Profiles in Spotlight — This is a series spotlighting women who are part of the LMF network or have participated in the LMF mentoring program.
Elena Lo Presti is based in Italy and works as a creative managing director in the art and social innovation industry. She is pursuing her passion for arts while giving back to society. Elena is navigating a less-explored arena, and her advice and learnings benefit not only those looking to explore similar arenas but also those planning to tread less-trodden paths. She speaks to us about careers, confidence and her experience with the LMF mentoring program.
Tell us about your role.
I am the founder and director of Craft Forward. Established in 2021, Craft Forward is a Community Interest Company based in South London designed to provide accessible, creative experiences suitable for everyone, regardless of their skills and background. We aim to disrupt the current elitism within the arts and crafts world and open creativity to all. To do this, we redefine and re-frame arts and crafts through workshops that value well-being and connection over results and technical achievements while having a clear social purpose. We think of arts and crafts as smaller, valuable actions that contribute to the community’s growth and that can tackle bigger social issues; one of our main initiatives is “Blankets for Lambeth,” which started back in 2020. Every winter, we bring together a group of knitters and crocheters to create handmade blankets for people experiencing homelessness in the area. The project has since expanded into Blankets for London, building more knitting spaces and warmth across the city.
Arts and crafts can catalyze social change and significantly impact people’s mental health and well-being.
What are the primary skills that you use daily?
I use a variety of skills to ensure that our operations are successful and our activities are enjoyable for all participants. One of the most important skills I use is organization, as I need to keep track of workshop schedules, materials, participant lists and more to ensure everything runs smoothly.
My creativity is also constantly active in developing new and engaging craft ideas that will appeal to a wide range of participants. Communication is another crucial skill, as I need to effectively explain craft techniques and instructions to workshop attendees while teaching and collaborating with my team and communicating with our sponsors and partners.
I also use my empathy and patience to create a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable and can participate in our workshops regardless of their skill level.
What did you want to do when you were younger, and how does that differ from your day to day now?
When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming a GP like my grandfather was in Italy. I admired the way he was able to help people in his community and make a positive impact on their lives. I decided to take a very different route and move to the UK when I was 18 to study fine art: while at university, my interests and passions began to shift. I became increasingly drawn to the idea of starting my own social enterprise while being frustrated with the elitism of the contemporary art world in England and powered by the desire to use my skills and creativity to make a difference.
Nowadays, my day-to-day life looks very different from what I had envisioned as a child. Instead of seeing patients in Rome like I thought I would, I spend much of my time on administrative tasks and organizing craft workshops for the community in London.
Have you ever failed? Can you share the story and give us your top tips?
One of the most challenging failures I experienced was the breakdown of a business partnership with one of my closest friends. We had started Craft Forward with high hopes and big dreams, but as time passed, we realized that our visions for the company were not aligned. Our communication began to break down, and we could no longer work effectively together. It was a painful and emotional experience, and I felt like I had let myself and trusted someone that wasn’t the person I thought.
Through this experience, I learned some valuable lessons about failure and resilience. The first one, and maybe obvious, is: it’s okay to fail. Failure is a natural part of life, and it’s important to remember that it does not define you. Accepting failure as a learning experience can help you grow and move forward: you are not stupid for being wrong, making a mistake or trusting the wrong people. Always learn from your mistakes: take time to reflect on what went wrong and what you could have done differently. Use this knowledge to improve and make better decisions in the future: I have now surrounded myself with wonderful collaborators and know how to protect Craft Forward and me properly.
Your support system is critical when you fail. During difficult times, it’s essential to have people who can support and lift you up. Talking to friends, family, or a therapist to help you process what’s going on will also help in the long run. Take time for self-care. I struggle with this, but failure is emotionally draining, so taking care of yourself during this time is essential. Take a break, practice self-care activities, and do things that make you happy. And finally, don’t be afraid to try again. Failure is extremely discouraging, but it’s important to remember that it’s not the end. Keep trying and pursuing your goals, and you will find success in unexpected ways.
Over 70% of people feel like imposters. Have you felt like an imposter, and if so, how do you overcome this feeling?
Yes, I have sometimes felt like an imposter throughout my career as an artist working with the community. There have been moments when I doubted my abilities, felt like I didn’t belong, or worried that I was not qualified or experienced enough to do the work I was doing. To overcome these feelings, I do two things. The first is reminding myself why I do the work I do and what motivates me. The second is taking action. Instead of letting my feelings of imposter syndrome paralyze me, I try to take action and keep working towards my goals. Taking small steps towards success can help me build momentum and overcome my doubts.
Do you think confidence is nature or nurture, and why?
While some people may be born with certain personality traits or tendencies, I believe confidence is primarily shaped by our life experiences, socio-economic status, cultural background, and the people we surround ourselves with.
Growing up, I was fortunate to have a supportive family and community that instilled a sense of self-worth and encouraged me to pursue my interests and goals. As I got older, I continued seeking supportive and positive relationships with people who uplifted and inspired me.
What is your key piece of advice to your younger self?
Don’t be so sad all the time. It’s not worth it.
Which resources do you recommend for people to level up their careers and confidence?
The economy of Hours platform, network on LinkedIn, and engage with local community events.
How has LMF mentoring program helped you with confidence?
Meeting people with different skill sets
How has LMF supported, impacted or changed your life?
It introduced me to interesting people.
What is the best advice that you received from your mentor?
That it’s okay to be in survival mode
What is your biggest takeaway from the mentoring program?
Power of networking
What has surprised you the most in this mentoring program?
Number of people involved
What are the most effective ways that you’ve been able to counteract gender inequality at your workplace?
As Audre Lorde said: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. I found the best way to counteract gender inequality in my workplace is to create my own workplace and engage with people who share my values.
Put together some recommendations for acing remote work based on my own experience.
This blog contribution was made by Aleena Ahmad.
Aleena is a graduate in Electrical Engineering and currently working as a Product Manager. She loves to read books; is obsessed with political non-fiction, finds baking therapeutic, and likes to start her day with yoga. Aleena believes writing is the best way to articulate one’s thoughts and start a conversation. She feels passionately about women empowerment initiatives and is always looking for opportunities to contribute.
How can you keep in touch?
What is LMF Network?
The LMF Network is an education careers platform bridging skills and the gender gap. We know that it will take 257 years to achieve gender parity, but that’s too long. Our community trust us to support their development needs, build their confidence and align ourselves with trusted, inclusive partners who can nurture and grow talent to progress in their careers. We’ve upskilled 20,000 people in 3 years — we know what we are fighting for and need your help in creating true equitable change.