC Belfast, Ciara Davidson (Head of Governance and Stakeholder Engagement and Company Secretary), Laurel Gray (Senior Event Manager), Eimear Hone (Senior Association Account Manager) and Jenny Penrose (Head of Venue and Event Safety), are also taking part on the Mentoring Programme, providing students with expert guidance on the world of work and how to plan and manage a large-scale event.

Amongst the schools taking part is Ballyclare High School, St. Cecilia’s College, (Derry~Londonderry), Our Lady’s Grammar School (Newry) and Hazelwood Integrated School in North Belfast.

Reflecting on her SistersIN experience to date, Maka Chinanayi, a pupil at Hazelwood Integrated School in North Belfast, said, “I’m really enjoying being part of the programme and would definitely recommend that other schools and sixth formers get involved. I’ve loved working with my mentor Laurel Gray at ICC Belfast and have been learning new skills, growing in confidence and thinking about what I can achieve in the future. Organising a massive event like the Celebration Event was definitely daunting at the beginning, but I think that we’ve worked really well as a team and it’s really starting to come together.”

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