I wanted to share one of the most inspiring podcast conversations I've had to date, so I have had it transcribed in full below. You can also listen on iTunes. Spotify, YouTube and the Entrepreneur Agony Aunt Podcast website.
Entrepreneur Pheona Matovu had her family's life turned upside down when a paperwork error meant she was no longer eligible to work in the UK. When, after 5 long years, she and husband were finally able to work again, the couple founded Radiant and Brighter to provide employment pathways and enterprise support for the Black & Ethnic Minority Communities living in Scotland. The company also provides training and education that challenge and inspire groups and individuals to explore perceptions of culture & diversity.
For those of you in Scotland, their Bright Futures Women’s Leadership and Enterprise Conference is on Thursday 27th September 2018 at the RBS Headquarters in Gogarburn - there are still free tickets available.
Hello I’m Vicky Brock and you’re listening to the Entrepreneur Agony Aunt Podcast.
Joining me this week is entrepreneur Pheona Matovu, Co-Founder and Strategic Director of Radiant and Brighter. Born in Uganda, she came to the UK in 1998 and built her life here, then in 2007 was refused indefinite leave to remain after filling in the wrong paperwork. No longer eligible to work, Pheona and her husband Michael relocated to Glasgow for its cheaper cost of living and had to depend on family, friends and the local community for their basic needs. During this time, they discovered that there were no identifiable organisations dedicated to offering practical help to immigrants arriving Scotland to meaningfully integrate into the local community and workplace. So when in 2012, after 5 long years, they were finally able to work again, the couple founded Radiant and Brighter to provide employment pathways and enterprise support for the Black & Ethnic Minority communities living in Scotland.
The organisation also provides training and educational events which challenge and inspire groups and individuals to explore perceptions on culture & diversity for organisational development. For those of you in Scotland, their Bright Futures Women’s Leadership and Enterprise Conference is on Thursday 27th September, 2018 at the RBS Headquarters in Gogarburn and there are still free tickets available.
So Pheona, it’s wonderful to be here at the Radiant and Brighter office to podcast with you - thank you for having me!
The question I’d like to tackle this week is this, and it comes from a senior startup employee who asks: I am working in a very homogeneous startup environment and I really don’t think the organisation realises just how lacking in diversity it is, or why this matters. It am trying to change things from the inside, but already I am starting to get the eye rolls and was recently accused of being obsessed and a stuck record. I don’t want to give up yet, not least because we will all gain if we can sort this, but how do we have an intelligent, constructive conversation around diversity - especially ethnic and cultural diversity - when I seem to be the only one who thinks we have a problem?
Before we dive into the question, perhaps you could tell us a little more about your own journey as a founder, and what you’ve learned along the way?
Pheona Matovu: I have not a very unique view here. I think there's a lot of people that are just like me that have come into Scotland to make it their home, but I do have a story to tell. It's both good and not so good. When we came to Scotland, it was an opportunity for our lives to change and for a brighter future, but we came at a very difficult time. In that time, I didn't know where to start.
I think what I found most challenging is that in the previous circumstances and the previous situation we had been, I was able to look after my children, I was able to pay rent. Then we got into this situation where we had to either choose rent or food. When we moved to Scotland, in a sense, you hope for a brighter future, but at the same time you know what you're facing.
What I found really difficult was that at that time, I was pregnant with our third child. I hadn't seen a doctor. I didn't see a doctor until I was seven months pregnant. Being in a country where you know-- This is the first world. This is the place where everything goes right, at least for children and families. It's a place where we appreciate human rights. You don't expect that you're not going to be able to see a doctor for that period of time because I hadn't been able to register with a doctor. Usually, they have immigration controls.
It was challenging. Very, very challenging. There were small things that made it very difficult that weren't quite major. We had a double buggy. I was pregnant. After I had the third child, we now had the double buggy for the two children, but the older one was only three. I had no transport to go anywhere so I walked everywhere. 40 minutes to an hour and no one an hour and a half. We walked everywhere with our son. Thankfully, he loves walking now.
