Interview with tech journalist and Y7 forum member, Mel Tranfield

"As I spoke out against online abuse against women and girls and the bias within machine learning systems that ostensibly are there to protect against this, I could feel the support and approbation in that room"

Interview with tech journalist and Y7 forum member, Mel Tranfield

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

Hi! I’m Mel Tranfield, an apprentice iOS developer at a financial company, a tech journalist at The Common Sense Network (https://www.tcsnetwork.co.uk/), and a member of the Y7 Youth Forum’s Digital and Technology Track. 

I am fascinated by automation, FinTech, technology, politics and the future of work. As a tech journalist for the Common Sense Network, I work to raise awareness of the need for innovation in the public sector, while exploring how our current governmental systems are equipped to handle rampant technological innovation, digital democracy, and how social change can be fuelled by technology. As part of the Y7’s Digital Track, I was there to provide the direct perspective and experience of a young woman at the beginning of her career in the technology industry, from a non-technical background originally. I have observed that all too frequently, those who legislate for technology don’t have a clear idea of how technology works and what it’s like for the creators of technology, as well as the consumers. This is often why many of our tech policies, particularly those that are relevant to young people such as social media use, are inefficient or miss the mark altogether – something we are changing. I am privileged to have been in the position to work with amazing young people on crafting the Digital Track’s recommendations to G7 leaders, as part of the Y7 Communiqué.

Tell us a little about your background?

My background is pretty diverse! I began my career in digital marketing directly after leaving school, starting at the BBC, and through digital marketing and my tech journalism, I became more interested in technology. I was born and raised in London and began my career there, so I was very fortunate to have access to some of the best tech events and tech communities in the world from a very young age. 

I started to attend hackathons with wonderful social enterprises and tech accelerators like Foundervine, OneTech and Capital Enterprise, and tech events held at Barclays FinTech hub, Rise London, Monzo, and Microsoft Reactor. I was fortunate enough to discover wonderful and supportive groups and organisations such as Django Girls, codebar, Google Developer Groups Cloud London, Product School London, London Clojurians, Code Untapped, London Quantum Computing, London Ethereum, Ladies Of Code, Codecademy London, and more. There is so much free information and teaching out there on tech if you are willing to look for it! 

I became aware of degree apprenticeships in tech through personal research and became confident enough to apply thanks to the inclusive and welcoming atmosphere of these communities in tech. I had not been involved heavily with policy prior to being part of the Y7, as my expertise is predominantly tech and not policy. However, in 2018 I completed UpRising, a leadership programme for young people, where I founded Edify, my social enterprise, which provides digital marketing and coding workshops to underprivileged schools. Through UpRising I learned a lot about how to engage with politicians and to work for change. The Y7 has really given me the chance to exercise and improve on those skills, and most importantly, bring my unique experience and journey in the tech industry to policymaking.

Why is the Y7 important to you?

The Y7 has been incredibly important to me as through them, I have been able to participate in international policy-making, meeting (virtually) with Delegates from other G7 countries, hearing from excellent speakers in politics and being a part of actually making young people’s voices heard in politics. It’s unfortunate that although this is often promised, it’s rarely achieved; yet here, it is being achieved. Through the communiqué itself, and the events, workshops, support and advice that led us there as a team, I feel that the Y7 is well placed to ensure that young people have a pathway, and a role to assume, in the maze of international decision making. Their cause is absolutely imperative to the advancement and survival of humanity; as the climate crisis closes in and technology rapidly advances, we need young people to step up to global decision making now more than ever. 

Are there any particular developments you hope to see? If so, what are they?

I would like to see extensive developments around digital policy in all G7 countries that focus on diversity and inclusion. For example, within the Open Societies statement by the G7 in 2021, they vow to achieve: ‘Social inclusion, solidarity and equal opportunities for all, including digital inclusion and full enjoyment of civil and political rights in both physical and digital spheres’. There isn’t any mention of how this is likely to be achieved, so let’s hope they follow the policy recommendations in our communiqué! 

One of my particular favourites is our policy recommending that ‘young people, together with historically underrepresented and excluded groups, are meaningfully integrated into decision-making processes dealing with emerging technologies, in order to promote the development and deployment of fair and transparent technologies’. This, to me, is crucial to ensure that we go into a new decade of significant technological advancement with the true diversity of our modern society represented on the global stage. Those who have been left out of technological decision making for so many years should now be included; their views should be highlighted and used to shape the direction of technology in the coming decades.

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The Digital track representatives at the Y7 Side Event! (Left to right - Evie Aspinall, James da Costa, Mel Tranfield)

What’s been your most significant moment in achieving change?

My most significant moment has definitely been my experience as part of the Y7. I really felt that we were achieving change after speaking to a group of young people at the Y7 Side Event in Cornwall, which was held at the Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter. I was on a panel talking through the Digital track’s policy recommendations with our UK Head Delegate, Evie Aspinall. Previously, I had had doubts as to how good our policies were and how I would best communicate the journey we had been on to a roomful of young listeners. It was wonderful to stand there and find my voice, speaking with passion and fervour about our policy recommendation of establishing a Youth Council for the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). As I spoke out against online abuse against women and girls and the bias within machine learning systems that ostensibly are there to protect against this, I could feel the support and approbation in that room, which was an amazing experience. To know that other young people agreed with our policies and wanted our efforts to succeed was all I wanted from this experience. It was our job to speak for other young people, not over them, and I felt that I had and that I had created valuable change through my input on the policy recommendations.

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Mel Tranfield (on the right) and Evie talking through our digital policy recommendations at the Y7 Side Event!

How can young people become more involved with social change?

Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities nowadays for young people to become more involved with social change! Simply logging into Twitter or Instagram and sharing a graphic speaking out against a policy you disagree with, or a human rights issue. Raising awareness of street harassment of women, Black people’s experiences with racial bias, or the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, is a form of activism and social change. I would look for programmes that support young people specifically, on their journeys into social change. For example, the programmes offered by UpRising, a youth leadership organisation, UK Youth, Groundwork Youth, the British Youth Council, and Year Here. There are of course many more, so please research them and apply if you want support and coaching with your community work and projects! You need to build a network of like-minded and supportive individuals as a young person making change, and programmes such as this will provide you with that as well as improving your teamwork skills.

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Celebrating FLN at the Y7 Side Event!

Do you have any advice for young people interested in sharing their youth voice?

I would say get rid of any fear and doubt you have, get out there, and share your views! You are the future; you are the people who will be there, leading the world, in 10-20 years time, so your thoughts, beliefs and recommendations on how things should be done are absolutely vital. Take advice from others if you think that it’s useful, but don’t let anyone sway you from your convictions and beliefs if you know, within yourself, that they are just and true. Have confidence in your youth; it gives you a unique perspective on the world. Don’t be afraid to use it!

Header Image Credit: Taylor Jones

Author

Elle Farrell-Kingsley

Elle Farrell-Kingsley Kickstart Team

Elle is Voice’s Media Sub-Editor and podcast host, coming from a diverse range of creative pursuits — including curating, music production, and performing arts. She’s a Liberal Arts graduate and a Y7 ambassador, with a keen interest in cultural diplomacy and the digital & tech sector. Elle is always on the lookout to make interesting voices heard on the Voice Podcast. When she’s not behind a computer screen, she can be found training MMA.

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