Empowerment?

Power and the retention of power by mainly white people is still an issue for us in the UK.

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In various forms, knowingly and unknowingly, it is one of the reasons why very few BAME people and communities are in leadership roles, especially in traditional white dominated organisations.

Yet in small ways and large the giving up of control and power can make a huge difference. This is just one small example.

When I became chief executive of Midland Area Housing Association in 1996 I inherited an organisation that was working at the heart of some of the most diverse communities in Birmingham.

The board reflected the diversity of the local community as did most of the staff. Therefore it was not unusual for a local councillor, Yvonne Mosquito, to ring me up and ask me to visit a house not far from the office.

I agreed to meet her and some days later I arrived at the house. It was an imposing building and typical of many in Handsworth. I could tell immediately it was in need of repair. Yvonne met me on the doorstep and showed me around.

She explained that the property was leased from Midland Area and used as a day nursery for local, mainly African/Caribbean, children. The rooms used as a nursery were in reasonable condition but the rest of the house was in disrepair. She asked what I proposed to do about it. To be honest I did not know.

To bring the house up to reasonable standard would have cost a substantial amount at a time when Midland Area was experiencing serious financial difficulties.

I explained this to Yvonne and she suggested that if we could not carry out the repairs why not gift the property to the nursery and allow them to do it. I said that I would consider her proposal. I made enquiries, discussed it with my colleagues and made a recommendation to the board.

The board knew the nursery and some used it. They agreed subject to the necessary financial and regulatory checks to transfer the property to the charity that ran the Nursery. It was called ANKA, A Nursery that Kares for All.

Once the transfer had taken place I had little more to do with the nursery. Yvonne met me regularly to report progress but that was all. Some years later, just before my “retirement”, I was invited to present awards to a group of children who had passed through the nursery.

I was surprised to be told that it was a “black tie” event and to find that the ceremony was on a Saturday night at the main conference centre in Birmingham. I arrived with Vishva my wife and was asked to present the awards in the Foyer.

Most of the recipients were talented young black men and women who had all attended training courses at ANKA, which had grown into a thriving community resource.

When I had finished presenting the awards I was ushered into the main hall to find it was laid out for a Gala Dinner at which I was to be the guest of honour.

The presentation had been a cover for this celebratory meal. All of my family and colleagues knew about it, except me. Vishva of course was in on the secret and Yvonne Mosquito was the organiser. There were tears in my eyes as my family and friends entered the hall to share the evening with me.

In her speech Yvonne said that because of that small gift of a house by Midland Area, ANKA had been able to take real control and grow into an organisation that changed the lives of many young people in Handsworth.

The evening culminated in the award of a plaque presented to me by my then chair, Lord Bill Morris, on behalf of the ANKA community.

It is one of my most prized possessions. Not just because of the honour paid to me by the community but because of the recognition that even a small transfer of power and resources can enable local diverse communities to take control and make a real difference to their lives and the lives of others.

The lack of advancement by BAME people in housing and elsewhere in society is not a black and Asian problem. Many already have the talents to take on leadership and control. But are we prepared to give up power to make it happen? Perhaps we require development and better understanding in order to do so.

As the plaque says, much is expected of leaders. Acting to really empower at all levels is one of those expectations. Some are already doing this but we should do more to make it happen.

 

 

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