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Sir Alex Ferguson presents students with leadership awards in Manchester

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The Launching Leaders programme honours students at the Catholic Chaplaincy

By Lisa Burns
Photography: Adam Spencer Young

Former Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson presented awards to the upcoming bright lights of religion and business at Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy last Saturday. The worlds of football, religion and enterprise merged in a unique way for the graduation ceremony of the global interfaith pilot of the Launching Leaders course.

Sir Alex Ferguson was on hand to give out certificates of completion to the participants on the interfaith course – a mix of Catholic, Muslim and Mormon students. The attendees at the ceremony consisted of the mentors on the course (also from a range of religious traditions), and dignitaries including Roman Catholic Bishop John Arnold (Salford Diocese), former Greater Manchester Chief of Police Sir Peter Fahy, Mohammed Ullah (honorary Muslim Chaplain to the Manchester Universities), Mormon Bishop Sean Roberts, Launching Leaders USA Executive Director Michael Leonard, Greater Manchester Citizens Community Organiser Furqan Naeem, and Catholic Chaplain Fr Tim Byron SJ (Lead Chaplain at the Catholic Chaplaincy).

The Launching Leaders programme ran for ten weeks at the Catholic Chaplaincy and is part of the wider Empowerment Plus programme devised by Professor Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. The programme is a unique programme to empower the Millennial Generation by imparting practical career and life skills alongside spiritual faith principles.

Addressing the aspiring leaders, Sir Alex spoke about his experiences of leadership and what makes a good leader. “In all my years in management my door was always open to anyone who came for advice and I think that is a really important part that you have to give away. You don’t expect anything back, because you’re the leader.” He placed a strong emphasis on acknowledging the efforts of others, from the greatest to the humblest. “It is so important to say ‘well done’. It really is as simple as that a lot of the time, to make people feel valued.”


The participants on the course banded together to carry out service projects in the local community, to give more practical expression to the discussions and ideas that have been explored in the weekly Launching Leaders workshops at the Catholic Chaplaincy.

One such project took place at the Nigerian Mosque in Newton Heath, when the Launching Leaders participants braved the relentless Manchester rain to pick up litter outside the mosque, to show solidarity with marginalised Muslims in the area. The Launching Leaders litter picking project was one of several service projects which aimed to ‘bridge the gap’ and to ease tensions between different faiths and cultures within multicultural Manchester, while making Muslims and other religious minorities feel more welcome.

Manchester Launching Leaders coordinator Hinna Parvez commented, “In the grand scheme of things these might seem like small steps towards freedom and peace, but the actions that we’re taking give out a very powerful message. We have more in common than anything that may divide us.”

Launching Leaders is one component of the wider Empowerment Plus programme, which is a fruit of years of research undertaken by Professor Grim. As the founder and president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, he has looked extensively at the link between religious freedom and economic growth. His findings have shown that there is a positive correlation between the two, and that countries and regions where religious freedom is stifled have experienced economic decline.

“Many economic and social problems are overcome when people of different religions and beliefs work together in faith and action.” Professor Grim believes. “We chose to launch the interfaith version of Launching Leaders in Manchester because this really is the place where the innovation and the driving spirits and the diversity is coming and where great champions like Manchester United come from.”

While the first Launching Leaders course has now come to an end, there are plans for the course to run again soon in Manchester and in locations throughout the world. Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy is now hosting another aspect of Empowerment Plus, in the form of ‘Finding a Better Job’ workshops, which aim to help attendees hone their professional job search and career skills using faith principles.

To learn more about Empowerment Plus, visit

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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