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“Is it because I’m black, is it because I’m a woman or is it because I’m both?” There have been a few experiences in my life during which I found myself asking a question no one wants to find themselves asking. It is the sort of question that takes away all the power you have mustered and forces you to recognise that despite your hard work, competence and pleasant demeanour in any and all circumstances, you are still capable of being reduced to stereotypes, prejudices and misrepresentation of your character based on two things that you did not choose and cannot unlearn.
I am a black woman and have grown to be extremely proud of that fact. As an immigrant in the UK, I was challenged in my teenage years by the juxtaposition of my experiences as a member of the racial majority in Nigeria to becoming a representative of a dire minority in the suburbs of Kent. Growing up, I had to teach myself which kind of racism mattered and which kind of racism didn’t. I had to make the distinction between my A-Level History teacher’s treatment of my “forcefulness” which other teachers deemed signs of leadership abilities and the treatment I got from strangers every few months who would yell slurs at me in the street for merely existing. Both are bad, but only one was going to affect my future opportunities.
To be clear, I built a social paradigm that gave me what everyone around me told me I should strive for - the ability to “keep calm and carry on”. In my paradigm, I defined “racism that matters” as “the negative demonstration of unearned or positional power, typically exemplified by socio-economic standing and societal influence, by a person of one race, over a person of another race who is incapable of matching that power, unable to earn that power and therefore cannot counteract the effects of the negative demonstration on their life or livelihood.” Everything else was explained away as, “racial insensitivity”; the result of ignorance, bad parenting, likely hardship that person must have been facing in their own probably terrible lives and so on. It worked for a while. I lived happily in the bubble I created, knit together by sociological theories and paradigms that kept me calm and unproblematic, declawed and unable to fight for my space, my time, or my mental health.
In 2016, when I started my social enterprise Do it Now Now, I recognised only one key problem in my life. It was that despite my qualifications, work history, educational background, articulation and pleasant demeanour in any and all circumstances, there were still many opportunities that I was incapable of accessing despite my racial counterparts enjoying the benefits of those tools and resources. As I tackled one problem, I recognised another. In the many conversations I had with our black female beneficiaries, I heard echoes of the paradigms that were helping me get by. The “racial insensitivity” we had each experienced over years as minorities in a “keep calm and carry on” culture had planted seeds in us and planted common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. The trend amongst our black female beneficiaries was undeniable so I decided to do a little research and found that, according to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, the most likely racial demographic to experience common mental health disorders in the UK are indeed black women. We addressed this phenomenon by re-vamping our support methodology for black female business owners; for example, support groups and social activities as well as female-only events and programs during which we talked about personal development, building resilience, mental health AND how to build a successful business.
We weren’t taught to value ourselves in this way growing up. We now have language around things like “toxic behaviour”, “microaggressions”, “gaslighting” and the like that more and more black women are adopting and utilising to unlearn their old paradigms and create new ones that put a value on our lives, livelihoods and mental health. Despite this being a full-blown and very active movement in the US, it is still in its very early stages in the black community in the UK. We are still learning that our lives matter, our health matters, our hopes and dreams matter and that our voices matter.
Over the past few days, like many other black women in my sphere of influence, I have found myself incredibly interested in all commotion concerning the announcement made by Prince Harry and Meghan Markel about their decision to “step back” from their role as Senior Royals. Those two words have galvanised a much-needed movement in the black female community; one that encourages black women to value themselves and their personal happiness over the fear of playing into and confirming the stereotype of the “angry black woman” so many expect us to perform.
Step Back is about recognising that ALL racism matters and we each have to decide to defend our lives, livelihoods and mental health from big and small attacks that have previously been explained away as the actions of the ignorant. So to black women, whether you decide to #StepBack by leaving a job that forces you to engage with co-workers that de-value your personhood or you decide to tell your aggressors to #StepBack so you can reclaim your space, as long as you’re doing what you think is right for your life, livelihood and mental health, its the right decision.
In 2020, we are taking our commitment to black women to the next level and including groups that are not noticed in specificity by the data currently made public by the Office of National Statistics in the UK, but certainly in need of similar support. We are glad to have received a pot of funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to create a year-long program that identified 375 black women, black non-binary people and black LGBTQ+ people who have an idea that is going to contribute to the social mobility, resiliency, safety and economic empowerment of people of colour and people living at risk of poverty or in poverty in London. You can find out more here - www.mymoonlanding.com
We’re excited to spend the year identifying, supporting and enriching the lives of people that are typically underserved, unsupported and unrecognised in their work to make London a better place for everyone.
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My name is Bayo, I’m Nigerian and I’ve lived in the UK for the past 19 years. For ten of those years, I have been a business person. That means I’ve seen the world that surrounds me through the following lens, “will it make money?” If you were talking about your favourite film, I was asking how much it grossed in the box office. If you were talking about fantasy football, I was asking what the subscription fee is for the app and how often you make in-app purchases.
I grew up nervous and anxious. I’d seen my African immigrant parents build and lose a business, but on the flip side, I grew up in the come-up of Facebook when a group of guys in a dorm room at Harvard University showed the rest of us that anything is possible. My mistake was assuming that everyone was on the same playing field.
