OBV brings 'historic' Leadership Programme to Greater Manchester



On Tuesday (24th May 2022) Operation Black Vote (OBV) launched their first Civic Leadership Programme of the year as well as their first based in the Greater Manchester area. The programme seeks to nurture Greater Manchester’s future leaders in order to equip communities facing racial inequality with the knowledge needed to begin life as a Public Appointee.

The speakers (from left): Ashok Viswanathan, Andy Burnham, Diane Modahl and Alyson Malach

Most importantly though over the next months of 2022 participants of the programme will find out what it means to be a Councillor, Magistrate, Trustee, School Governor, member of a Safer Neighbourhood and member of a Health Board within the Greater Manchester NHS Partnership. 27 individuals took part in Tuesday’s events all ranging in age but still proving similar in their like minded pursuits to make a real difference to their shared county.

The programme cohort paying close attention to the speakers

The event took place at the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel. A fine and luxurious building already equipped with pieces of history making it the perfect place to kick off a great start to the programme. It was originally constructed in 1891 to 1932 as the Refuge Assurance Building but now stands as the grand hotel it is today.

Participants also had the chance to meet Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who is funding the Civic Leadership Programme, at the GMCA Headquarters. Burnham entered the room expressing his emotion at seeing his plans to increase diverse political representation within Greater Manchester alongside OBV coming to fruition:

I can’t tell you what it felt like walking through the door then and it made me quite emotional really just to see everybody here and to see this programme coming through. There’s a little bit of history in this room and I think anybody who works at the GMCA would say that this is a fantastic piece of history. We’re hoping you will be changemakers for us and I’m certain you will be.”

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester

He continued in his opening speech:

It’s taken us too long to form this partnership with Operation Black Vote because if you look around Greater Manchester life there’s not equality in terms of representation in leadership positions and I think it’s taken us too long to actually put in place some practical actions to address it. But we’re here, we’re in the room, we’re having the conversation, you’re on the programme - so we’re on the way and I think that the change will come through with your help Ashok. So thank you to you and your team for everything you’ve done to pull this together.”

Burnham, who has served as mayor to the city-region since 2017, formed a Race Equality Panel together with Ashok Viswanathan (Deputy Director of OBV), Diane Modahl (Founder of the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation and Chair of the Young Person’s Task Force) and Alyson Malach (Director of Equality and Diversity UK). Participants joined into a Q&A session with the panel and gleaned further insight into each individual’s story as well as their journey to leadership and motivations for bringing OBV’s scheme to Greater Manchester.

Diane Modahl (left) Alyson Malach speaking at the event

During the Q&A, a particularly striking comment which touched on being effective public disruptors came from one of the programme’s participants, Zara Manoehoetoe.

Viswanathan answered:

If you think about it, just us walking through the streets was a disruption, we walked as a group from an old age to a new age building and each time managed to make people turn to look at us and take notice, that in itself is a disruption Just you being here is a disruption."

Manoehoetoe is currently working for a children's charity leading on youth engagement and social action. Accompanied by many others it was clear to all that this next network of cohort members all hold clear-cut abilities to bring positive political progress and proactive actionable change to Greater Manchester.

Ella Frederick, a 23-year-old OBV Volunteer said in her summary of this year’s launch:

It was inspirational to be amongst and see so much talent in my age group. To see the steps they are now taking into leadership and their passions and goals for the future.”

This current Civic Leadership Programme was particularly aimed at individuals between the ages of 18-30 or over 18 who also present themselves as target groups who experience challenges when seeking opportunities within the political sector.

Councillor for Moss Side in Manchester Erinma Bell, who was also present at the Race Equality Panel, was additionally invited to speak.

If you wanna see change you’ve got to be part of it which is why I’ve now placed myself in it because I want to change things, but from the inside, I don't want to be on the outside chucking the stones in because I keep missing. Whereas if I’m on the inside…”

Bell closed her speech, leaving her final words open to interpretation.

The day came to a close with a final panel of guest speakers from OBV’s past Pathway to Success programmes. Participants were able to hear the experiences of Cllr Salma Arif, Amena Khatun, Cllr Sunny Lambe and Hilaria Asumu who have since grown on from their leadership training with OBV to excel even further as incredible leaders in their communities.

(From left) Cllr Salma Arif, Amena Khatun, Cllr Sunny Lambe and Hilaria Asumu

Meesha Hall