Investing in change
Benjamin pays tribute to the support that M&C Saatchi have given him, particularly Moray MacLennan, Worldwide CEO, and Antonia Bazeley, Director, International Business Development, as well as his colleagues at COMUZI and the organisation Out the Box UK. “Because these are people who actually help me do this stuff on a day to day basis,” he explains. “I think it’s just really important to acknowledge that they exist because I don’t exist by myself.”
He also points the time he spent at ustwo’s incubator hub as pivotal to his education on “human business.” Watching the way the businesses’ two founders Matt ‘Mills’ Miller and John ‘Sinx’ Sinclair worked inspired Benjamin. He says of the pair that “they’re people that bake so much time and energy into building something with care and craft.” In his short few years there, he adds, he “learnt the impact of doing human business, or really looking after your people and your community.”
A global resource hub
Benjamin’s aim is to build a resource hub for everyone to be able to use, whether they’re on the mentorship programme or not. He wants as many people as possible to make use of the resources available because, “if I sell this thing out, this only shows more demand.” The lessons he has already developed as part of M&C Saturday School will be one of many offerings hosted on the new site that will also include an area where people can access the mentorship programme.
Alongside a learning and development expert Alex Migale, Benjamin says he is working out a way to create the specifics of the “mentorship programme tailored for Black business.” This includes ensuring that the mentors themselves receive the relevant “structure and guidance,” something Benjamin believes is vital to the overall success of the programme itself.
This process, this initiative he says, “will be a nuanced lesson, it will be a subtle lesson, it will be a silent lesson. But it will be one of the biggest subversive lessons we’ve tried to achieve, and I love it.”
For Benjamin, the process of mentoring a Black business is not a moment for people to feel pleased they now have a Black friend. What happens, he says, is that, “You’ve got someone that’s got a responsibility to you and you’ve got a responsibility to them. You’re building a relationship. In building that relationship, hopefully you’re going to use this opportunity to understand, to ask questions, to get over your fears. I’m not saying to be explicit like hey, can I touch your hair. No.”
He goes on to say that this programme can become people’s training ground to learn: “Can you use your observations to understand how this community is different from you and how you might be able to work with them? Not just today in this context, but today in a wider context with other people that you work with. Because I’m sure you have subordinates that are Black and I’m sure their experience of you might not be what you think it is.”
No value, no entry
Benjamin makes the economic case for supporting Black business, by demonstrating just how much he has turned the initial monetary investment into. He also says that he does not want brands and individuals thinking that they can “just leverage us for free.” As he carves out a space for brands to offer to help and support Black businesses, Benjamin’s message to those brands is, “you have to come and deliver value because it’s no value, no entry,” a lesson he learned himself from Shannie Mears, Co-Founder of The Elephant Room.
He gives recognition to the people who have been supporting Black communities for years through GoFundMe pages and other resources, saying that they “are now getting the attention they deserve. Almost like the cream is rising to the top.” This includes organisations like Out the Box UK, YSYS, BYP Network, Kwanda and the youth writer, advocate and writer Tanya Compass.
As the initiative continues to attract investment, both of time and money, Benjamin is excited as he revels in how big the project could get. “There are so many different roads to go down,” he says. The way he is feeling right now? “I want to ooze gratitude,” he smiles, both to the people he’s working alongside and to those who are demonstrating their willingness to help.
As to the people, brands and businesses keen to get involved in the programme, Benjamin’s parting words are brief: “CEOs, brand managers, people with money to spend, come find me. I’m a nice person.” A nice person with a mission which is far too vital to ignore.
If you’d like to learn more about the mentoring initiative, visit the Mentor 300 Black Businesses' website or the initiative's GoFundMe page. You can also email Akil Benjamin directly – firstname.lastname@example.org