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Q&A with Leslee Udwin - Think Equal

Posted: by Jo Monday, 28 December 2020 @ 15:55

Inspired to be their best selves

Over the last 4 years, we have been running our #mybestself campaign, to learn from different women about what makes them step up to be their best self in any given situation.

We have learned what it is in someone’s upbringing which spurs them on to greater things; role models who provide inspiration to go above and beyond; and how people use mantras to inspire a change in their behaviour.

In 2021, we decided to focus on a particular audience, to understand what drives them: the women and men who set up or work in the charities which we support through our ‘Mantra Changes Lives’ initiative. Does it take a particular kind of person to devote their working life to helping people? Is it a calling? Or did an event occur in their lives which drew them to this work?

I’m sure we will get 12 different answers from 12 different people, and I am fascinated to find out what those answers are. Stay with me through the year as I interview some remarkable people who work in the charitable or not-for-profit sector, who are changing lives every day. They are people who have truly stepped up to be their best selves.


Our most recent charity partner is THINK EQUAL, created from the incredible vision of filmmaker Leslee Udwin, to create a safe, fair and equal world.

I was excited to find out more about what drew Leslee to set the charity up; what drives her day-to-day through the inevitable difficulties and political challenges of running it; and what her greatest desire is for the charity in 2021 and beyond.

Leslee Udwin Think Equal Charity for Mantra Jewellery think equal charity necklace
Leslee Udwin photo by Lisen Stibeck

Jo: Tell me a little about Think Equal’s aims?

Leslee: Think Equal’s mission is to bring the missing ‘third dimension’ to education - Social and Emotional Learning - alongside numeracy and literacy, as a core component of Early Years Education. Focusing on children aged 3 to 6, our aim is to create a new generation of equal-thinkers and global citizens, who can rise to the challenges of the 21st century, through learning THINK EQUAL - the most important subject in the world - while their habits, attitudes and behaviours are still under development .  

Jo: And tell me – what was it that prompted you to set it up?

Leslee: I was a film producer, best known, I suppose, for the BAFTA-winning East is East. I went to India to make a documentary, India’s Daughter, about the horrific gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012.

Making that film taught me some fundamental truths about human behaviour, and how it is not only shaped, but also tangibly directed by the beliefs that are ingrained by culture and upbringing. I understood that prejudice and discriminatory behaviour will only truly end if we teach the next generation to THINK EQUAL in all respects (be it race, religion, gender, economic background, caste or any other factor).

I saw that the only way to create generational change that would last and lead to a safe, free and equal world,  was to intervene at a very early stage in children’s lives, while their character and moral compass were ‘under construction’ for the rest of their lives, before the age of 6, in order to teach them the social and emotional skills which will equip them to create a fairer and better world. I felt driven to be part of that change. I was completely shocked when I found how much we are irresponsibly neglecting the early years as the unique window that exists to set the foundations for a human being’s future life, and how these precious and critical years are being largely squandered as 'babysitting years'. I decided I had to leave my career and focus on leading this essential movement.

Jo: How did you go about setting it up?

Leslee: Working with educational and behavioural experts, I put together evidence-based learning where it existed (there is a desert of materials for the early years, because of the lack of respect we have given them)  to teach children as early as possible, the skills they need to become inclusive, fair-minded, empathetic, gender equal, thoughtful global citizens, to protect one another and the planet.

I set up Think Equal to advocate for this early years system change and also (more importantly) to roll out programmes in countries all over the world, to encourage governments to start reaching every child in every classroom in every country in the world.

The programme teaches about care for the environment, celebration of the diversity of humanity, the ability to resolve conflict peacefully, how to manage one’s emotions, and how to be a compassionate and responsible global citizen who advocates for gender, race, religious and all other equality - all before the age of 6! Because these early years of pro-social brain development will then set the trajectory of how the rest of that child’s life will turn out. Six decades of longitudinal evaluations have proved this. We are obsessed by, and claim to be led by the science in every respect, but this is one spectacularly important piece of scientific evidence we seem to have been irresponsibly ignoring and neglecting. It’s insane and so counter-productive to do so; no wonder our world is in such crisis. This is the most important social investment we can possibly make and yields the biggest return on investment since time immemorial.

Jo: What do you hope to achieve with Think Equal – in the short-term in 2021, and longer term?

Leslee: In 2021 I am determined that our reach should multiply from the current 94,000 children (across 15 countries in 6 continents) to half a million children. In the longer term our vision is to ensure Social and Emotional Learning is a standard part of educating our children in the early years, alongside numeracy and literacy. We won’t stop until this is achieved.

In 2021 in particular, I would like to see the general public start to support us with monthly donations, even small ones – every £2 gives this programme for a whole year (which then lasts a lifetime) to one child. I am hugely grateful to Mantra Jewellery for including us as a beneficiary of 25% of its “Together” necklace sales. That’s a very generous commitment.

Jo: There must be innumerable challenges – logistical, political, financial, emotional – to running Think Equal, especially now with the global impact of Covid. How do you stay motivated and focused, through all of that?

Leslee: I am driven; I have no choice. I sat for 31 hours looking into the eyes of rapists and murderers in prison cells, understanding how their behaviour was shaped by what we taught them. There is no turning back from those insights and that certain knowledge. What kind of a human being would I be if I just carried with life as it was before those insights? It’s not a choice, it’s a compulsion now to act on those insights and try and implement the solution which I see so clearly.  

Jo: Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

Leslee: ‘Think Equal’, of course! It is the single most important phrase in the world, and will do more to drive positive change in the world than anything else, if everyone starts to live by it.

Our Mantra Collaboration

We are helping to support Leslee’s vital work, by donating 25% of the sales of our ‘Together’ Necklace to Think Equal. For me, this incredible charity was the perfect partner for our ‘Together’ necklace, which encourages us all to take action to improve the world.

mantra together necklace 

2020 was marked by an awakening to the inequality which still exists in society, through the Black Lives Matter protests; a real awareness of the environment and the loss of our biodiversity; and a collective desire to make the world a better place, after the challenges created by Coronavirus. It felt like a global wake-up call to us all.

The Together necklace celebrates being an ally to those who are marginalised, and encourages us all to take action to make the world a better place. This is exactly what Think Equal is teaching our children – which is why we were so keen to support them. 


This month, there is a chance to win one of our ‘Together’ necklaces. Visit our Competition page for your chance to win. Competition closes January 31st 2021.

Find out more about THINK EQUAL here.

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