Equality Through Innovation is a blog series profiling innovators working in Glasgow and the West of Scotland to tackle inequalities in unique ways. Today we meet Anna Devitt, who is using the power of comedy to help disadvantaged young people.
At the age of 15, Anna Devitt resolved to change the way young people were treated.
Her promise to herself followed her expulsion from three high schools before the age of 14 and a mental breakdown after her father’s death.
Sixteen years later, Anna’s built a business off the back of her success as a comedian and spends every day working to make life better for disadvantaged young people.
“I’d rather be famous for doing something that is worthwhile, rather than just being famous,” she says.
Earlier this year, she was one of six winners – out of more than 100 entrants – in the Ambition category at Investing Women’s AccelerateHER Awards.
At the same awards, Anna was also named the most ambitious woman in business for education and training, “which is a title I quite enjoy,” she says.
It’s easy to see why. Her company Comedy & Confidence delivers courses across Scotland that are SQA accredited and students can also earn a qualification (SCQF Levels 3-6).
The high energy, practical workshops cover everything from creative writing to presentation skills to mental health.
“It’s not just about having a laugh,” Anna says. “It’s about the power of comedy rather than becoming a comedian.”
Although she also provides team building workshops for businesses, her work is primarily targeted at young people who aren’t in mainstream education or are at risk of leaving it.
“It’s about giving them a chance and not putting them in boxes,” Anna says. “People shouldn’t be in boxes, unless they’re dead.”
Comedy & Confidence has so far engaged 2000 young people and worked with a variety of organisations from the Prince’s Trust to the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In October, Anna officially opened the company’s own creative academy in Paisley.
Anna says that while one of the key advantages of the courses are their transferability – they can be delivered anywhere from schools to prisons to workplaces – the new academy will give young people a sense of ownership.
Innovation is central to the way Comedy & Confidence operates, but Anna says people need to understand what innovation actually is.
“It doesn’t just mean technology. It’s using your imagination and creating something that will change the way that things will operate.”
While her own journey and setting up a company has been “brutal”, Anna says creativity should be recognised as a sustainable career path.
After winning a Young EDGE Award in 2016, Anna then went on to be the first winner of Scottish EDGE’s new Creative EDGE Award.
Developed in partnership with Creative Scotland and Cultural Enterprise Office, the Creative EDGE Award was introduced as a specialist category with the purpose of identifying and supporting businesses from within the thriving creative sector who demonstrate innovation and high-growth business potential.
Scottish EDGE chief operating officer Steven Hamill says the team was delighted to announce Anna as the first ever Creative EDGE Award winner.
“She is an inspirational business leader, whose drive and determination to change people’s lives through the Comedy & Confidence SQA-accredited workshop is outstanding.
“We have worked closely with Anna since she won the £50,000 award in December 2017 and even recruited her as the host of our most recent live final event and as an assessor in our latest application round.
“We are proud to see her start to build a strong team to support the growth of her business and we are excited about what the future holds, not only for Anna but also for the people who go through the Comedy & Confidence course.”
Anna loves what she does and her favourite part of the job is “when my young people get a standing ovation and their wee faces light up because people are seeing them for the person they are, not the problems they have”.
Callum Pash, course manager and confidence coach, says ultimately Comedy & Confidence is all about giving young people an opportunity to better themselves, instead of just giving up on them.
“We’re all people and we all have the potential to do something great.”