Why veterans make great entrepreneurs

Me in The Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/entrepreneurs-military-veterans-heropreneurs-business-ptsd-a8764386.html

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Soft tools for hard problems

In the six months or so that I have been chairing Equal, it’s become clear to me that conventional tools alone won’t break this awful disproportional treatment that black people and Muslims in particular face in the criminal justice system. As David Lammy says in this Guardian article, there is no silver bullet.

Whilst we continue to work with the Ministry of Justice and other government bodies to help them get their houses in order, we can also develop tools and mechanisms of our own. The tendency towards criminalisation among young black and Muslim men in particular is not going to go away unless a raft of new measures get initiated.

A decade ago I helped initiate a programme at Mosaic, then part of Business in the Community, looking at creating a mentoring programme for the ever rising numbers of Muslims ending up in prison. We need to revive initiatives like that but make them more widely engaging. We know for fact that released offenders are dramatically less likely to end up back in crime if they have a job yet in many Muslim communities, business owners don’t offer up such opportunities.

If we believe in the mantra “we’re all in this together”, Muslim owned businesses need to step up and play their part. The business owners need mentoring as much as the offenders.

With young black men we’ve been hearing for years that growing up without a father figure triggers social exclusion, mental health issues and then so often a drift into crime. But the discussion largely remains just that – talk. There are so many successful black men who’ve climbed through humble and troubled environments to scale the heights of professions, business and culture whose journeys and achievements should be actively vocalised so that they are seen as more than exceptions to a rule but instead seen as creating paths which others can credibly follow.

So here are two things I want to initiate – firstly, a vehicle to take to the next level what we started with Mosaic and create a platform for Muslim owned businesses and senior executives to be convinced of their role to play in reducing re-offending and then find ways for them to do so. Secondly, we need to create an active network of successful black people who would be willing to spend a little time going into schools, community groups and prisons to talk about what success looks like and how they achieved it.

We must of course continue to chip away at conscious or unconscious institutional bias but we can also create our own tools at the same time which are presently lacking in our armour and with a bit of a push getting the right people together, we can start to fix.

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Where education fails, employers must step up


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Do you know why I couldn’t create The Cinnamon Club today?

Me in The Independent on banks and how they can help start-ups like they did with me 20 years ago


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Recall issued on the mantra of our time

I imagine like most people when they first meet John Elkington, I was a bit awe-struck when we had lunch about a year back. After all, this is the man who created the term the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) that was to become the mantra of responsible capitalism based on businesses assessing their impact on three measures: people, profit, planet.

Unless businesses addressed the environmental decay we are witnessing worldwide, he argued some 25 years ago, as a core commercial driver sustainability would never be achieved.

Thousands of businesses have adopted this way of thinking and indeed, it is woven into the project plan I have written for what I hope will be my next commercial venture.

So I was intrigued when a mutual friend told me the other day that John had issued a “product recall” on the idea. Manufacturers, he says in an article for the Harvard Business Review, have to do this when a fault is detected – the quicker the better. Management ideas, he argues, never do the same.

The reasoning behind the recall from what I’ve understood is that whilst TBL has become the principle by which many businesses are now driven, the world’s environmental problems continue to rocket at a far bigger scale than the number of corporations stepping up to reverse this.

Whilst large scale multinationals may not have picked up the ball with TBL action quite as rapidly as many of us would have liked, the enabling tools at macro scale are increasingly being made available. From the UN Sustainable Development Goals to the head of the world’s biggest private equity firm saying that businesses without social impact at its core would in time become extinct, John has a point: why are more firms not doing more?

For small and medium sized businesses, it’s different; we can commit and change very quickly. Not only can an owner/founder act on their concerns wider than profit as conventionally defined, we are already doing so, as I reported on recently. Indeed, even at “The Queen’s Bank” Coutts there was an event this week which I was invited to full of SMEs either sharing their social impacts and sense of purpose or enquiring on how to build them. Times are certainly changing on that latter dial – one lady in the audience said that when she started her business 20 years ago her sole purpose was to pay her mortgage.

Today that approach seems incredibly out-dated.

But I imagine John’s concern is two-fold: firstly, that too many large corporations still think that way and secondly, those with a broader perspective aren’t delivering sufficiently for us to yet herald the age of a new, responsible capitalism.



