Liam Hackett MBE

Liam Hackett MBE (Business and Management 2009) is the Founder and CEO of global youth charity Ditch the Label. In 2018, he was the youngest person to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Sussex.

Alumnus Liam Hackett MBE in white shirt with green countryside background

Liam's story

Ditch the Label began as an online community after Liam shared stories of his own experiences of bullying online, while still at school. After graduating from Sussex, he co-founded digital marketing agency Hackett and Tiger and continued to expand Ditch the Label, which achieved registered charity status in 2014. It is now an international youth charity, supporting young people aged 12-25. In 2024, Liam was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List for his contribution to supporting young people across the UK.

Prior to studying at Sussex you were recognised as an ‘Influential Young Person’ for having over 250,000 followers on social media by the time you were 15 (2006). Is there a specific turning point from your early teenage years which inspired you to become an activist? 

Like many others, I found growing up to be really tough. I was being mercilessly bullied at the time which had a huge impact on my mental health, confidence and ability to accept myself.
During this time, social media really started to take off and I started to talk about my experiences on MySpace. I was amazed to find that not only was I not alone, but that I was able to find my voice and a community in what felt like the most unlikely place. The more I started to talk about these challenges, the more I felt connected to the fire in my stomach that gave me the strength to not only stand up for myself, but for others too. Today that fire still burns strongly and the belief in the power of the internet to connect and help people is still deeply enmeshed within Ditch the Label

What initially attracted you to study at Sussex and what are your fondest memories of student life?

I grew up in a small town between Liverpool and Manchester and school really hadn’t been a safe space for me. I visited a few universities and as soon as I arrived in Brighton, I felt at home and could start to take off my armour. I experienced the ‘Sussex Uni Bubble’ and knew that this was the place where I’d start to discover myself. The fact that the Business School was one of the best in the country helped too.

Memories include surfing down the Stamner hill on a mattress in the snow to being a Residential Advisor (RA) and having all the residents of Stamner Court in single file outside during a chip pan fire. Graduating was a bittersweet experience – the joy of completing my degree, then the sadness and fear of entering the ‘real world’ and losing what had become my home for three years. It’s wonderful to still have a relationship with the University, over a decade later.

Liam Hackett in grey coat, smiling
“I founded Ditch the Label aged 15, drawing from my personal experiences and struggles while growing up. The MBE is a powerful reminder that success is attainable, irrespective of one's background.” LIAM HACKETT MBE
Business and Management 2009

As someone who started an organisation upon leaving University, in what ways did your experience at Sussex prepare you to become an entrepreneur?

For me, it wasn’t just the hard skills that the degree taught me, it was the shifts in my mindset and the ways in which I saw the world that truly made a difference. The ethos of Sussex was a huge inspiration and I am still inspired by the ways in which students organise and stand up for what they believe in. Being an RA definitely opened up an interest in other people and how they interacted socially, plus the discounted rent was a great hustle.

Congratulations on being awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours list. How does it feel to have your work recognised in this way?

Receiving recognition for my work at Ditch the Label is truly overwhelming. It marks a full circle moment for me, as I founded Ditch the Label aged 15, drawing from my personal experiences and struggles while growing up. Witnessing how those challenging moments have not only inspired positive change but also brought more light into the world is incredibly gratifying. The award serves as a powerful reminder that success is attainable, irrespective of one's background.

What are your ambitions for Ditch the Label in the next five years, in the UK and internationally?

I know that there's an enormous gap in mental health support. This issue is global, but if we take the UK for example, we know that there isn't enough availability, and many can't access private therapy. I see Ditch the Label playing a huge role in advancing access to clinical support – helping young people navigate the biggest challenges in their lives with effective help from a trained therapist.

We are scaling Ditch the Label across the Spanish language and currently focusing on Mexico, where there is a huge need. Overall, my job in the next five years is to ensure that as many people as possible can access and benefit from Ditch the Label's range of interventions.

How do your strategic partnerships with global brands, including ASOS and Maybelline, impact your work to support young people?

Most of our funding comes from our incredible brand partners and we're so fortunate to work with the most unbelievably passionate and ambitious people at these brands to really bring our vision to life. There is a lot of mutual learning within these partnerships; we're constantly learning and growing together. It's incredibly rewarding.

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement and why?

For sure it has to be standing in front of 12,000 people at Wembley Arena and telling the story of Ditch the Label. It was a full circle moment on overcoming my fear of public speaking. I am a huge advocate for gently pushing the comfort zone and it took me years to get to point at which I was able to do that!

Is there something which you can’t live without?


Finally, what is the most important lesson that life has taught you?

I wish I’d known when I was a student that we’re all lost and seeking the same answers. Instead of trying to compete, it’s much better to help each other walk home. The flaws and annoyances we see in others are just a reflection of the things we either dislike about ourselves or old wounds that need to be healed. Fundamentally, we have more in common than we realise.

Liam is one of our inspirational alumni speakers taking part in Careers in Development, Charities and Not-for-Profit – Make it Happen 2024, on campus on 6 March 2024. Students and recent graduates can find out more and sign up here.

Alumni can find out more about our flagship Make it Happen careers events here and volunteer to speak at future Sussex events through joining our mentoring and networking platform Sussex Connect.

Follow Liam on X, formerly Twitter: @DiageoLiam

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