Sarah Brook: CEO and Founder, Sparkle Malawi
Posted: 09 March 2022
Sarah Brook, alumna of both AKS and Felsted, is a passionate and altruistic leader. At the age of 21 she founded Sparkle Malawi and works as the CEO for the charity. Sarah is led by her values and affects positive change in the lives of thousands of children and community members in Malawi. Driven to “give back” to a community that saved her life, she advocates tirelessly for access to basic education, nutrition, and health provision. Her contagious enthusiasm and drive have led to the success of Sparkle Malawi in supporting orphans and vulnerable children in 17 villages. “We have a direct impact on 14, 000 people’s lives.” The charity, only established in 2016, already has offices in the UK, Dubai, and Malawi and is supported by schools and volunteers around the world.
More recently, the impact of Sparkle’s work has been formally recognised by the President of Malawi, Lazarus Chakwera. Impressed by its sustainable grassroots model, with four foundation pillars (Education, Community, Nutrition, and Medical), President Chakwera plans to replicate the Sparkle Malawi model across the country. To ensure far-reaching, systemic change in education provision, Sarah has been invited to help write education policy in Malawi, therefore ensuring a positive impact on lives of children for generations to come.
While reflecting on her success, Sarah firmly believes that her strength and determination stem from her upbringing and her schooling.
“I am one person. I am genuinely no different to anyone else. I just had a dream and I never doubted that it wasn’t possible. I never set the bar on the dreams that I had, and that comes back to the life I had at school, the leadership opportunities, and the influence of my parents. Everyone always said, “you can be whatever you want to be.””
Sarah is modest when she talks about what she was like at school, “I was pretty much an average student. I was never amazing at anything. But school gave me the belief that if you weren’t the smartest or if you weren’t necessarily the best at sport, then there’s still something for you.” Sarah believes that it was this exposure to opportunity, and the expectation that everyone can make a difference, that opened her eyes to what was possible.
“Always at the top was making a difference to other people’s lives. I think that was instilled within me right from when I started school. It is still apparent within the schools now; they give every child an opportunity. It’s just about seizing it.”
“Although AKS and Felsted were not Global Members of Round Square when I was at school, it was not a surprise to me that they joined. Felsted joined Round Square two years after I graduated. Many of the values that are important to AKS and Felsted are really similar to those in other Round Square Schools. The students are so supportive, engaged, and compassionate. We really see that in the work they do for Sparkle Malawi. They look to make a difference.”
For Sarah, there was never a lack of things to do at school, she remembers that life was never “mundane” there was always “something going on” and “more people to meet”.
“There were so many opportunities. It was never just about the classroom. I remember volunteering at the weekend, I remember people being brought into the school to talk about their background and their cultures. I remember learning about different religions and different people’s perspectives.”
The importance of learning about other’s lives and understanding how perspectives can be different has remained a powerful influence. It has supported Sarah in the leadership style that she has chosen as she engages in international exchanges with people from all walks of life.
“I didn’t quite realize what it meant at the time, but I’ve got a much more rounded view and a thirst to understand different people and how different people operate. Certainly, when running a charity across three different countries, this perspective it’s invaluable. My approach to leadership has changed because I was just exposed to just one nationality when I was growing up.”
The values that Sarah learned from school and home set the scene for what has proven to be a transformative and inspiring journey. After leaving Felsted, Sarah embarked on a trip to Malawi to volunteer at an orphanage. It was during her visit that she fell dangerously ill; surgery saved her life. But the medical treatment came at a cost. There were other patients waiting to see the only doctor in the village. Unbeknownst to Sarah at the time, she was rushed to the front of the queue. Not because she was unconscious and needed help, but because of what she looked like. “Malawi saved my life. People valued my life ahead of theirs and I was seen by a doctor because of the colour of my skin.”
It was an emotional and humbling experience for Sarah. Returning to the UK and going back to a life of privilege was hard. “I was born in the UK. That gave me immediate access to healthcare and education. I won the geographic lottery. There are so many things that we take for granted. So many people in this world haven’t had the same opportunities that I have had.”
Sarah was determined that she would find a way to repay the community’s kindness, and the choices they had made to keep her alive. The idea of Sparkle Malawi was born. She decided that she would use her voice, education, and passion to change society from within. “I have a voice and I want to be able to use it to make sure that no one ever has to make a life-or-death decision based on the colour of someone’s skin.”
Throughout Sarah’s interview, we are reminded of Kurt Hahn and his educational philosophy. Hahn’s philosophies inspired the creation of the Round Square. He believed that students should use the privilege they have been born with to affect positive change in the lives of others. He also believed that to educate is to heal. He wanted schools to be centres of healing within their neighbourhoods. Sarah is doing just that. Through Sparkle’s four pillars: Education, Community, Nutrition, and Medical, she is building capacity from within the community.
“The goal is to create opportunity for the children to be able to have their own future. We hope that when they have families and children of their own, they won’t fall back into the NGO sector. Then the world won’t need another charity because they can stand on their own two feet.”
As a final reflection, we asked Sarah what her advice would be to her younger self. Straightaway she listed the three pieces of advice she values even today.
“One: Don’t care what other people think. I have compared myself to others so many times. Remember, it’s your own life.
Two: Never underestimate the value of kindness. My parents always told me to be kind to everyone. Some of my greatest supporters are people who sat in the classroom with me, who I have given my seat to on the plane or the train. Showing kindness has opened up amazing conversations that have really helped my career.
Three: Don’t limit yourself. We can be anything we want to be. If you really want something, then you can do it. You are the only person stopping yourself from achieving. Don’t ever put any limitations on your capabilities.”
If you are interested in following, supporting, volunteering, or setting up your own fundraiser to support Sparkle Malawi, you can find out more at: https://sparklemalawi.org/