It's not what you hope for. I always thought when I have children, they're going to have a bright future, it's going to be brilliant. Then we spent the first five years of our older son's life really very poor and in a very difficult circumstance. That was difficult. I think somebody once said that you see very clearly in a desert. You see clearly because there is nothing distracting you except the sand. Also, you see clearly because it's very difficult. You search deeper within yourself than you do in other circumstances.
For me, this is where I began to see clearly. That is where really our businesses springs from. It is that difficult time. It is what we needed that we didn't have that we can now pass into other people and support others to be able to do exactly the same.
Vicky: Was the business a vision you had through that period that you were working towards or was the business a reaction of coming out of that period? To try and find a job and then discovering for multiple reasons you're unemployable and then having to improvise. How did that work you?
Pheona: I think it was both things. We knew when we didn't have the ability to work that we had to do something. Not being allowed to be paid, so we started to volunteer. In the volunteering, we discovered that people were facing those difficult circumstances like us. We were not asylum seekers and refugees, but a lot of people we're working with were, so they had similar circumstances. That made us think about doing something.
We did a monthly event where we brought people together. Really, we didn't know much about what we were doing except bringing people together, talk about the challenges, encourage one another, have a meal together and then go away. That meal was prepared by the same people we reached out to. Often, it was even for our family, the only meal that we had in the day.
And that was great. That gave us an understanding of what support wasn't available and what support needed to be available. We thought, "This is great." We did it for a period of five years, reached about 150 people a year. That was great. But then we came to 2012 where this is it. Finally, we can at least remain and relax. Fantastic. We've been doing these. We have a voluntary team of about 10 people, we've been managing a project and it looks like this is it. We're now going to start work.
Naturally, we went looking for work. We had no money, nothing, so you go looking for work. When we tried to look for work, we were shocked to realize nobody wanted to employ us. I had no way of earning money because I hadn't apparently been working for five years, so I didn't have that experience. I didn't realize how bad it was in the UK, in Scotland. If you haven't been working for that long period of time, it's difficult to go back to work. I didn't know that.
We tried for the first six months and failed miserably. We thought, "You know what? We know how to do something." So we decided to set up our own business. Nobody had ever done it. We didn't know anybody that had done it, but it was either we get stuck or we do something. So I think it was a mixture of having our eyes opened and a reactionary response to we have no work, we've got to create it.
So we started, but for the first three years, it was tough. Nobody understood what we were trying to achieve because we didn't go by what we had seen, we hadn't really seen much. Even what we'd seen, we didn't really like, so we just started. Every time we say to people what we were doing, which is try and support people into work, which seemed to be what other organisations were doing, but we didn't want to start from the point of, "You need work, let's just put you in work." We wanted to know what skills have you got. What qualifications have you got. Because we've experienced that ourselves. That although we had experience, nobody was taking us on. We thought surely this can be used.
Honestly, for the first three years, we tried that. It somehow didn't work because, we thought, "How can we do this?" But they were the facing the same barriers we were facing, but something came up. Suddenly, we're meeting people who were saying, "I have this and that." Actually, we'll teach you what we've learned in business, you learn from us and you set up your own business.
We started to support people. The first client we had was a young lady who had a child, had graduated as a biochemist, could not find work, was black, and felt like she was completely excluded from the process, from the system. She wanted to set up a business but had tried a cleaning business and didn't know whether that would work.
And I thought, "Why are you setting up a cleaning business? Is there anything else you're passionate about?" She said, "Yes, I like to make products, I like to make healthy products, skin products." I said, "So why don't you do that?" She said, "Can I?" I said, "Yes, you can." We supported her to do that. Indeed, she started to succeed in setting up her own business. That opened up a whole new world of us supporting other businesses and we still do that today.
Vicky: How many people and different kinds of companies now have you helped through the doors?
Pheona: Every year, we have 25 to 34 different nationalities. Since we started, we've worked with over 500 people. We primarily are set up to work with minority ethnic groups, people of colour, people who come from refugee asylum backgrounds, or people that really come from the countries that I feel are not really accepted as much in a way of bringing their skill and value in Scotland, which is often people from African countries and Eastern Europe. We really work with that group of people.
But because in our own circumstances, when we were going around asking for support, there wasn't an organisation that would support us. The reason? We didn't tick a box. When we were refused a visa, we became undocumented migrants. When you're undocumented, you don't even tick a box that says, "I have been refused." Because the home office did not respond to us for the good part of five years after we've gotten the new applications. We had no real document to say we have been refused.
