Becoming an ambassador for a global charity has led one young KPMG graduate on an amazing journey.
Inspiration can come from many places. In the case of KPMG in the UK’s Olu Odubajo, it was a chance meeting with a young woman called Esther from Myanmar.
“I was in Bogota, Colombia in 2017 at a summit of One Young World, a charity empowering young talent from organizations around the globe” he recalls. At the annual summit, the 1400 delegates, who become One Young World Ambassadors, discuss pressing issues and embark on initiatives to drive positive change.
“When I learnt that Esther operates movable libraries for children in war zones, I was awestruck. And I thought to myself: `She risks her life every day, so that children can learn. Surely there must be something I can do back home in the UK to make an impact?'”.
There was. And the idea was not long coming, as Olu, a Customer and digital analyst at KPMG in the UK,explains.
“I came across a UK Government report showing how black heritage employees are increasingly choosing to become self-employed and launch start-ups after experiencing barriers in the job market - only to find that they then struggle to get the right support and funding.”
This finding struck a nerve with Olu and the seeds of the KPMG Black Entrepreneurs Award were sown. Now on a mission, and not wishing to waste time, he promptly contacted his managing partner.
“I wanted my idea to get noticed, fast. So, rather than pinging off an email, I recorded a video explaining why a social mobility program was critical to what we do at KPMG. I must have done something right, because my suggestion was approved within a few weeks and 6 months later the KPMG Black Entrepreneurs Award officially launched.”
The three winners of the award gain unique access to a 12-month accelerated business growth program where they'll get the kind of support that KPMG normally only offers to its clients. This includes mentorship and coaching from dedicated KPMG senior professionals, along with UK£5,000 (US$6,500) in investment plus additional PR resources.
“Our aim is to help black heritage entrepreneurs and their start-ups become investment ready - and accelerate, recognize and celebrate their success” says Olu, who has led a highly effective drive to encourage entrepreneurs to enter. By the application deadline in June 2018 a total of 120 entries had been received, with the winners announced on November 3rd.
But that's not all Olu has achieved. He's also been selected as the first to take part in a `reverse mentoring' program, where he mentors KPMG in the UK Managing Partner Philip Davidson on what it's like to be a black colleague at KPMG.
“My discussions with Philip haven't just been about my own circumstances. We've actually discovered a lot of common ground, with the overall experience really boosting my confidence and giving me the belief that I can rise to a similar level.”
The reverse mentoring program has been rolled out successfully across the UK firm - and it's also led to similar initiatives in a number of other large companies.
“It's all about building a truly inclusive workforce and encouraging an environment of mutual understanding on both cultural and business issues” says Olu. And he's nothing if not ambitious for the program. “My vision is to see 100 partners being mentored by 100 ethnic minorities.”
Commenting on the program, Philip Davidson, says: “I have found it invaluable to receive feedback, suggestions and guidance from one of our young colleagues who is completely involved in the business and has refreshing perspectives on topics which may at times be missed at leadership levels.”
Finding the right balance between his social mobility initiatives and a demanding day job can be a challenge, but one that Olu is determined to see through. “It does take extra effort and energy but in both areas I am gaining invaluable skills for the future. In my consulting role, I help clients become more customer centric. My volunteering work has complemented this by giving me a far greater appreciation of the customer experience, by learning about the actual experiences of many different types of individuals.”
A year on from his pivotal meeting with Esther, Olu found himself on the rostrum at the 2018 One Young World summit in The Hague in the Netherlands, relaying his story to the assembled 1800 attendees as a proud but slightly nervous ambassador.
“I can't pretend it wasn't an emotional experience” he admitted. “To tell them about my journey and to try to inspire others as I myself had been inspired.”
Olu finished his speech on a very personal note, confessing to having doubts about his own abilities, a theme that resonated well with the audience.
“I told them that I still lived in two worlds: one of occasional self-doubt, the other of hope and optimism. Perhaps we all do to some extent. But I also emphasized that so many people had shown belief in me, like One Young World, KPMG and my parents. The one remaining person needing to believe in me was myself.”
With his impressive achievements, Olu has done much to enhance the prospects for ethnic minorities, both within KPMG and in the wider entrepreneurial community. And in the process, he has also fueled his own self-belief for the road ahead.