The most inspiring afternoon of my life…

We sometimes tend to look inward; we focus on the negative, believing in all that is wrong with the world and mankind. We fail to see what can be truly amazing; we fail to see the good and the potential in people regardless of their situation.

Once in a while, if you are lucky enough, you get to meet someone who truly changes you, they make you sit up and think, they make you reassess your thoughts and ideas. They put your life in context and leave you inspired. I recently met 10 such people.

On Friday 13th, a day noted for its negative connotations, I had one of the most positive experiences of my life, and it was brought to me by one of the globes largest companies, a social enterprise from Brixton and 10 young ex-offenders.

On the afternoon of the 13th I was a ‘dragon’ for the Google Entrepreneurs Project, which, run in conjunction with Livity, was taking 10 young ex-offenders on a 3 week intensive entrepreneurial boot camp. At the end of the 3 weeks they had to pitch their business ideas to myself and 3 other dragons.

So what were their business ideas like? Frankly, they were amazing; if I was an investor I would have invested time, effort and money in to each and every one of them. I have listed all the entrepreneurs, linked through to all the businesses they are trying to set up and listed their twitter accounts at the end of this blog. When you have finished reading this, I strongly recommend that you spend a few minutes looking through their websites and read what they are trying to achieve. I guarantee you will be impressed by the broad nature and foresight of their enterprises.

Everything about their pitches was professional, from the way they dressed to the way they presented themselves, to the language they used and the answers they gave. Their eye contact was strong, their stance was open and their pitches were to the point. They had done feasibility studies, competitor analysis, business plans, financial plans, marketing strategies; they had done everything you would expect a seasoned entrepreneur/ business person would do when pitching for investment.

Then you remember that these young guys and girls in front of you are ex offenders, they don’t have MBAs and they are not entrepreneurs with a number of successful starts up under their belt.

All too often we hear that society is broken, ‘broken Britain’ seems to be a bit of a buzz word of late, we hear how young people are to blame and how it was never like this in the past. But is society truly broken? Are things worse now than they have ever been? Is the young generation out of control with no hope or want to better themselves?

Or do we now live in a 24/ 7 news culture, where we all hunger for the next news story, the next ‘breaking news’  item, telling us how bad things are. Sadly where sensationalism sells, positivity doesn’t get much of a look in. Maybe, just maybe we will get a breaking news article in future that reads ’10 young ex offenders set up successful businesses bringing wealth and job creation to the capital.’ Or is that wishful thinking?

The 10 young people I met on Friday 13th August changed me; I learnt more from them than I have ever learnt before. Yes, they had made one foolish mistake; they had made one stupid decision. But who did they have to turn to? Who was their mentor? If it was but for a different roll of the dice and without a supportive family around me and a strong group of friends to turn to, then that could have been me, it could have been you.

The re-offending rate of young offenders in the UK is simply staggering, their lives and the lives of their future families should not be ruined because of a moment of stupidity. They need a way out; they need a second chance and regardless of what has happened in the past, all they really need is a bit of support, a helping hand, someone to say I believe in you, I trust you. And isn’t that really all that anyone ever needs?

List of the 10 young people who were on the scheme and links to their businesses and twitter feeds:

  1. −- Melissa Campbell and Ola Ilesanmiola

  1. −- Abubakarr Kaikai

Kai doesn’t have a website yet but you can follow him on twitter:

  1. −- Pail Hodge

  1. −- Oskar Amir De Rocha

Oskar doesn’t have a website yet but you can follow him on twitter:

  1. −- Shane Boathe

  1. −- Saidi Kawooya and Lloyd Amarteifio

  1. −- Paul Ganbou

  2. −  Paul doesn’t have a website yet but you can follow him on twitter:

  1. −- Jefferson Nonez

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