Everywhere you went and you said, "We're stuck." The charities, the food banks. I remember we went to every single charity, mentioned the name, and they said, "So have you got a letter?" We're like, "No." They were like, "We can't help you." I found that ridiculous. I found that, to say the least, upsetting. Now, when we provide our support, those are the primary people that we support because they're the ones that we know how to do the support that they need. Also, that is the group of people we've chosen to work with.
However, it does not matter where you come from. If somebody comes to me, I will support them. I don't do a tick box exercise, I would choose not to do that.
Vicky: It seems, as so many things, impossible to get your head around, exasperating to hear and unimaginable to experience actually. The point of enterprise is it grows everybody's pie bigger. When somebody starts a company, it's not that money gets taken from somewhere else and pushed around. This is new money. This is a new pie. The country gets richer, the community gets richer, everybody involved gets richer. It seems insanity that there's a blockage going on to prevent anybody from doing that.
Pheona: It is. It's very sad. Because when you think about it, now for what we are doing, we support people who actually go out work, start their businesses. And it adds to the community, it adds to the economy. Somehow, that connection is not made between what we choose to do as a nation collectively in a way of providing the environment and the space for all of us to grow. Even though we know it's good for us, somehow, the connection between that and what we know is just not there.
When you think about it, asylum seekers, for example, when they come to the country, they are not allowed to work. But when you're not allowing that kind of people to work. Say, for example, after six years, seven years, they then get allowed to work. Their skills have been depleted, their confidence is low. Perhaps you have mental health also. That makes it difficult for them to progress in a way that they could have in the first instance.
But this is the way the world is. We look at things in a strange way. And we look at people that are different with a strange eye. Therefore, we treat them in a strange way and we do things very differently to them and with them that makes it impossible for all of us to progress together.
When eventually we started Radiant and Brighter, it took us three years before organisations could actually choose to work with us. Because apparently, they couldn't understand what we were saying, but we were speaking English. I come from an English-speaking country. [laughter]
Vicky: I don't think it was the language that you are speaking that was hard to understand. It's the concepts, right? I’ve sat in rooms bashing my head against a metaphorical wall around gender diversity. The fact that I am one woman in 20 of you does not tick the box that you are gender diverse. How did you go about starting that conversation with these organisations, with these groups?
Because I know you had success with some recognizable names in the corporate world, but also with political organisations. How did you start the conversation when if you are the majority and you are the default-- I don't know even the right term, but if the world reflected back at you is the world you’ve come from, how do you get people to even think that there might be a more beneficial way for all?
Pheona: What is interesting is that it had to start in my head. I come from a country that is called poor. I'm black, so I am considered less in some ways by some people, and I was aware of that, but I wasn't, I suppose, that aware of it until I started the work that we do. Because suddenly, the perceptions were coming out of nowhere and into everything that we did. In those first three years, I was aware there were people that just did not accept a black entrepreneur leading a black organisation and working with black people. There are times when you'd be in this place, you're the only black person and you're not heard.
So I went to university because I thought nobody seems to understand what we are saying, but we don't understand what they're saying either. Because they were speaking language like capacity building in the sector that we worked. I was like, "What is capacity building?"
Vicky: [chuckles] Public sector speak.
Pheona: It's a bit of a very peculiar language if you've not been in it. So I decided to go back to university to study the language. I went and I studied, I studied community development. Then I started to think about myself from the inside. So I had accepted that, one, I came from a poor country. I had accepted that, two, I was an immigrant, and therefore I did not deserve. I knew that for sure for so many years, being in the country 20 years now.
Vicky: You did not deserve or you should be grateful somehow, or are they bound up in the same thing?
Pheona: Absolutely. I did not deserve and I was grateful that I was even remotely accepted. And that seemed normal. But then, as we started to do this, as we started to work, we met some fantastic people. We met some fantastic Scottish people that heard our story and started to ask questions of why this was happening and explained to us why it wasn't right.
