About us


I’ve had the pleasure of directing IARS since I founded it in 2001 with the support of other young people from across Europe. Originally set up as a youth-led NGO, IARS has now expanded its remit to cover three areas of expertise: Youth, Justice and Rights. We are acknowledged as one of the world’s leading user-led and youth-focused Institutes. We have a mission to give everyone a chance to forge a safer, fairer and more inclusive society. We remain focused on empowering the most marginalised communities through direct service delivery, while enabling organisations to achieve, measure and improve their social impact.

The journey hasn’t always been easy. However, the support that we receive has been incredible.  Since 2001, the Institute has been providing world-class, cutting-edge educational, research, policy and networking services of local, national and international significance while improving practices in the fields of youth, equalities and justice through the lived experiences of real people. Little I knew what to expect, when I put together the first website (with no funding or any HTML knowledge)! I did not have a business plan or a clear idea about how I was going to fundraise or sustain an organisation. What I had was the support of other volunteers as well as the guiding light of three key principles upon which IARS was founded.

Hopefully, this website reflects the collective progress that we have made over the years, while it also gives you the information as well as the inspiration to get involved.

Professor Dr. Theo Gavrielides, IARS Founder & Director


Our values

IARS’ first value is based on our belief that strong democracies are not those that elect and maintain systems of governance that cultivate and enforce power over others, but those that truly share that power with those who need it. Society can be improved through social enterprising taking place at all levels: individual, project and organisational. However, social change cannot be done by dictating how one should participate in civic life. This is especially true for those groups that have traditionally been disenfranchised let that be our young people or the victims of our overt or explicit biases. True empowerment happens when we let go of our own power and allow its organic transition into the hands of others. Despite the risks involved, when this happens, the results can be incredible. We have seen it in the internal structures of our organisation. When we let go, the staff team, our interns and volunteers see IARS as a ‘flower pot’ with fertile soil where they can grow their ideas and projects. And it is with these flowers and with flower after flower that we believe we can make demo(δήμος)-cracy(κράτος) more meaningful and worthy of its name. User participation and bottom up approaches to society’s problems also offer something very practical which cannot be captured by ‘experts’ living in ivory towers. And that is the grounded and lived experiences of those facing the problem that we are asked to solve. Hence, our strapline “Community-led solutions for a better society”. We are particularly proud of our user led projects and indeed the user-led research methods that we have pioneered internationally as well as the infrastructure that we have developed to help individuals, projects and organisations to identify, measure and maximise their social impact.

When we feel that we have been wronged, we tend to take the adversarial road, shut down, avenge and punish. If there is one thing that I have learned from my research and personal experiences is that contest breeds contest while the harm is never truly restored. Healing is ignored and the powerful manifest their power even more. I have championed the restorative justice values of dialogue, equality, empowerment, negotiation, forgiveness, empathy and respect throughout my academic career and I would be disingenuous if I did not to adopt them for my own organisation. I hold restorative circles for our staff meetings and I am particularly proud of our restorative justice projects.

see this principle as the glue for the other two. If we are to pursue a shift in power and demand a voice through participation in civic life or through dialogue in justice processes, then we must do so responsibly. This responsibility comes in many forms and in IARS’s case it is translated in the way we champion change. This has to be through evidence and the application of robust research methods. We are mindful, however, that certain truths can be discovered only through in-depth research methods and thus we have argued in favour of qualitative approaches to social problem solving. We are also responsible for our non political and independent voice and programmes. We take responsibility for the result of the work that our funders and supporters empower us to do, and we teach this responsibility to those with whom we work.

What do we do?

We have expanded our remit to cover three key areas of work: Youth, Equalities, and Justice.  We aim to empower young people, with special emphasis on those with fewer opportunities and from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We conduct independent  action-research using methods which are user-led and peer-reviewed. These findings allow us to identify and respond to current social needs, inform policies with authority, and generate evidence-based solutions to problems in our community.

We develop and deliver user-led projects..

We establish partnerships with other British and European organisations and provide evaluation services to other charities.

Through free accredited  training, mentoring and internship programmes,  campaigns, academic conferences and events. We support young people and local communities to shape decision-making and social change from the bottom up.


In 2001, IARS was informally established by Dr. Theo Gavrielides as a community interest group.  On 31 January 2005, IARS was incorporated as a non-profit company limited by guarantee. It was established under a Memorandum of Association, which defined the objects and powers of the company, and is governed under its Articles of Association. IARS was set up as a user-led and user-focused membership organisation and it remains as such. 

On 19 June 2008, IARS was registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales.

IARS have been awarded the Youth Mark, indicating that all our policies and procedures and the structures we have put in place take into consideration the needs and realities of all young people. 

Finally, as an Institute we are an EU-wide recognised accrediting body including the issuing of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Accreditation and YouthPass.

