Looking back to look ahead - Part 2


Looking back at the achievements of OBV in the past year and in particular seeing a plethora of young BAME leaders emerging in so many different areas gave me the drive to enthusiastically look at the challenges ahead with both realism, but also an equal amount of optimism. In Reverend Jesse Jackson’s words - “keeping hope alive”.

But the news this morning that the US President Donald Trump ordered the execution of Iran’s most senior military leader, Qassem Soleimani, along with Iraqi senior military leaders quickly dampened that early enthusiasm with that most precarious question, “what’s going to happen now?"  Iran might be - as a result of US sanctions - a weakened nation fighting internal disturbances, but it doesn’t make it any less proud. In fact a wounded, humiliated nation may seek to strike back much fiercer than it otherwise would so it might regain the pride its citizens will demand.

Worse still, as the UK was sucked into an unjustifiable conflict with Iraq under President George Bush, could a shocking page of history repeat itself? Surely not!

But where does that leave us trying to look positively into the New Year? For me the serenity prayer is as good as any place to start.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference”.

So what can we do/change that will make a significant difference? Here we turn to our mission: ‘To politically empower BAME communities; to increase BAME representation at a political/ civic and more recently private sector level; and transform institutions, political, civic and business so that they are more inclusive, representative and deliver for all communities'.

In all of that thinking I get most excited in those spaces where we are nurturing BAME leadership talent. And this forthcoming year we’ll have at least four programmes, possible 6. Two very exciting local programmes in big cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham. Building on the leadership we already have in these cities we’ll be recruiting for the next generation of city leaders. They will learn the roles of magistrates, school governors, NHS trustees, charity boards, community policing and local authority councillors. We’ll ask of this cohort to be successful in this civic/political space, but also to encourage and inspire others to be active citizens.

On an international level we’ll recruit a handful of BAME Brits to be part of the Transatlantic Inclusive Leaders Network (TILN). TILN is a week long residential leadership programme in Brussels with about 35 elected leaders from the US and right across Europe. This grouping now has become one of the most powerful and influential political networks from a minority perspective, boasting MEP’s, and other politicians around Europe and the USA.

We have a number exciting projects in the pipeline with the Local Government Association (LGA) one of which will be just amazing. Watch this space.

Of course I’m thrilled to say that after our ground-breaking pilot ‘Pathways to Success’ programme we’ve just received funding for at least another two years, so we’ll be recruiting soon for September's cohort. How can we make the project even better than last year’s? It’ll be difficult, but we’ll try. We’ll recruit the best to be guided by unprecedented expertise at the top level of leadership.

Although many of us will be election weary we cannot ignore those key local and Mayoral elections this May. This will be a great opportunity to help reenergise local democracy and ensure those very real issues such as schools, housing and local policing have very clear race equality agendas. Here voter registration and turnout drives will be crucial and go a long way to empower BAME communities to have a strong local voice.

In regards to the big institutional change the Race Disparity Unit and the Advisory group that I chair at 10 Downing St will continue to be an important vehicle. In terms of the RDU’s ‘Ethnicity facts and Figures’ the continuation of building strong and nuanced data will be critical so that Whitehall departments, local authorities, public institutions and campaigners can push for equality based upon real up to date facts. There are still some significant data gaps, not least around the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, which I will strongly urge to be filled.

Looking at institutional priorities for change within that RDU I still believe that education and employment remain key areas, including greater BAME access to the better universities, much better attainment and results for BAME students, and the increase of BAME teachers, proffesors and senior staff. In regards to employment, securing the Ethnic Minority Pay Gap legislation has to be a our number one priority.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this paper when looking at what we might do in the year ahead it’s very easy to start filling up the blank pieces of paper. Other areas we are very keen to explore are around Black business leadership. Later this month we’ll be hosting a dinner at the House of Lords for Mckinsey alumni from their Black Exec leadership summits. We all agree that this leadership should celebrate together, support each other and work collective on small number of impactful projects. It is this type of initiative we hope to expand with other BAME leaders covering the arts, business, politics and communities.

Lastly on OBV’s official list we strongly believe that in this year we can make progress within the Drugs policy debate. Our view is that the nation desperately needs an adult conversation about drugs policy, when we do we’ll take the oxygen from the gangs that are often killing each other and terrorising communities over drug turf wars. An adult conversation about drugs policy would also confront the racialisation of police ‘Stop and Search’ that has become a 'sledge hammer to crack a nut’ approach to drugs enforcement.

For me and my small team focusing on the things we can change the year ahead becomes very exciting: Inspiring talent, challenging institutions, holding politicians to account. In some ways it makes me feel like that we are disciples of Dr Martin Luther King and Bernie Grant.

Very last but not least we wish you all the same powerful spirit to believe in yourselves and change our world.


Simon Woolley