I’m a big fan of Van Jones, not because I’ve watched everything he’s produced, but because I watched one specific thing and it summed up something I had been struggling to put into clear terms for a very long time. Van once told a story of his time at Harvard University saying,
“I didn’t know until I got out of Law School that people were being invited into Professors’ homes. I didn’t know that. I thought I was doing my work, raising my hand, turning things in on time. There’s a whole world that was going on where Professors were picking students and developing them to become Supreme Court clerks, and I was some black kid from a [state] school and I didn’t even know that was possible.”
That is exactly the point. While I was at Durham University, dreaming of being the next big tech startup founder to build something that took over the world, I did it based on what I thought was possible. I entered a Dragon's Den competition at my university and I came second, that got me a little bit of money, but to run a tech company, you need a lot more than £300 and a gift certificate to the school cafeteria. So, my next options were, find an angel investor like the ones on Dragon’s Den. I tried that; who knew high-net-worth individuals were so difficult to come by? My next option was to get a loan and that wasn’t an option. I was 20 with no collateral and no one that would be my amigo; no one could be my loan guarantor because no one I knew owned anything worth guaranteeing with. People say you start with family and friends, but what happens when your family and friends are just as broke as you are?
I had my own Van Jones moment when one day my white middle-class university housemate told me that her parents were giving her a large chunk of money to run her fledgeling business; just like that. In the days that followed her announcement, I felt like I was in the Matrix and I had seen the source code. After a couple of years of fighting it, I finally came to the realisation that the world I wanted to live in, one built entirely on meritocracy, didn't exist. So, one day with my company strong and present in 12 universities, with over 75 volunteer staff and over 1200 weekly users, I decided to quit. I didn’t make the decision lightly, but I did make it eventually.
I recently found out that another white middle-class undergraduate colleague that I met during that fateful Dragon’s Den competition went on to join Techstars soon after graduation - I didn’t even know things like accelerators existed then. He is now retired and enjoying the life his access to networks of knowledge and resource have been able to afford him. He had networks in tech, in the UK’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and the VC pool, and I had the Google search engines. Most people think that search engines have democratised access information, but if you don’t know which questions to ask, Google is just a reflection of your immediate circle. It's like Instagram’s algorithm; you think you’re seeing everything, but really you’re seeing about a fifth of the posts from the people you decided to follow.
Helpless to change the infrastructure in which I had to exist, I found a new dream; I would get a job, get paid and would do my best to not fly too close to the sun. A few years later, 2 Masters done, a few accolades to my name and a few new scars, I realised that the problems I had experienced in the business world were the same ones I experienced in the working world. Again, I found myself in need of help but unsure of whom to turn to; unsure whom to ask or what to ask. I felt entirely caged in. Sure that I couldn’t be the only person dealing with these issues in business or work, I began having conversations and found allies; people that wanted to access networks and opportunities that they would ordinarily not be able to reach into. I decided to turn my attention to solving that problem.
I built a community of like-minded individuals and began running events in the offices of companies like Facebook and, wouldn't you know it, Google. I was building a network of my own so that I could open that network up to other people. Despite the wealth of good intentions, the question quickly arose, “will it make money?” I got my answer when I began getting requests from three groups, startup founders in need of opportunities, corporations seeking to give more opportunities to a wider range of people and, almost out of the blue, I found that charities were also interested in addressing the diversity issue they had been seeing through their external and internal operations. There you have it.
Hence, here at Do it Now Now, we work to champion ethnic diversity in entrepreneurship, creativity and philanthropy. We develop and deliver programs and campaigns that empower and edify communities we fight for (people of Afro-Caribbean descent living in under-served communities around the world) Thankfully, it’s working out.
Do it Now Now has helped thousands of people expand their networks, form collaborations, build better businesses, form friendships and more. We’re all about opening doors, creating more seats at the table for the people that need them, and giving those people the tools to open doors and pull up chairs for others as well.
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Thanks to research carried out by key players of the African tech ecosystem, GSMA, VC4A, Orange Digital Ventures, Techcabal and Briter Bridges over the past year, we have finally been able to put numbers to anecdotal evidence we've been collecting for years. Some of the key finding of the year have been:
Of the Africa-based, VC-backed startup founders that have raised over $100K:
With this information in mind, we sought to discover the difference between these funded founders and the African born, raised and educated founders not yet in receipt of funding.
We carried out our own research and found that the overarching barrier is access.
With this in mind, we created AfriTech XYZ; a program that supports high potential, early-stage startups across 6 African countries through an individualised mentorship program supported by skilled volunteers around the world. Here's a quick snapshot of our volunteer community:
Much more news to come on the progress of this program in 2020, but we believe we’ve stumbled on something that could significantly impact the African tech ecosystem and allow for a stronger, more effectively supported pipeline of startups to grow out of the continent.
In Africa, we support the democratisation of access to key opportunities and information that will catalyse the growth of startups and their ability to get funded. We’re working to ensure that we can bridge as many of those gaps as possible through the AfriTech XYZ program.
Subscribe to the AfriTech XYZ newsletter for more information on the work we're doing with tech entrepreneurs across Africa - www.afritech.xyz