The board of Trustees 

The company has a non-executive committee, known as the Board of Trustees, of at least two individuals. The Board of Trustees meets quarterly to make decisions and receive the report of the Executive Director who is managed by the collective Body of the Board. In addition the Youth Advisory Board, will be represented by one of its members on the IARS Board of Trustees. 

Meet our trustees here.  


The Executive Director is responsible for the operational side of the company, and line manages IARS’ staff team who manage interns and volunteers. Project associates work independently and remotely most of the time and are also line managed by the Executive Director. They are encouraged to involve interns with specific interest in their projects and to consult with the advisory groups as appropriate.

The user engagement model 

Since its inception, IARS has been a user-focused organisation, and we have always involved our users in the design, development, delivery, monitoring and quality control of our projects and services.  

The User Engagement Groups will carry out regular checks to ensure that the systems we have in place are appropriate and up to date (e.g. recruitment, engagement and retention).

To ensure that all its services are user-led, IARS has adopted evaluation and monitoring systems that user-proof each stage of delivery including outcomes.

The user engagement model includes, but is not be limited to, the following advisory groups:

IARS began as a pan European networking and idea sharing platform for young people. IARS is committed to empowering young people to influence policy and practice. It is for this reason that IARS regards the role of young people within the organisation as crucial. 

To accommodate this ideology, IARS has created an independent body of young people who will take on responsibility for evaluating and steering the work of the organisation.  The YAB consists of young people from different backgrounds and circumstances who are aware of the problems facing young people in today’s society and who are interested in an opportunity to do something positive about these issues.   

Their tasks  include  inspecting IARS services and policies; monitoring the quality of its youth projects; carrying out research and responding to youth consultations; advising on specific youth projects; reviewing and updating the volunteer and user engagement policies, the Equal Opportunities policies and any other IARS policy impacting on its young users.

They also receive free training on digital skills and other areas according to their interest. The YAB has proved to be an excellent opportunity for young people to get their voices heard and to address issues that are important for them. One example of this is the launch of the 99% campaign aiming to make society more inclusive responsive to young people’s views and realities. 

IARS supports the 99% Campaign and all YAB activities by financing the dissemination activities, providing office resources, working with the media and by holding events. The 99% Campaign uses a dedicated website, social media channels and a printed magazine to promote positive stories and dispel negative stereotypes. 

The YAB will consist of no more than 20 members with a quorum of 3 members who will meet, at a minimum every three months. Most decisions are made by consensus.  There is a steering committee who coordinate the activities and act as chief editors of the 99% publications. 

Meet our current steering committee here.  

One of the key principles of the WAB is to scrutinise the social impact of our projects from a gender perspective, ensuring that all outcomes are of high quality and responsive to the specific needs of its target groups. Also by participating in these activities we hope that members of the group will be further empowered themselves to speak out on issues that matter to them and will improve their communications skills to do so in a professional environment.  

Their tasks will include, but not be limited to, inspecting IARS services and policies; monitoring the quality of its gender-focused projects; proposing and championing new gender-focused project ideas; reviewing and inform IARS research and funding applications; reviewing and updating the user engagement policies, the Equal Opportunities policies and any other relevant IARS policies.

The steering committee consists of 5 women from diverse backgrounds to reflect the wide variety of women’s perspectives. For specific projects an ad-hoc group will be created to    advocate for the rights or refugee and asylum seeking women or women who have been victims of abuse. 

Meet our current steering committee here.

The IARS International Institute is committed to high research ethical standards and to producing only high quality publications that conform to internationally accepted research rules. Therefore, the IARS Academic & Editorial Board exists to act as a sounding board for IARS’ publications, research projects and reports.  

The roles of the Academic & Editorial Board include: quality control of IARS’ academic outputs and accreditation programmes including IARS books, publications, evaluation reports; solicit contributions; identify suitable reviewers (when appropriate); participate as reviewers; provide input on the content and direction of issues; promote IARS’ extensively within their own institutions and externally; develop editorial policies to guide the content, scope, purpose and style of IARS publications.

Within the Academic Board, there is a standing Research Ethics Committee, which reviews research ethics applications from IARS and external applicants. 

The roles of the Research Ethics Committee include: to ensure that IARS research programmes comply with COPE and international research ethics standards; to review research ethics applications; to approve conducting fieldwork as per research ethics standards; to ensure that human rights, data protection and other relevant legislation are respected when approving applications for fieldwork. 

The Research Ethics committee consists of the Editor-in-Chief and at least two independent members from the Academic and Editorial Board.

Decisions will be reached by majority vote and only after the production of constructive feedback to the applicants. Only applications that complete the Research Ethics Application Form and are submitted to the Editor-in-Chief will be eligible for consideration.

Meet our current members of the academic board  here.  