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Why small businesses should broadcast their social impacts more

An article by me in The Independent today http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/indyventure/corporate-social-responsibility-iqbal-wahhab-peak-b-charity-business-a8559336.html

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The financial case for mentoring

An article I’ve written for the International Business Times http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/uk-businesses-must-mentor-youth-realise-their-potential-fill-19bn-gdp-gap-1644637

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Published this in The Huffington Post today


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Release the ban on day release

A couple of years ago at Roast when our chefs took direct ownership of my previous relationship with The Clink restaurant in Brixton Prison, they cranked up our level of engagement by offering inmates day release opportunities to come and see what it’s like working in our kitchen. I was thrilled to hear from our head chef Stuart that one of the prisoners became such a solid backbone of support through our really hectic Christmas period that his colleagues voted him “chef of the year”. The gentleman in question subsequently came to work with us full time when he finished his sentence.

The much vaunted talk of getting prisons to engage with employers so that we can bring people into our workforces to enable them to see there is a life away from crime needs this crucial tool. A report published yesterday by The Prison Reform Trust about this process in Brixton shows just how invaluable it is. A project I chair called Bounce Back has its main base there where prisoners are trained in painting, decorating, scaffolding and dry lining and construction companies line up to offer work opportunities to them.

That all sounds great but Brixton, like every other London prison, has stopped letting prisoners out for day release work opportunities. I’m sure the governors have valid reasons for doing so – it must be a big labour drain for officers to accompany inmates when they come and return from work experiences  – but irrespective, we must find ways of encouraging the process to be overturned.

When I met with the Justice Secretary Liz Truss a few months back, I gave her a suggestion which she was seemingly taken with. But not for the first time, I put up a proposal to government which was well received but shelved because an election was subsequently called. Whoever the next Justice Secretary is I hope I have the chance of putting it up again. The idea came to me from a TV series a few years back following one of London’s most run down schools which a trouble shooting headmaster was recruited in to turn around. Pupils went from burning cars and taking drugs and the school became an exemplar model of what proper leadership can achieve and how easily sometimes  it can be too.

Every kid at the school was asked by him: “What university are we going to be preparing you for?” Instantly they had the shackles on their aspirations removed and the conversation transformed them.

Prison governors could take that inspirational experience and apply to their inmates. They could ask every new person entering their prison: “What job are we going to prepare you for on release?” and then align them with providers like Bounce Back and The Clink so employers can see a new and credible talent pool. There could be a league to see which prisons perform the best and governors and their teams could be duly rewarded.

The overwhelming majority of prisoners want to work rather than re-offend. Fact. Projects exist that can enable the processes required and employers – especially in London – need more people to grow our businesses.  I remember a governor walking me around his prison a couple of years back and him asking me: “Iqbal, how do I ensure that I don’t see these faces again once they’re released?”

Governors need to be engaged in finding ways of opening up the keys to open up the talent.

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Is there such a thing as the cultural appropriation of a cuisine?

The other day I was sent a link to this BBC programme and couldn’t believe a lot of what I was hearing. In America, a lot of minority communities are up in arms because they are witnessing people not from their ethnic backgrounds (ie white folk)  making successful businesses selling “their” cuisines. I imagine much of their anger is because these “culturally appropriated” enterprises are successful – if they’d been failures, they would be laughing at them.

Such protectionist outlooks are not in the spirit, in the culture, of cuisine – which is to share. You come to my house and I feed you what we are eating. If you then go on to cook that food yourself, surely I would be flattered, not offended.

Minorities in the US spend a lot of time talking and writing about these things – thankfully not much of that has translated over here. London is full of Asian restaurants created by people who aren’t Asian. Recently we have seen Kricket, Kiln, Som Saa, The Begging Bowl in Peckham – all created by people who travelled around India and the far east, learning the regional cuisines they had become fascinated by to the point that they wished to share their experiences with others.

And what’s wrong if they innovate and adapt? No cuisine should live in a cultural bubble. When I saw ‘samphire pakora’ on the menu at Kricket, I smiled for two reasons. One was that most Indian restaurant chefs wouldn’t know what samphire was, let alone think to make a pakora with it and the second was it was the style of dish we used to do at The Cinnamon Club (where the Kricket chef spent some time) and we would not have been accused of cultural appropriation because it was people with brown faces who had done it.

Tricky? Not really if you don’t feel the repression-driven need to call for “cultural gatekeepers” as they’re doing in the US. If the sons and daughters of Asian migrant settlers here choose the well trodden path of going into professions as opposed to catering, then we should be grateful to the great new restaurants I’ve mentioned for giving us more places to go and enjoy. This is simply the natural ebb and flow of integration and indeed of business – consumers, not complainers, will drive our future.

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