From Helping 2,000 Black Students to TEDx talks
George Obolo is one of the co-founders of the Black Excellence Network. Since we last chatted with him, he has been busy doing a TEDx talk to 1,600 people, finding new ways to empower Black Gen Z and planning The Black Excellence Network’s first tech product.
We were delighted to catch up with him about it all in our chat below.
Jemma: Let’s start off and talk a bit about last year. So obviously you were at the event last year and it was great to have you there. What were your first impressions of the report?
George: I thought it was super insightful. I love seeing statistics of what is already well known because it reaffirms people’s experiences and gives people who don’t experience those things, a window into their reality.
And I love that even though we saw the data, we also saw the personal side of things. So, we got to see one person's story, but when you consider that it is so many other people's experiences, it's obvious that change is necessary.
Jemma: Was there anything that like surprised you or stuck out to you?
George: That's a good question. For me, a lot of it was recounting experiences I had already either shared or heard about from people around me. Even through the Black Excellence Network and working in that industry, I realised a lot of what was spoken about was familiar to me.
Jemma: I think it was the same when we got the findings. At first, none of it was necessarily surprising. It's just putting a number to it. Although it’s not surprising, it's a bit disheartening because you can almost hope that it's not a like mass experience, but of course it is.
Was there anything that you wished we went into more deeply with the report last year?
George: I think something that could be cool to delve into is looking at the journey of a Black student or a Black employee, instead of just a sample of one moment in time. How did they feel at different stages? What did the last experience do to contextualise the next? I think that would then take the data on a journey.
Jemma: Yeah, that's really interesting! I guess to contextualize this year's report, one of the things that we wanted to improve upon last year is to make it a bit more intersectional and look at more specific identities within the Black experience.
So we're looking at like the intersection between being Black and different genders, different sexualities, living in different places in the UK, ethnicity, and all kind of things.
I was wondering what your initial thoughts are on that?
George: Perfect, I think that’s amazing. I think it contextualizes things and gives us more access to a greater range of data, so that we, even as Black people, can learn more about other Black people’s experiences.
Jemma: So with the Black Excellence Network, I was wondering how that's been going for you in the last year. How has it grown and has the response to it changed?
George: Yeah, things have grown! We've grown our community to around 2,000 Black students, so it’s been developing well. And, this is kind of exclusive information, but we are looking to develop a product. So we've been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to organize things and create the right foundations to be able to launch our first tech product!
It will be a product to help us work on some of the issues that we've been trying to solve. Just because we've grown at such an exponential rate, to help the number of people that are asking for help, we need another solution - which is a good problem to have! But it requires a lot of work behind the scenes.
So that's kind of the space we're in. I'll say that's been the major development since last year.
Jemma: That's amazing. I can imagine the market for a product like that and just the kind of difference it would make. I can't wait to see that.
And then I saw you did a TED talk, which is amazing! So how was that and how did it come about?
George: Well, initially there were talks about me being involved in a TEDx talk happening in Salford to around 160 people. But then later on I was offered the opportunity to do it in Bath with 1,600 people. So that was just an amazing opportunity. And then, I had to prep for it which was a really exciting process. I also made a few announcement videos that were just really fun to do. And when I actually did the talk, it just kind of flowed. And on the day I wasn't actually feeling a hundred percent, so there were a lot of barriers and things that happened on the day, but overall I'm so happy I did it.
Jemma: I can imagine! That's incredible. And how does it feel to know you're making that kind of impact with the work that you're doing? If you can even put that feeling into words?
George: I always say it's that one life being affected that is so impactful to me. Even after that talk, people came to me afterwards saying it helped them to create a solution to their problem. Some people had things that they’d been debating for over a year, and knowing that they’d found the method to solve it in that moment was just mind-blowing. And I think it just shows the power of words, and that just drives me on such a deep level to keep on going.
And to be fair, I only officially started public speaking at the beginning of last year. So to then get to October and have the opportunity to do a TEDx, it's crazy. And I feel like it's reforming the way I see public speaking in my future.
Jemma: That's incredible. So is public speaking something you want to do a lot of going forward?
George: In this next season, I'll probably do less of it but focus more on quality? I'm focusing on less volume but more detail. So there’ll probably be fewer talks ultimately. Even at the beginning of the year I was thinking, “Okay, so what's the next goal? How many talks do you wanna do?” And I just realised if my benchmark is always “How many more do I wanna do?” every single year, I'm just going to keep doing more. And that doesn't necessarily always correlate with impact. I'm actually trying to enter more of a thought leadership space, which means probably fewer talks but more depth to the talks.
Jemma: And then I wanted to know, looking at the D&I space, - are there any trends that you've noticed over the last year that you've appreciated? Or even stuff you don’t appreciate?
George: So I'm not sure if you've heard of Fair HQ, it’s a Tech Start-Up. One thing I find particularly exciting about them, some other companies are doing this really well too, is just the evidence-backed recommendations for improving D&I. So recommendations that have been observed in studies can be contextualized and applied to each company - it ensures companies aren't doing inauthentic things just for the sake of it.
So I'm excited to see the five-year impact of something like that in companies. Often in the first year, there’s a lot of impact made, but you don't see the data to its fullest extent. So in five years, I'm excited to see what that does to companies when they have software that allows them to be more specific with the context of their company.
I'm also really excited to see what it does for people who will be entering a company for the first time post. What would be their immediate response?
Jemma: That is interesting. Having that data-backed approach will completely change things into it.
And then if you look at the last year, what have you done that you’re most proud of or even something that impacted you the most?
George: I would say the most impactful thing would probably be taking people on the journey of the things that I've been doing. So for example, for the TEDx talk, taking people on that journey was really impactful and important for me. Also, one of my plans for this year was to help someone who has never considered public speaking and take them all the way to the level of doing a TEDx talk.
And for me, that's just showing that what you deem to be impossible is very possible. Putting that mindset into people's heads and hearts that nothing's actually impossible, is something that I'm passionate about and I would like to see more of. And I felt like I did a lot of that through my own actions last year. And so this year I want to continue doing that, but through helping other people see it for themselves in their lives.
Jemma: And what are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Mostly continuing to try and empower people. If I've managed to get into a certain space, I want to make space for others. For example, right now I’m an intern at a Venture Capitalist firm. That's such an empowering position to have for businesses, especially Black businesses when they're particularly underfunded and they don’t get a lot of attention or investments. So yeah, my main goal is to make paths for other people to walk through.
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And to follow George Obolo and The Black Excellence network, check out the website and socials listed below.
George’s LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/george-obolo-26a9891ab
George’s Website: https://georgeobolo.com
The Black Excellence Network website: https://blackexcellencenetwork.net
The Black Excellence Network LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-black-excellence-network/
The Black Excellence Network Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theblackexcellencenetwork/?hl=en