“If you want your life and work to be meaningful, then focus on the thing that matters most and spend your time, efforts, and resources on those things that are meaningful.” — Andrey Sergeyev





Nicola Vermooten, 34, is the managing director of AccessEd, a multi-national public benefit organisation that believes higher education should be accessible to all young people regardless of socioeconomic background and upbringing. She has a PhD in industrial psychology and is registered as an independent industrial psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Nicola has subsequently authored several peer-reviewed journal articles (h-index 5) and shared her research findings at conferences both nationally and internationally. Given the lean nature of the AccessEd, Nicola is actively involved in all aspects of the organisation — strategic and operational. The organisation’s main objective is to launch and scale up university access programmes that promote access to higher education among young people from underserved communities. To ensure its long-term sustainability, AccessEd contracts with universities, doctoral academies and scholarship groups on the organisation’s research-based curricula programmes and postgraduate development programme. AccessEd was previously registered as a charity in England and Wales. Given the successful expansion of the AccessEd ZA Programme (for pupils in South Africa) from 53 pupils in 2020 to 316 pupils in 2022 under Nicola’s leadership, the UK board decided to rehome AccessEd to South Africa with her at the helm. Nicola’s desire to positively impact South Africa’s education system started at a young age. While completing her undergraduate degree, she offered career guidance and extra classes to pupils from underserved communities. Through her research, she developed an in-depth understanding of inequalities between fee and no-fee public schools in South Africa. 

  • PhD in industrial psychology, Stellenbosch University, 2018
  • Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience: From Molecule to Behaviour, Radboud University Summer School, 2016
  • Positive Psychology: The Science Behind Flourishing Individuals and Organisations, Radboud University Summer School, 2016
  • Registered independent industrial psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa, 2015
  • MCom in industrial psychology, Stellenbosch University, 2014
  • BCom honours in industrial psychology, Stellenbosch University, 2011
  • BCom Industrial Psychology, Stellenbosch University, 2010

  • Obtaining an h-index of five for academic publications, 2023
  • Being promoted to managing director of AccessEd, a multinational organisation, and entrusted to facilitate the process of rehoming AccessEd from the United Kingdom to South Africa, 2022
  • Obtaining a PhD in industrial psychology, 2018
  • Being awarded three scholarships or grants to pursue doctoral studies about the South African education system, 2014 to 2016
  • Registering as an independent industrial psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa, 2015 
  • Completing an industrial psychology internship at the Military Psychological Institute, 2014

While I was completing grade 10, the vice-principal of my school told me that she saw me becoming a leader in my field of choice and affecting change to the benefit of others. Her belief in me has spurred me on since that day.

Set goals you are passionate about achieving and give your best daily to realise them. While it might not always feel like it, hard work and dedication will enable you to move closer to achieving your goals step-by-step. Build positive, meaningful relationships with people who inspire you to be the best version of yourself.

I believe quality education is the cornerstone of economic and social development. Regrettably, our education system fails many young South Africans, particularly those from underserved communities, thereby reinforcing social inequality. By 2028, I want to see organisations, such as AccessEd, and individuals make notable progress towards achieving the United Nations’ sustainable development goal four: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. At AccessEd, this will involve expanding the AccessEd ZA Programme to include pupils from the worst-performing provinces and mobilising 50 postgraduate researchers to tutor and mentor 600 pupils in each programme cycle.

View previous winners from 2018 to 2022

Subcribe to the newsletter