Jobeda Ali, winner of the Social Business Leader of the Year at the Ogunte Womens Social Leadership Awards talks to i-genius.
i-genius: How did you feel when you won the Award? Jobeda: Shocked! I was completely stunned because it’s not the sort of thing I’d ever imagine I was in the running for. People find me quite baffling I think, and even the ethos and ideas of my company, Fair Knowledge, can be a bit difficult for some people. It was very unexpected that someone actually ‘got it’.
i-genius: Oh come on, you expected to win, right?
Jobeda: For real, no! I know that social impact is a very important measure within the Ogunte Awards criteria, the actual changes you are making society is the most critical factor they assess. I felt that my social impact is difficult to measure and so I’d never pass the Ogunte test. So it’s very gratifying that I’m not as bad as I thought! I think social entrepreneurs can be very hard on themselves. The Ogunte judges are very discerning and they understand the difference between short, medium and long term social impacts.
i-genius: Okay, in three sentences max, what does Jobeda Ali do?
Jobeda: I show people that having different experiences, perspectives and opinions is a good thing for society and business. I celebrate and promote the more heterodox and maverick voices in our society. I have a lot of fun doing whatever I do; I couldn’t do anything, however worthy, if there wasn’t pleasure and humour in it.
i-genius: What is the hardest thing you encounter in your work?
Jobeda: For me this will always be a personal interaction issue – I’m turning into a serious businessperson, even if I do say so myself. I do not fit most people’s expectations of what a serious businessperson looks like, mainly that I don’t look like a leader, for that you can read, I don’t look like a man. It’s very hard to convince people that you are worth investing in or championing. This will surprise some people because we think that brown women are more likely to be noticed and celebrated. However, I’m not championing the rights of other brown women, I’m producing innovations in knowledge exchange. That surely is white men’s domain! Think about it, black and Asian women are recognized and rewarded for their leadership in ‘helping their own people’. It’s very hard then to start ‘encroaching’ in the ‘mainstream’ which is not structured to allow women and minorities to flourish. But I don’t mind this being hard, because I’m experiencing the very thing that I’m combating; the obstacles to minority voices in mainstream domains. What doesn’t kill me, makes me cleverer.
i-genius: what kind of people do you like and what kind do you dislike?
Jobeda: I find it challenging to get on with the ‘cocktail conservationists’. You’ve all come across them, well-meaning professionals who want to do good, but their own behaviours and prejudices give away the fact that they’re not really sincere. Someone told me recently that I had to learn the difference between being judgmental and being discerning. I sometimes find myself writing off people because they are insincere about wanting to change the world, but they may be the people who are the perfect bridge to helping me to do so. I love eccentrics. I lament how eccentricity is being eroded in Britain, it used to be a linchpin of our national identity! I love people with genuine idiosyncracies and odd ideas, so long as they are not contrived. The contrived ones, I might promptly, and perhaps judgmentally, put into the first box. It’s a fine line. I think I need help discerning.
i-genius: If you could change one thing in the world today, what would it be?
Jobeda: I’d put more diverse people into leadership at the key global institutions like the WTO, the OECD and the United Nations. This is not about the figureheads, but all the senior officials who are making the real decisions. Imagine if they were women who’d experienced climate poverty in Kenya or ran a small business in Vietnam or had lost family through AIDS in India – I think elevating the aspirations, ambitions and influences of real people with real experience of globalised ills, would help to create structures that would bring about more fairness in the world, that would benefit more of humanity, rather than less.
i-genius: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being very optimistic), how optimistic are you about achieving your goals during the next 12 months?
Jobeda: I’d say I’m at 9 at the moment. I feel that over the last 2.5 years, I’ve done most of the groundwork to acquire the investment and skilled staff I need to achieve both quality and scale. The economic climate is good for small social businesses – it forces me to be creative, to innovate and to be much more pushy than you can be in times of affluence. Because I’ve always recognised social return to be as important as financial return, I’m not having to reduce my offering. Think of it this way if you like, only half my business is effected by the mess in the global financial markets, so I’m inherently better off than traditional businesses. Basically, a recession is good for social business growth. And I won’t even hear you if you try to tell me otherwise.
i-genius: Thank you