But the thing that happened in my head and in our understanding was that why did we not deserve? Actually, we were just as equal human beings as anybody else. And so I started to realize that we were being devalued for whatever we brought, but I was devaluing myself. I had to think, "Wait a minute. It's okay to be black. It's okay to be an immigrant. In fact, it's okay to come to Scotland." Because, you know what, before I came to Scotland, Scotland came to Uganda. The UK came to Uganda.
But somehow we've forgotten that. We've forgotten that when people from the UK came to colonize Uganda, we didn't know about the UK. I was told about the UK because of that relationship. I so started to think, "Actually, it's okay", and I became comfortable with my story. People in Scotland, they ask a lot. They ask questions. "Where do you come from? Why are you here?" Initially, I was so uncomfortable about it. [Laughter]
I didn't want to tell anybody that I was an immigrant with no paperwork, because it makes you feel embarrassed. It has a stigma attached to it. Even in our own communities. I was like, "I don't want anybody asking me about that", but they asked anyway. Everywhere you go--
Vicky: I have to say it's a Scotland thing. People always assume I am on holiday. I've lived in Scotland for 18 years. I’m from England, I clearly sound English and while I can bang on about independence with the best Scots I am clearly foreign. And when I'm on the bus in Govan I can tell you I'm assumed to be a tourist who's lost.
Pheona: And in London, they don't ask you that question!
Vicky: Because nobody's from London that's why!
Pheona: But in Scotland, they asked the question. We repeated the story so many times that I actually became comfortable with it. When we became comfortable, it became like a license for us to speak about our story. It became the opportunity to start talking to people. Obviously, we started to talk about the circumstances. Then we started to hear that there were other people that were uncomfortable with the situation that we faced, the challenges that we face as immigrants, and the challenges of being a black minority ethnic woman. But that became the start of the conversation.
Once we started to talk, then people became interested. Because people like a story. They like your story. They like you as a person. They want to hear about you. They don't want to know about paperwork and numbers before they know why. So we started to talk about what we do. People liked what we were trying to achieve, they liked the fact that we're comfortable with our story. It evolved into a comfortable conversation.
I laugh a lot and I joke a lot. And so I'd talk about the fact that I'm black and I'd tease people about if somebody said something like where do you come from, I'd say are you being racist and then I'd laugh at them. [chuckles] Then they suddenly realize you're joking
Vicky: As they tied themselves into knots of confusion?
Vicky: But seriously, how do you actually manage that conversation?
Pheona: The shock when they realize you're actually not serious. Then I realize that was a tool that we could use. Now we take this into the boardrooms, we take it into the offices. We talk about diversity and we talk about culture and ethnicity because nobody really talks about that. And I think people are comfortable because they know that somehow I have the permission to speak because I'm black anyway. That has become the success that we now have because people are comfortable knowing that they are safe talking to you about it and they're in a safe environment talking about ethnicity.
And the uncomfortable questions like what you call me, am I a woman of colour? If you met me and you said that woman with short black hair, but there's lots of people like that, you call me black. We have that conversation. Why won't you call me black? Is there something wrong with me being black? Brown? Which one is it? Caramel? Let's have that conversation. So that has now become, I suppose, what Radiant and Brighter is about. Being different and talking about being different ethnically.
Vicky: It's quite interesting. The person that's asking the question, and I actually know nothing more than I read about that individual's position. I've made certain assumptions as you do, but I don't actually know anything about that individual. But they are in that difficult position of trying to be a lone agent of change. Do you perhaps through experience think it's better to bring people in to trigger the difficult conversation that you're talking about?
Pheona: I think there's different ways of doing it. You need allies. In this conversation you need allies. I can tell you that we wouldn't have made much progress as we have, as quickly as we did if we didn't have friends that are white that understand what we are trying to talk about, or at least that are interested. Because a lone voice can only go so far. It's important, one, to speak about it consistently. Because you know what, sometimes it's really tiring because you will talk.
Sometimes you go into conversations and the organisations will say, "We want to do diversity", and then you have one meeting, you have a second meeting, you have a third meeting. Then you realize that actually, no. They're just ticking a box.
Vicky: They want to tick the box to say that they assigned a specific amount of time into it.