Ad-hoc Advisory Boards

Additional User Engagement groups may be formed depending on the needs of the organisation and the type of projects that are being delivered. Each User Engagement Group will have a Terms of Reference that are co-produced with the IARS team.

One example of this is the LGBTQ+ advisory Panel  formed to scrutinise the Erasmus+ funded project “Equipping Professionals for Supporting LGBT refugees (EPSILON). The Advisory panel consisted of 18 LGBT migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, LGBT campaigners, psychologists and other professionals and researchers from 7 countries across Europe.


Recruitment to the User Engagement Groups will follow an open and transparent  recruitment process, with members being sought from a wide target audience. All members are awarded with a certificate for their active participation.

If you would like to take part please contact Maija Linnala, our User Engagement Leader. m.linnala@iars.org.uk


Independent Academic Research Studies International Institute (IARS)
14 Dock Offices, Surrey Quays Road, Canada Water, SE16 2XU, UK
Latitude: 51.496770 Longitude: -0.051054
Office Mobile: 0044 (0)7833224442
Email: contact@iars.org.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/_IARS_


Our testimonials from volunteers can be found here

Our testimonials from clients and stake holders can be found here 

Our supporters

As a charity, IARS relies on grants, sponsors and charitable funds to deliver its charitable aims and make a difference for society. We work closely with our funders and sponsors to ensure that their expectations and visions are met. You can support our vision by donating via BIG GIVE.

If you want more information please contact us direct at contact@iars.org.uk.

We are grateful to our funders and supporters:

Impact report

Our Impact:

Impact report 2008

Impact report 2009

Impact report 2010

Impact report 2011

Impact report 2016

Impact Report 2017

Impact Report 2018 

Impact Report 2019/2020 

Maija Linnala
User Engagement Lead & Project Manager
Romina Lopez
Communications and Outreach Manager
Andrew Williams
Finance and Resources Manager
Sophia Sogaard
User Engagement Coordinator (internship)
Desiree Noriega
Projects Coordinator
Claire Bonham
Chief Executive
My Email
Jessica Danby
Fundraising and Partnership Development Manager
Alex Neilson
Admin Officer and PA to the Director



    We are Sculpt

    IARS International Institute to operate as Sculpt

    *Charity CEO available for interview – details in notes 

    A UK-based youth charity today changes its operating name from the IARS International Institute to Sculpt. 

    IARS is an international NGO that’s been working to empower young people to forge a fairer society for over 20 years. Their work is guided and evaluated by young people themselves.  

    Over the last 20 years, IARS has delivered more than 70 successful projects that have addressed real problems that young people face, in areas such as: 

    • Gender discrimination 
    • Violence against women and girls 
    • Supporting young people to find work 
    • Creating green and sustainable business 
    • Promoting collaboration among young people across the world and much more. 

    In 2021, with the world changing rapidly and opportunities for their work shifting, they decided to refresh their purpose and identity, and made the decision to rebrand as Sculpt. 

    Claire Bonham, Chief Executive of Sculpt, said: 

    ‘We are delighted to launch our new brand that speaks to our aim to empower young people to shape their future.

    ‘We believe that many of today’s young people are facing unjust challenges – economically, environmentally and socially. A fair, sustainable society can only evolve if all young people have the opportunities, the confidence, the ambition and the skills to make their voices heard and propel change in their communities, irrespective of who they are or where they come from.  

    ‘Our rebrand, like our work, has been guided by research and by young people themselves. As an organisation we base our work on rigorously researched evidence and are led in our approach by our youth advisory board. Their voices and insight are critical to solving the right problems in meaningful ways.’  


    Notes to editors:  

    Dr. Claire Bonham, Chief Executive of The IARS International Institute is available for interview. Contact Claire directly on: director@iars.org.uk +44(0) 7833 224442  



    Sculpt is a UK-based charity providing research, training and work-experience opportunities that empower young people to shape their own futures and those of their communities. 

    We work directly with young people, employers and professionals who support young people. All our work is guided by young people themselves and based on carefully researched evidence. We: 

    • Facilitate forums for young people to make their needs and their voices heard. 
    • Publish a magazine by young people to express their perspectives and encourage debate around public policy issues. 
    • Conduct research to uncover young people’s real needs and what works to empower and support them. 
    • Deliver training to build young people’s confidence, skills, ambition, resilience and sense of responsibility, so they can shape their futures and change their communities for the better, as leaders, social entrepreneurs and active participants in civic life. 
    • Deliver training for professionals who work with young people, drawing on our research and expertise. 
    • Engage with employers to facilitate work experience and employment opportunities for young people to develop skills and access diverse jobs. 
    • Facilitate international exchange opportunities to encourage and enable young people to experience and appreciate other cultures, perspectives and ways of life. 

    We tackle disempowerment from three angles: working directly with young people to build confidence and skills and their voice, working with professionals who support young people, and working with employers to break down barriers to opportunity.