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Our journey from seeking asylum to Lived Experience Leadership

Ana Asatiani and Mishka Pillay

29 February 2024

In this blog, Ana Asatiani and Mishka Pillay share their journey from seeking asylum to lived experience leadership, highlighting the crucial role people with lived experience can play in making positive changes in the UK asylum system through collaboration with stakeholders. Ana and Mishka are members of the Refugee Mental Health and Place Network at King's College London. 

A&M is a venture founded by two consultants, Ana and Mishka, who have lived experience of the UK's asylum and immigration system. We formed A&M Consultancy in April 2023 with a vision to change the perception about lived experience. We want to show that our expertise extends beyond storytelling, and we can play a crucial role in making positive changes in the UK asylum system through collaboration with various stakeholders.

Before meeting in 2020, both of us were actively involved in various campaigns to raise awareness and support for refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK. Ana campaigned against the impacts of hostile immigration policies on family life, while Mishka advocated for the rights of individuals in immigration detention. Our collaboration began during a particularly challenging time for those in the asylum system, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

It became clear to us that our values and interests were aligned, and we had a similar vision about the main issues and solutions within the UK asylum system. Based on our experiences, the UK's "hostile environment" prevents people from playing a leading and meaningful role in influencing policies that affect them. Nevertheless, we believe that significant, positive systemic change can still be achieved under these adverse conditions.

In this blog, we want to emphasise two key areas: the concept of lived experience leadership and the critical importance of meaningful involvement of individuals with lived experience. Lived experience leadership allows individuals who have navigated the asylum system themselves to take on leading roles in influencing and shaping the policies that impact their lives. Such change is only possible through the meaningful involvement of individuals with lived experience, who bring their wisdom, authenticity, and expertise to the process. For example, meaningful involvement can be facilitated by creating more opportunities in leadership roles, trustee boards, and advisory panels, where individuals can influence the operational and governance aspects of organisations. Additionally, providing training, support, and compensation for their time and effort is essential.

Since our official launch, we have provided consultancy support to many organisations interested in lived experience leadership and have engaged with refugees and people seeking asylum. Our engagement has revealed common concerns about low self-esteem, tokenism, frustration, and professional isolation. Through meaningful involvement, we aim to address these issues. We are glad to see an increased interest among migration charity organisations and academic researchers in collaborating with people with lived experience.

The concept of meaningful involvement is continuously evolving. Looking back a decade, we can see the progress made. We have moved through various stages until our expertise was recognised. When we began our campaigns and advocacy work in 2016, our involvement was limited to sharing our personal experiences. Over time, we became experts by experience and started to engage more actively in campaigns and advocacy efforts. Since 2019, we have had opportunities to co-produce and co-deliver advocacy work with different stakeholders. The collaboration with people with first-hand experience has inspired many organisations to significantly change their practices by co-producing and co-delivering campaigns and advocacy work with them, creating more opportunities for direct engagement with decision-makers.

While we acknowledge the progress made, there is still much more to be done in this area. A prominent issue when discussing lived experience involvement is the power dynamics. We want to see a gradual move away from the practice when decision-makers exclude people who can provide invaluable expertise about the issues they are facing. A&M is dedicated to developing ideas to help organisations make transformational changes, empowering more individuals with lived experience to thrive and rebuild their lives in the UK. We believe that being an equal player also involves responsibility, meaning that while individuals with lived experience need support due to challenging life circumstances, we must also be prepared for challenges and constructive criticism.

Recalling how we carefully shared our ideas, wondering if they would be correctly interpreted or understood, always brings a smile to our faces. We initially admitted to each other that we did not want to be seen merely as "stories" or "case studies," but as professionals capable of bringing our expertise to our work. We are keen to collaborate and support different organisations and academic institutions by sharing our expertise on lived experience leadership.

If you want to get in touch with A&M Consultancy, please use the email:

You can also get more information and updates on our work on the LinkedIn page.

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