Pheona: Exactly. Then they waste your time. You're a small organisation with a small team, you don't want to be wasting your time. You realize, and then, sometimes you have to pull back. The other challenge that there is with this conversation is you need to talk about it without sounding angry. If you remotely sound angry, you become that angry black woman or you become that person that sounds like a broken tape.
You have to make it an interesting conversation. You have to start from where people are, where the organisation is. If they're not yet ready for it, then you have to allow them to take their journey. Because by the time you get to the stage where you actually want to do something, you've actually taken a journey yourself. You have to understand their journeys. It's challenging because it might take seven years to get there.
Vicky: By which time you get angrier and angrier and angrier? And less able to self-police I imagine?
Pheona: If you're that kind of person that gets angry about things, you'll want to take it to your room and come back. But I don't generally get angry about the discussion, I just think that if somebody is not engaging, they probably don't understand or they're not ready. We just take the conversation elsewhere until they're ready.
We've come to a state where actually as an organisation we decided that we work with people who want to work with us. We're not trying to chase people who don't want to work with us because they waste your valuable time. As an entrepreneur time is your most treasured item.
Vicky: Oh absolutely. It is. By a hell of a long way. Time is finite -- Everything else is negotiable.
Pheona: Exactly. I don't want to be tied up into meetings that discuss the same thing in the first, second and third meeting. If it's not making progress, I want to know why. For somebody who is in an organisation that perhaps is not ready, you want to consider who is the decision maker. Engage them, but when you engage them, engage them in a day-to-day conversation talking about we need some black people here does not cut it. Talking about we need women here does not cut it. Why? You think they understand, but the reason they're not doing it is because they don't actually understand.
So you want to have a conversation about, "I was at this place the other day and they had these three women speaking and this is what they spoke about. Would you like to hear it?" You use certain tools. Also, with the conversation, I use a lot of folk tales, analogies and things like that that bring a light-hearted conversation. Then when they like what they hear, they then suddenly get involved.
Most of the good work we've had come on the back of us being able to be at a speaking engagement and people are like, "I like her. I like the way they talk about it. Let’s see what they got." That builds the conversation. It's sad, but we have to be patient and almost try to build the skill of engaging people and being friendly so that people are not feeling like you're pointing a finger at them, which we actually don't need to. Or maybe we need to. There's really no point to that because it gets us nowhere. So I'd much rather have the conversation.
Vicky: You make an interesting point about this visibility. How do we think about widening visibility and not being so damn lazy actually in who we keep holding up?
Pheona: I had this conversation this morning. The conversation we had this morning, I went to an event. It was marketed as a high-profile event, which I think it was. I went to the event with Michael, my husband, who I work with.
We woke up at six o'clock, left the house at 8:00, drove all the way from Glasgow to Edinburgh, got ourselves there within the traffic, within about two hours, walked into this event where I was supposed to stay for about two hours. Walked in, sat down, looked around. About 100 people, high-profile inclusive event, which I'll not mention, but there was myself, Michael, another black woman and another one at the front.
I looked around and then they didn't tell us, but then they mentioned they've had these meetings and this was the last meeting of the year. Went on to talk about inclusion, but they did not say anything about how they intend to get that forward. They've had several other events. They didn't talk about where they are at and what they've achieved.
So I just could not connect. I just felt like this was another tick box exercise. At the first opportunity within an hour of arriving, I thought, "This is a waste of my time. I have so much on my plate to do. I have to be here in time back to Glasgow for the podcast. I have emails I have to respond to and documents I have to do." And Michael and I made the decision to come straight back within an hour of sitting in that room. I don't actually know whether we made it an hour.
Then we came back having this conversation, about how you get invited to these things but you see nobody else there. It's tiring, and it’s just not right. This is the reason that we set up the Bright Futures Women's Program.
Vicky: Tell us more about the Bright Futures event.
Pheona: We have a conference on the 27th of September. And that conference will bring together Radiant and Brighter to the Bright Futures Program, all women program, women of colour, together with Women's Enterprise Scotland who have supported Radiant and Brighter since we founded Radiant and Brighter, and in partnership with the Royal Bank of Scotland. We'll have it at the headquarter in Gogarburn of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
It's fantastic to be able to do that. Because we need such visibility in these places that are really instrumental in shaping how we view the economy and things like that. But the thing is, when we set up the Bright Futures Program, I was tired of going places and being the lone black woman. It's great, you get invited and it's beautiful, but soon realize you're not making much progress. And you are not going to make much progress being a lone voice.
