Trustees & Founders

Ajay Sood - Trustee

Ajay SoodAjay Sood was born in Kisumu, Kenya and has lived in the UK for nearly 40 years. He attended Pembroke House School in Gilgil, Kenya, becoming Head Boy there, after which he emigrated with his family to Canada where he finished his schooling, obtained degrees in Commerce and in Law and was called to the Ontario Bar. He later completed an MBA at London Business School and worked in general management for American Express. With Antonia, his wife, he co-founded and ran for 16 years a publishing business in the finance and management sectors which was eventually sold to a UK public company. Ajay's interests are in enterprise-building and youth leadership development.

Having originally set up The Beacon Scholarship, Ajay is looking to bring in external partners and extend the Beacon model into other countries.


 Antonia Sood - Trustee

Antonia SoodAntonia Sood was born in the UK and completed a degree in Russian at the University of Bristol. She worked for the UK Ministry of Defence then, after travelling widely, worked in the third world aid sector focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa. She subsequently completed an MBA at London Business School, after which she worked in financial publishing before co-founding a publishing business, which was successfully sold after 16 years.

Having set up The Beacon Scholarship with Ajay in 2008 as a fellow Trustee, Antonia has been involved in all aspects of the Beacon, but has now stepped back to an oversight role, with a particular focus on Scholar monitoring and content management.


Growth Initiatives

Elizabeth George - Development Director

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With over 13 years experience in Higher Education, Elizabeth is passionate about funding for international students. After completing her LLB Law at Cardiff University, she joined the University’s Graduate Training Programme and started her career working with international students. Her experience to date spans across a number of Universities and government bodies across the UK as well as throughout the world, including Sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout her career she has developed and managed scholarship programmes for both Universities and other organisations, and forged links between Ministries, Corporations and global charities looking to partner with institutions to create funding opportunities for students.

Elizabeth comes to the Beacon with the ambitious task of raising the vital funds needed to propel the scholarship programme into its next chapter. Using her experience and networks across the globe, she hopes to – over time – double the investment into the Beacon which will enable the programme to grow into other countries and help many more students into the future.

Operations Team

Louise Stevens - Operations Manager

Louise profile pic smallLouise graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in French and History. After graduation, she pursued a career in marketing for a group of English Language Schools, where she became Group Marketing Manager. During this time, she promoted international education programmes to students across the world, working with students from South America, Asia, and Europe.

After the birth of her children, Louise retrained as a teacher, and during this time she was Curriculum Leader for both Science and English. She became passionate about the importance of reading for pleasure for all children and experienced first-hand how supporting children to develop a love of reading early in life benefited all areas of their education. Most recently, she has worked as a private tutor supporting children on a one-to-one basis in a variety of areas including exam preparation and Special Educational Needs support. It was during this time that she got involved with The Beacon Scholarship and Leadership Programme as a Target Sheet Mentor and has thoroughly enjoyed supporting Beacon Scholars on their leadership journeys.

In her spare time, Louise enjoys all manner of outdoor activities including hiking, cycling, kayaking, and gardening. She is treasurer for her local scout group and can often be seen out and about with her beloved retired greyhound.


Kate Saraceno - Operations Executive

Kate smallKate has a degree in English and began her career working in the charity sector before moving into local government as a Care Manager, working closely with local families and communities. Kate retrained as a teacher in 2005 and is a skilled practitioner of early reading, writing and maths. She has a Post Graduate Certificate in Special Educational Needs Coordination and as an Inclusion Lead has strategically led whole school special education provision as well as training colleagues and leading a team of dedicated support staff.

Alongside family life, Kate enjoys a challenge and last year climbed Moel Siabod in Snowdonia, Wales. She is a keen hiker and runner, having completed three half marathons and several off-road trail-runs. As a volunteer with her local scout group, Kate helps to manage activities such as hikes, camps, first aid training and the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze and Silver Awards. Kate can often be found with her labradoodle Willow, who shares her love of the great outdoors. 


