Welcome to the Tough Cookies series where we interview and celebrate the strong and determined individuals who are making waves in the tech industry.
We caught up with Poku, CEO of Babbasa. Read on to hear about solving inequality in Bristol, how to engage with younger people in the community, Ted Talks and Belgian white chocolate chip cookies…
So tell us a bit about Babbasa and what you do there?
Babbasa is a Bristol-based social enterprise which was set up to support young people from less advantaged backgrounds to pursue and realise their professional ambitions. We work with over 300 young people a year, and can help them with moving into further education, finding a career, or starting their own business.
I have been fortunate enough to work with some incredible people as the CEO of the organisation.
What brought you to start that business?
Simply put, I was driven to start Babbasa after seeing the unjust levels of inequality in Bristol and consequently, a massive loss of talent to society.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far with Babbasa?
There are so many challenges that come with starting an organisation from scratch and overseeing its growth but I have always found those challenges thrilling.
Every day, I try to figure out new ways to make Babbasa financially sustainable, while staying true to our core values and making sure that our social impact continues to grow.
My mission is to ensure that every single member of staff, and subsequently every single young person that enters our doors irrespective of their creed or background immediately feels a sense of belonging.
Part of our goal as an organisation also involves talking to already profitable businesses and using our research and experience to convince them that taking on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds would add value to their business.
You have done a TEDx talk – how did that come about?
Someone from TedX had heard about what we do at Babbasa, and called me to ask if I wanted to give a talk. I’m not one for public speaking, but I thought it was important to use that platform to let Bristol know that we have to do more to level the playing field and make sure that all talents across the city are grown to their full potential, and not just a few.
What are the key things tech companies can do to help young individuals looking to get into the industry?
First and foremost, it’s vital that tech companies recognise that talents are evenly distributed across the city, but opportunities are not. From that perspective, tech companies need to be intentional in taking a multi-faceted approach to their scouting and recruitment approach. This could be through working with community-based social mobility agencies such as Babbasa to identify, prepare, and place young people from less advantaged backgrounds. It could also be through identifying talent in other, less conventional ways.
Talents are evenly distributed across the city, but opportunities are not
A young person called Romaine who worked with Babbasa helped to build our website without any degree in computing; he honed his skills using YouTube and has since worked with numerous companies on a freelance basis to build their sites. Plenty of young people are tech-savvy or have the potential to be tech-savvy, but they may not have the networks or resources to make the most of those skills.
What has been the most exciting thing for you in 2019?
Realising our new home, the Babbasa hub. It has always been a dream of ours to find a facility that we can renovate and position to become a third space for young people in their locality that is different from home and school. One that defines the place of hope, progression and opportunities for young people largely living in inner-city communities, and we’ve been able to do that. We are really happy with what we have been able to achieve so far, but there is a lot more that we can do with our home with further investment, so we are still calling on sponsors and investors to work with us to transform the Babbasa hub into its full potential.
And what are looking forward to in 2020?
I’m really excited about scaling up our Placement Programme in 2020. This is one of our newer projects where we find work experience, placements, apprenticeships, and other full-time job opportunities for our young people. We’ve had a lot of success with the programme so far, and we are in discussions with businesses and organisations across Bristol about how we can offer even more opportunities next year.
And finally… what’s your favourite flavoured cookie?
The Belgian white chocolate chip cookie. It’s absolutely the bomb!