When we set it up, it's focused on leadership and enterprise, so people who want to set up businesses, but it's also focused on raising leaders and raising that visibility. I think the way to go about it is to create visible role models through bringing together communities and groups of people to raise a lot more people than that single person. It has to be more collective than individual.
When we were talking about it this morning, I was thinking, when I did community development, I remember the lecturers talking so much about the importance of not doing individual work and more about community development, and when you're working with a community, you have to show that you're working with a group of people. And I didn't understand it, but now I do.
This morning, I spoke to my husband about it. What I now understand is that that one person can grow and grow. Perhaps become the prime minister or whatever, but unless that person has a group of others they are bringing along, before we know it, it will be 300 years before we have the second prime minister that's a woman. And so we have a duty, each one of us, to raise a group of leaders. Really, the best leaders are judged by how well they led in the way that they brought up other leaders.
Vicky: That's a really interesting point. Because when you are that poster child, if you've been it through gender or through ethnicity, you are held to such an improbable standard. It's like you're representing everything and you can't get anything right. I had my moment at being perceived as successful, and then I had my moment of being a complete toxic failure. Literally, everything dried up overnight and I was no longer a poster child, I was no longer invited to stuff because now I was a failure. And that's you written off.
Anybody, if all the effort goes into investing in you as being the poster child for the whole of Scotland and you are the person that represents everybody's opinion on everything, A), you won't survive that. And you're right. You've got nobody coming alongside you. Again, the person asking this question is in that position of isolation that you just can't win.
Pheona: There is another danger. The danger is is that, "Vicky, you're so good. You're not like others that are women", but really, there are other women that are like you, that are like me, that are better. That are so much more experienced. That has so much more to give but haven't been given that opportunity yet.
Vicky: Or worse, you become complicit in making sure they don't, whether you do that consciously or not.
Pheona: Yes, I think we have a responsibility to ensure that every time I'm in a place and they say, "Tell us about your experience or something", I make a conscious effort of saying, "I am not alone. There are a lot of other people. I just happen to have had the opportunities that they have not had." I think it was Michelle Obama that said, "When the door is open for you, leave it open for others to come through." I think that is what we really need to do. Because I don't want to be hailed as that person that is fantastic. And then, "She's great but she's not like other black women." No. I am like so many others, and they are like me, but you just have met only me.
We have a duty and a responsibility collectively, not just me. Perhaps, I think one of the challenges is that most organisations do not put through, I suppose, people of colour to become visible. This is more the reason we need visible role models. This is more a reason we need people of colour, women to come through the ranks and be seen to be doing something.
I think sometimes it's easy to go back to what you know anyway. I think it's difficult to make that shift and find a different person from a different background when you haven't necessarily engaged with them or have been anywhere with them. So I think sometimes it's like that.
Vicky: You made the point earlier, and just to bring it back around as we start to wrap up, you made the point that the person asking this question or anybody trying to start this conversation can’t come from a position of being angry and finger-pointing because it doesn't help. Are there any provable outcomes that you can bring into a conversation that can start to set the inkling going on in somebody's head that there might be gains for the organisation, people within the organisation, to be breaking their group think or be able to break the patterns that they're in if they were just a little bit more open to it?
Pheona: I think we are at very early stages. We are quite freshly into this. I know two years seems like quite a bit. Even the way that we've been working with diversity, but it's still a fresh discussion in Scotland. It's a very new discussion. When people have been considered as the other for such a long time, and it has happened over hundreds of years, it's difficult to suddenly change that narrative, but the narrative needs to change nevertheless.
The statistics are not even very available, because nobody does research in this area. Why would they? It doesn't look very good anyway. And even if it did, who is interested? So there are not a lot of statistics. We as an organisation, what we are doing is reaching the hearts and minds of people. It's difficult for me. Even if I say to you, like now, we work with Marks & Spencer, we have all the 40 people that have come through our programs that now work in Marks & Spencer. That will sound really good, but the truth of the matter is you will only want change when your heart is in that place, when your mind is in that place.