Farzanah Samuels - Leadership Curriculum Manager

Farzanah small 3Farzanah lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa and has a passion for transformative experiences for youth in African communities by creating inspiring learning content for strong student engagement. After graduating from Sans Souci High School for Girls in Cape Town, Farzanah trained and worked in insurance, investment, and financial planning for the financial services group Sanlam. She came to London and continued her career in finance for global investment management firms Jones Lang LaSalle and MWB Group Holdings. 

In 2011, Farzanah changed direction after realising she wanted to help uplift African students and work with people. She returned to South Africa, and for 10 years worked in the education space as a corporate trainer, principally for Swiss International Airlines and the Lufthansa Group, covering topics in product and service delivery, and organisational development. She travelled frequently to Switzerland and Germany to help design new training concepts focused on leading change, driving business growth, and fostering talent in the aviation industry. In 2017, she undertook undergraduate studies in Adult and Community Education & Training at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She was active in various roles including curriculum design for an NGO focusing on Life Skills for youth development, and tutoring young students at UCT in reading and writing for academic improvement.

Farzanah is currently carrying out postgraduate research studying the experience and use of technologies for online learning in an African context. 


Zaheera Rajab - Leadership Curriculum Executive

Zaheera smallZaheera Rajab is a sociolinguistic researcher by training and an educator by choice. She graduated cum laude, with a Master’s in Education in 2023 (Applied Language and Literacy Studies) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Her passion in education stems from growing up in a post-Apartheid South Africa, and having to overcome the difficulties posed by being a “born-free” in a society where inequalities and oppression endure. Throughout her career, Zaheera has worn many hats - from educator to researcher to activist. She served as a Peace Ambassador, representing the United Nations’ SDGs, advocating for social justice and equality at the age of 15. As an educator, Zaheera has taught students from France, Germany, Spain, South Africa and several Latin American countries. She has acted as a mentor for students at the University of Cape Town and also been involved with organisations such as UNESCO's Institute for Lifelong Learning and the University of Cape Town’s UN Association of South Africa chapter, showcasing her passion for education and human rights. Over the course of her career, she strives to contribute to education initiatives in Africa and beyond, empowering students and developing Africa's next leaders. This is what drew Zaheera towards the Beacon, wherein she endeavours to contribute towards its longevity, help more young people follow their academic dreams, and educate scholars about the tools they need to succeed. For fun, she raises stray cats, learns new languages (Spanish at the moment) and aims to try something new every week.


Jay Surti - Alumni Manager

Jay Photo smallJay graduated from the University of Dundee with a degree in Civil Engineering and then went on to pursue a legal career as a litigator and Solicitor Advocate for 17 years. She lives and works in London.

Alongside her legal career, Jay discovered a passion for personal development and has continued developing leadership and coaching skills ever since. She is also trained in NLP (neurolinguistic programming) and has considerable expertise in effective communication and presentation skills.

After leaving the law, Jay now consults with clients across many industry sectors and writes books and speaks on the topics of presentation skills and personal brand. She has headed up mentoring programmes and coached undergraduates and professionals at all levels. Jay has a particular interest in working with women in leadership.

As an alum of Dundee University, she has been a non executive member of the Governing body for the past 4 years as well as a member of the People & Organisational Development Committee.

Alongside her other professional interests, Jay has been working with the Beacon since 2016 developing and delivering leadership programmes.


Jean Cooke - Financial Administrator

Jean Cooke

Jean Cooke has worked in investment for 30 years, as head of administration and compliance and company secretary, latterly with a London based fund management company specialising in emerging markets. After Simon Langton Grammar School for Girls in Canterbury, Kent, Jean travelled widely, including a year in Madrid, but then settled in the south east of England. She has now decided to use the skills developed in her business life for the benefit of others. Accustomed to multitasking, working to deadlines and decision making, she understands the importance of attention to detail and accurate reporting. 

Jean is actively involved in her local Church, where she serves as a Deanery Synod Representative and sits on the Parochial Church Council. She is also responsible for organising the Church Flowers and occasionally sings in the choir.

Jean has been involved with the Beacon since 2014 and provides invaluable administrative support for the Beacon Programme.

