Caz Simmonds is Business Manager for London Works at East London Business Alliance (ELBA), a collective impact partner of Moving on Up (MoU). She has been part of the MoU programme since its inception in 2015, as one of the strategic leads reaching out to community partners and organisations like colleges and universities, to encourage them to get involved with Moving on Up – a project supporting young Black men, aged 16-24, into good careers.
Our Project Support Officer Victoria Atanda interviewed her to give an insight into what her role involves.
What does your work at ELBA involve?
I promote young Black men, aged 16-24 who come to us looking for employment support, and others who would benefit from our projects. My typical day involves lots of meetings. These could be corporate partner meetings, team meeting, or community partner meetings. I also manage a team of people, so the day also involves discussing their concerns, issues or highlights from different projects, and then problem solving. There is a lot of communication between projects, and my involvement with them comes from a leadership angle e.g. decision making and strategising.
How are you involved in Moving on Up?
I’ve been at ELBA for 10 years, and been involved with Moving on Up from the absolute start.
I was, in a sense, the face of MoU from ELBA. Every young Black male being referred to ELBA had a 1.1 meeting with me, where I would go through their career history, what it is they are looking for, what support they want, where they want to be in the future, and talk about how they can get there. I would coach them through certain areas of their hopes and aspirations but also help them get matched to mentors, and give them ideas in terms of other aspects of their careers that they would not have thought about and get them involved with the range of organisations we work with, through the Newham Collective Impact Partnership.
What is your drive for working with young Black men, and for doing this work?
I grew up in a family of five in Peckham. I have 4 brothers and was brought up in a house where my brothers’ friends were always around. From this, I grew to understand some of the stories and journeys of young Black men. I do recognise that not everybody knows what I know, so I am proud to be working with others to raise aspirations, improve self-esteem and self-belief and help today’s young Black men realise their true potential.
And, because I have worked in recruitment for so long, it means a lot to me to help people find ways to navigate this, often cruel, world, especially if you want to work in corporates. I know some of the values corporates are looking for, and if I can encourage young Black men to do the things their white counterparts are doing, to help them get those secure jobs, why would I not want to transfer that knowledge into them? I want them to take it back to their families, communities, and their friendships group. This is what we need to do as a community.
What values do programme like the MoU and organisations like ELBA have for young Black men?
The value in programmes that support young Black men, is realising the potential of the young people (in this case, Newham’s young Black men aged 16-24) and getting them to raise their own aspirations. Our work helps them think outside the box and gets them to understand that, wait, actually they can be whatever they want to be and there is no reason why they cannot break their own barriers. Our work also shows them that organisations like us exist to support them and guide them through their development.
From the value we provide as a community organisation or by working with corporates, is through how we challenge behaviours and mindsets on what talent should look like. We want to bring this talent to the table, in the knowledge and the hope that these young people will be received positively. ELBA plays a big part in this narrative, in terms of reducing discrimination, especially around who gets recruited and in whose image. We challenge the status quo on what talent looks like, and bring to the fore insights into social mobility so that corporates can start finding talent right on their door steps – something big organisations often struggle with.
What are some of the challenges of your work?
Sometimes we have to take small steps, because we know that young Black men are not the necessarily the easiest to engage with. The ones that are easy to engage with is great, because they trust us and understand more about the right things to do. But, it is breaking through to the more difficult cases, who in the beginning are not engaging, which can be a challenge. However, it is super satisfactory when you turn them around and they really come out from the other end and recognise they were a bit sluggish, and weren’t engaging. They realise they were hearing our support six months ago, but weren’t ready to respond. It is about understanding their journey and realising that not one size fits all. Their journey isn’t going to be the same as ours.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
At London Works we work with a range of people. We currently have a new project called EquiBalance to equip black and ethnically minoritised students aged 16-18 with the knowledge, skills and experience required to achieve their ambitions through a series of workshops, mentorships and enriching work placements.
For more information about Moving on Up at ELBA, including any vacancies, opportunities or mentoring support you could offer young Black men in Newham, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview by: Victoria Atanda, Moving on Up Project Support Officer