As an organisation, we focus on reaching the hearts and minds of people. We use the statistics of what we are doing to show the success and to show what we are doing, but really, in this conversation, those statistics don't seem to make any difference. People will hear it, want it, but they don't really have a real appetite for diversity, so it doesn't really mean anything to them.
Yesterday, we were meeting a group of women that want to join our mutual mentorship program, the Bright Futures Program that we were talking about. It started in January. We have 90 people on the program. So many of them have started work, done business and everything.
We now realized that so much change has happened on the back of people meeting somebody of a different background and a different culture. So they start to see actually it's a great thing, it's an opportunity. And I think I'm finding that in Scotland, not many people have had the experience of meeting somebody from a different background unless they've traveled. And if they traveled, they just go away as a tourist and come back.
But what we're now doing in the mutual mentorship is that the women who are Scottish and in leadership, like in business or in their organisation, we pair them up with a woman from a different background, often a woman of colour. And so when they meet, we stress the emphasis on mutual mentorship. Because when we started it, interestingly, some of the women that were white and in leadership, because they've been leaders for such a long time, and are white, which is often seen as more superior ethnicity, they then, a lot of them, some of them, straight away went into them being in their heads the mentor and the woman of colour being the mentee.
Even the women of colour thought they are the mentee and she's the mentor. Actually, what we're saying is, you and I, Vicky, we have so much to learn from each other. We are both experts in our own area. It might not be in a big organisation being the CEO, or the founder, or whatever, but I am the expert of my own life, and I bring so much having lived in perhaps Malawi for say until I was about 24 then came to Scotland for another 10 years. I probably bring so much that you could learn from.
What we do is when they meet, they get a day in each other's lives. When that happens, suddenly, it's a different thought process. They start to think about, "Oh this person, so this is what they do. They don't just sit at home. Their life is like this." The amount of people that do not know-- They hear about the asylum seekers, about refugees, but they do not actually know that when you come into the country, you don't have benefits.
They think as soon as you get in, you get your visa, you're an asylum seeker, you get a stamped document that says, "Asylum seeker, £100 a week." A lot of people actually don't realize that when you come into the country, you have nothing. They don't realize the number of court appointments you have to address your asylum process. They don't know that people spend 16 years trying to prove that they have been raped and are asylum seekers.
People don't know that, and because they don't, they are unable to put a human touch to it. They see it as another statistic, another asylum seeker. When I meet you as a person and I tell you my story, suddenly, it's like, "Oh, I didn't realize that. I didn't know that." That is where the change really starts.
Vicky: That's fascinating. I think that sounds like the most enlightened, sensible, practical method of mentorship that you’ve come up with there. I really do. We're running out of time. Is there any final advice for the founders of entrepreneurs or possibly even the politicians that are listening? That you would like to take advantage of while you have control of the microphone.
Pheona: If you are listening, everybody needs culture diversity and we are your people - Radiant and Brighter. No, seriously, I think the final words that I'd like to say is the one thing that connects us is that we are all different. It doesn't matter what ethnicity or whoever you are, we are all different. And so try it out. Let's not have the tokenism, let's look at the importance of bringing together the diversity of culture and of ethnicity.
Let's have that conversation, create those spaces where we can have that conversation. Because what the people who have been on the mentorship program have said is that they didn't realize how perhaps their life was going, or how they were so focused on what they were doing that they didn't know. In other words, when you open up to a different world, you'll learn so much more. We're talking about diversity, but learning it through a piece of paper and ticking a box and having a folder on your shelf does not do anything.
Experience diversity. Experience it through the eyes of others. Experience it through the experiences of others. The people that have worked with us, some of them have gone on to be nominated in their organisation as the champions of diversity. We've had people that have been nominated for awards. Everybody that associates with Radiant and Brighter has got a bright future. Do associate with us. Associate yourself with diversity. It works.
Vicky: Fabulous - thank you so much. You’ve been listening to Vicky Brock and Pheona Matovu, this week’s Entrepreneur Agony Aunts. If you like the podcast, please spread the word and subscribe at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube or my new entrepreneuragonyaunt.com website.