Vijay Jassal joined the British Science Association (BSA) as our new Director for Development and External Relations in February 2024, and has spent the past couple of weeks getting up to speed on all things BSA.

Vijay has worked in the charity sector for many years, but is fairly new to the science engagement space, and so we caught up with him to find out more about what attracted him to the role. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself – what is your background?

I’ve spent my career in the charity sector working at a variety of small and large charities based in the UK and internationally, and across several different disciplines, from fundraising to strategy to policy and public affairs. I was most recently Director of Policy & Strategic Partnerships at the National Emergencies Trust, a charity which supports survivors of disasters in the UK, and before that I worked at the British Red Cross for over eight years. I also volunteer at a couple of charities as a Trustee; Brain Research UK and Thames Valley Air Ambulance. 

The common thread running through my career is my passion for understanding how communities can contribute to the issues that shape their lives, and the role charities can play in empowering this … which is what brought me to the BSA. Science has a fundamental role in helping to understand and address the most complex issues of the day, from climate change to pandemics to AI safety. We need everyone to be engaged with science if society is to best answer the questions these issues pose.

What are you most looking forward to in your role at the BSA?

The BSA has a bold vision – a future where science is more relevant, representative, and connected to society – and we’ll only achieve this by working with others. I’m most looking forward to connecting with and learning from community leaders, funders, policy-makers, scientists and others to achieve the step change we all want to see. I’ve been really pleased by the positive responses from parliamentarians and the wider sector to our recent Manifesto calls, so it feels like there’s plenty of ground that’s ripe for collaboration.

I also feel a big sense of responsibility working at the BSA. One of the things that attracted me to apply for the role was the BSA’s inclusive approach and its commitment to giving a voice to the people it serves. This is hard work but so important and I’m looking forward to building on the solid foundations already in place at the BSA to help take this even further. 

What areas of the BSA’s work do you think offer the most opportunity for future partnerships?

I think many organisations want the same outcomes as us, so there’s a lot of opportunity! Businesses working in technology and engineering want to hire the best candidates, and the Government wants to cement the UK’s place as a science and technology superpower. By widening the opportunities to science and by smashing stereotypes, more people will see science as a viable career path. However, it’s not just about careers. Science is a way of thinking and making decisions, and the more we can collectively inspire children and communities, the more we all benefit.

Opportunities like the BSA’s CREST Awards are a brilliant and practical way that we can shift the dial here. Around 50,000 children complete these each year, but there’s so much potential for more children to benefit.

What are your aims for your first 100 days at the BSA?

I’m keen to get out and meet as many people as possible. In my first month I’m travelling to Newcastle (my home town!) for a meeting of our All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM; I’m visiting a local primary school in Buckinghamshire - which is where I live now - during British Science Week (8–17 March) to see how a BSA grant has promoted STEM to their young students by helping to fund their Wildlife Club. I’m also meeting some of our brilliant supporters and donors to better understand the issues they care about. I think you can draw a straight line between all these different things: the discussion around the policy table has a clear impact on children’s experiences in the classroom. And of course, as a charity, none of our work would be possible without generous support from our funders

Championing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is at the heart of the BSA’s work, but what does being an EDI champion mean to you?

It’s a cliché, but I like to think of it as EDI ‘championing’; it’s an action and a process, rather than a label. It means always being open, encouraging a learning and listening environment, staying humble, being aware that you (and everybody else) have blind-spots. It runs through everything I’ve mentioned in my previous answers on working in partnership with communities and stakeholders who share common aims and values.

It also means looking inwards and asking incisive questions on our own processes and approach. Are we doing things in the best way? This means being as inclusive as we can be, alongside being innovative and efficient.

And finally, can you share a fun fact about yourself?

I’m a keen, but out of practice, yoga enthusiast and I can stand on my head for an unhealthy amount of time (to be fair this is not from any skill, but probably because I have a very flat head!)

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