This quote, from Nelson Mandela, is something I look to often. I first heard it many years ago, when, as a US-based journalist, I had been asked to visit South Africa to report on the ending of the Apartheid regime. It was a time of upheaval and of people changing their circumstances and during which I was fortunate enough to meet Nelson Mandela himself.
The quote has stayed with me because there are two messages. There is the call to action, which was so apt at the time, and there is the universal truth in the value of holding principles which can change circumstance, through which, “everyone can rise”. Today, when we talk about Black History, I feel, we’re remembering the need for the first message and celebrating the constant power of the second.
The challenges Black and Ethnic Minority individuals face in today’s society, are different to the historical challenges in which they are rooted. But to address them, we need a clear recognition of the universal truth Mandela mentions. For me, working at Coutts, it was affirming to be able to reach out to our Chairman, Lord Waldegrave – who had also met Mandela – and share this recognition. I have been able to involve him in much of the work of the Black Professionals Network and the internal Multi-Cultural Network and ‘reverse mentor’ him on the experiences of minority ethnic individuals within the bank.
This has been so rewarding because it’s a clear win-win: it promotes diversity of experiences and knowledge within the bank and proves that we take the ethnic minority issues seriously. It shows that the work we do through Black History Month is sincere and never simply a badge to wear. We’re having a discussion. We’re putting our hand up.
The meaning of Black wealth
There’s a much larger context here that goes beyond Coutts. Over the last two years we’ve been able to work with Eton and inner-city schools such as Holyport, Eden and St Saviour’s & St Olave’s, engaging with young, disadvantaged people and providing them with mentoring and knowledge about finance and banking. This is so important today because Black wealth is hard to realise in society. Too many Black and Ethnic Minority communities don’t feel included by banks or in the worst case they don’t feel they can trust them.
This is a problem for all of society because wealth can be the wing on which everyone can rise. Like our workforce at Coutts, a dynamic, diverse, experienced and multi-ethnic financial eco-system can provide so much more for institutions, investors, entrepreneurs and individuals alike. Particularly so in minority-ethnic communities which we know are often disadvantaged when it comes to this kind of financial support – even though their business ambitions are notably higher than in other demographic sectors.
Having been at Coutts for nearly a decade, I’ve been able to work with some of the most interesting and inspirational clients and colleagues, realising real prosperity in terms of wealth and social purpose. I’ve also seen situations when we could have done better when it came to putting social purpose and inclusion first. Both these realities have given me a raison d’etre.
Diversity, like wealth, has many dimensions. Different experiences, narratives and backgrounds can all help build social capital and there are clear benefits from making us all more financially secure and socially richer. That is why Mandela’s words have such currency. Black History Month is retrospective but it should also remind us, as individuals and as an organisation, that we have the chance to write the future too.