Poku Osei – giving a head-start to Bristol’s disadvantaged youth
You get a sense of the challenge facing Babbasa – a social enterprise that helps less advantaged youngsters to get on in the world of work – just by looking out of their office window…
Just half a mile away up the hill, you can see the towering villas of Bristol’s desirable Kingsdown suburb, and beyond that, Redland, where the average price for a semi-detached house is more than £800,000 and there are three private schools within five minutes’ walk. There is, unquestionably, privilege on display there, and many obvious advantages to those born in such places.
Back down the hill, and down to earth, Babbasa is based in Wilder Street, St Pauls, where the average semi is £160,000, and life is somewhat different.
All Babbasa founder and Chief Executive Poku Osei wants to do is to bridge the gap for disadvantaged youngsters across the city who have professional ambitions but need some help in realising them. Babbasa focuses on supporting young people to move into education, employment or self-employment. It’s about creating opportunities for those who would otherwise not encounter them.
Like Saffron, who Babbasa came across early on through one of its CV and skills-building workshops. Poku said, “we’d given her some help, and then a while later I bumped into her when I was out and she came up to me saying that because of us, she’d got her first work experience, then a job, then an inspiration to go to university. That was a turning point for me, a kind of focus on what kind of difference we could make.”
Or like Mo, a teenager with a knack for designing commercially viable t-shirts. He and Babbasa found each other through the organisation’s enterprise support offer, where he impressed everyone with his prototypes and his enthusiasm. Babbasa helped Mo to secure financial investment from an organisation that supports young entrepreneurs. Mo was successful, and was awarded over £3,000 to help produce his first collection, and his business was up and running. In Mo’s case, Babbasa also offered him some university application support, which has gotten him into a Russell Group university. Where – one might have guessed – he is now bidding for a new business, printing freshers’ week t-shirts for a number of different universities.
Then there is Amena, a shy girl who was short of time because she was relied on as a carer for a family member. She had ambitions to become a biochemist, but needed to get closer to the industry to find out more about it. That’s where Babbasa’s mentoring scheme came in. “We found her a contact in her chosen field, which she was unlikely to find by herself, and now she’s studying, with every possibility of forging a career in it,” said Poku. “It was something she thought was never within her reach.”
That’s three lives changed – just three real examples amongst many others, showing how a little help at the right moment can make all the difference.
And it was that kind of modest, strategic help that got Babbasa itself up-and-running six years ago. Poku had arrived in Bristol from his native Ghana in 2008 to study a master’s degree, and developed an informal group of volunteers to find ways of giving disadvantaged youngsters a ‘leg up’ into the world of work.
“I was always interested in social mobility, in raising aspirations, and in young people,” said Poku, who is no stranger to business himself. Back home, while still a student, he had run his own enterprises, ranging from a DVD shop, to commodities trading, and then invested in real estate with the proceeds.
“I had no network in Bristol to do what I and fellow volunteers wanted, so fundraising was difficult to begin with. But with Quartet’s help, at that early stage, we were able to get a laptop and a projector. It cost not much over a thousand pounds, but made all the difference, because we were then able to communicate with people and communicate what we were doing.”
The next step was to establish the increasingly successful Babbasa as a Community Interest Company, and Quartet returned with further help to build on that original seed-funding through support for their enterprise competition event.
Poku describes Quartet’s continuing role as acting as referee when Babbasa approaches other organisations for funding. “Funders always ask ‘who has funded you before?’, or ‘who might match fund?’ And when we say ‘Quartet’, it helps; people know when you say that name that there’s been due diligence, that we’ve been supported by a name that they trust and respect. It makes them more likely to help, whether that’s through donating their time or a free space for us to use, or funding. Without Quartet we wouldn’t be where we are today.”