Africa Team

Dr Utheri Kanayo - Special Africa Advisor

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Dr Utheri Kanayo (née Susan Kiragu) was born and raised in Nairobi and Nakuru, Kenya. She studied Education at Undergraduate and Master's level at Kenyatta and Nairobi universities, and then won a full scholarship in 2005 to pursue a PhD in Education at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, UK. After her studies, she stayed in the UK from 2009-2013, working as an academic researcher at The Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, and later as a Research Manager for Camfed International. She is well exposed to Africa’s educational landscape, having carried out research in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, and Swaziland. In 2013, Utheri and her husband Kanayo quit their well-paying jobs in the UK to return to Kenya and established an NGO called Children in Freedom. They offered scholarships and mentorship to African children, encouraging them to love their African heritage, and use their talents to innovate solutions for their communities. Their powerful mentorship programme received recognition from President Uhuru and Margaret Kenyatta. In 2018, three years after her return to Kenya, Utheri co-founded the first Afrocentric school in East Africa, Children In Freedom School (CIFS). CIFS has grown to be a gifted and talented centre, dually grounding children to embrace their Africaness, and become global leaders. She is a Metis fellow, and an ALA Anzisha Education Accelerator fellow. In 2021 CIFS won the first ReimaginED Liberatory Learning Award.

Utheri started as the Beacon Rep in Kenya in 2016, and then became the Regional Representative until 2022 as the programme expanded. She is now continuing in an advisory capacity as the demands of her Children In Freedom School take up more of her time. Her Beacon hands-on role gave her the fantastic opportunity to train and mentor gifted African minds in leadership, ethics and responsibility – preparing them to use their giftedness and leadership to help their countries and Africa actualise their true, rich potential. And now, her continuing involvement as a Special Advisor enables her to serve her passion for nurturing great African children who are, and will become, the ethical changemakers that Africa and the world needs. She is highly committed to helping the Beacon achieve its mission.


Debborah Odenyi - Kenya and Uganda Beacon Representative

Debbie small

Debborah Odenyi was born and raised in Kakamega, Western Kenya. She studied at Kakamega Township Primary School, then Bunyore Girls’ School Kenya, and went on to study Education. She attended Eregi Teachers Training College, The Kenya Institute of Education, Sir Humphrey International College, and Kenyatta University College where she obtained her B.Ed. (Early Childhood Studies). She worked for the Teachers Service Commission, Kenya for 18 years, teaching in different public schools until 2011, when she joined the private sector. She taught at Oshwal Academy, Nairobi before going on to become Headmistress at SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) - Kibera in 2014. She is currently Director for Programs and Education, Kenya and Tanzania for Girls on Fire Leaders. GOF provides early adolescent girls in the slums of Kenya and Tanzania with transformative leadership skills through educational travel, sustainable community projects, diversity engagement and global connectivity.

Debborah brings to the Beacon a wealth of experience in teaching and mentorship. Having worked in public and private schools, which employed both local and international curricula, she has interacted with and taught children from very diverse environments. She is passionate about transforming young people’s lives through mentorship and empowerment.


Dr Lilian Benjamin - Tanzania and Zambia Beacon Representative

Lilian SmallDr. Lilian Benjamin was born and raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and completed her Bachelor of Medicine Degree (M.D.) in 2017 at the Hubert Kairuki Memorial University based in Dar es Salaam. Lilian volunteered as a freelance Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) counselor from 2014-2018 at a national health helpline. She championed access to differentiated service delivery models for young people living with HIV in 2017 with the International AIDS Society; she has also taken part in a number of leadership programs including AVAC Fellowship (2018) and advisory youth committees at both national and global levels.

Currently Lilian is leading an advocacy program with a local NGO focusing on improving access to HIV and integrated SRH services for young people. She is passionate about bringing the voices of young people to life by unleashing their leadership potential through quality education, mentorship and meaningful engagement. She recently founded a local organization, DARE, focusing on young people's full involvement in community mobilization, advocacy and research. She believes for any sustainable positive change in our communities, one must invest in young people!