Keep The Faith recently met up with Viv Ahmun, co-founder of Aspire Education Group, to find out how he is inspiring Black entrepreneurship in the UK and Africa, with a view to empowering future generations.
I have been running businesses since the age of twelve, when I started fixing up old bikes and selling them. I didn’t know it then, but I was already thinking and moving as an entrepreneur. That was 43 years ago, and I have been in so many business initiatives and partnerships since then that I’ve lost count.
People are always asking “What does Viv do?” I used to see business as a way of making money, to get the things that I couldn’t afford. Then, in my late teens to early twenties, I began to see business (social entrepreneurship) as a means of ‘doing for self’, whilst doing for others, as I’m a giver by nature. I am a Londoner – and I am proud to be one – but I don’t identify with the rest of the country. London is truly a country unto itself.
To keep it simple, I push innovation and growth – whether it’s coaching start-ups (particularly – but not exclusively – around tech) or looking for developmental opportunities in new areas. My main focus for at least the next five years is Africa, as well as my ongoing activities in the UK. The main areas I specialise in are skills development (helping new and established businesses to improve their offers) and impact investment.
How did you decide what you wanted to do with your life? How do you feel about that choice?
I was born into a Black proletariat Windrush family in the 60s. I was loved by my parents, but not supported in terms of my academic growth. They wanted me to do what the teachers said: to “finish school and then go get a job”. They never spoke about university or any other type of direction that might lead to a profession.
I was always a thinker and a reader – unusual for a Black boy of my background and age. Like Malik El-Shabazz (aka Malcolm X), I was born with a passion for words and derived real pleasure from just sitting down and losing myself in the Oxford Dictionary. I still love everything about books: the smell, the texture and the noise they make when the page is turned.
I think I was born to be a thinker and, as a strategist, that is essentially what I do for a living – in a range of environments, including social policy and business development. Most recently I’ve been spending more and more time in Africa, and leaning towards referring to myself as a ‘futurist’ – at least when speaking in public. Why? Because the future has much more meaning for me when in Africa. I am genuinely interested in what can be achieved there in the next 20 generations (roughly 500 years). I spend time thinking about variations on what Africa 2520 might look like, and work backwards to the present day to determine what we need to be doing today in order to power the next generation(s).
Tell us about the businesses you run
I have a number of interests, but nowadays it would be more correct to say I have a number of businesses I actively invest in and support/coach, and I have several vehicles I work through, including my own brand (Viv Ahmun). I am passionate about Aspire Education Group (www.aspireeducationgroup.com), which is a company I created about six years ago, in partnership with Patricia Lamour MBE.
The company works locally in the UK and internationally across Europe and all over Africa. In fact, we recently completed work on The Gambia’s 10-year Education Strategy, in partnership with the Gambian government and a number of eminent scholars and industrialists from that country. Aspire Education Group is an ethical business. What it is selling is critical to economic growth, particularly so in emerging countries on the African continent. We have a massive programme of development over the next three years, so we are currently looking for the right kind of global consultants to work alongside us in partnership. Feminine is a recent development, and Aspire Prep is in its third year.
What are you most passionate about in life and in your work?
I am passionate about sharing my good fortune and enabling others to ‘do for self’. I believe that is my higher purpose, and that’s why Donna Wilson and I launched the Young Black Business Awards (YBBA) in 2018. The YBBA (email email@example.com and visit www.ybbawards.com) isn’t just another award that swings around each year and entertains the wealthy in exchange for some charity pennies. It was created to ensure our young people – and our community as a whole – are not left behind in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
The first award event took place in November 2018 and was a resounding success. This year, in partnership with key community influencers and success stories – such as Spencer Fearon, Alison Walters, Robert Robinson, Duwayne Brooks OBE, Sharon Brown, Sandra Kerr OBE, Sandra Cyrus, Gori Yahaya, Jonathan Akwue, Simon Woolly OBE, Peter Herbert OBE, Patricia Lamour MBE, and many others – we are partnering with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), many banks and a range of key Fortune 100 brands to ensure that those talented young in our community get access to the financial services sector, both in terms of investment and career development. They also need access to quality training around the Internet of things (IoT), so they can develop 4IR-ready services that they are able to grow over the next 20 years.
What are your views on finance and business?
The root cause for the deficits in our community is the lack of access to resources (finance and skills) that would enable us to ‘do for self’. So that’s what interests me – not just talking but also doing. I am investing in small businesses and tech start-ups in Africa, and doing similar things in the UK, to give our young talent access to quality intelligence, training and finance, so they can grow their own thing.
This year we roll out partnerships with the Financial Conduct Authority, in order to attract more young entrepreneurs into the financial services sector and to educate more start-ups and early-stage businesses about how they can attract finance from around the world to grow their business. People can find out more about what we are offering, by emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are creating tools and initiatives to increase awareness, facilitate partnership and increase quality standards in the Black-run companies internationally. Blaksox was created three years ago to provide a social action and economic network for growth (www.blaksox.com). We have also developed Power The Next, in partnership with the Kafeero Foundation (www.kafeero.org), which is based in Uganda, and the Young Black Business Awards (YBBA), which is based in the UK. These are the things that excite me, even though they are not the most financially lucrative for me.
And finally, what brings you the most pleasure now?
Knowing my worth and supporting others in discovering theirs; giving back, and being around ‘authentic’ people who see the world through similar glasses as me. Ethical business is about giving back 10% of what you earn, because it ultimately feeds your business. I love delivering a great service and, for those of you who are still confused, I do several things: 1) broker relationships for inward investment, and coach groups that need specialist business guidance (eg. a company or a community); 2) advise on social trends and solutions to policy issues, and 3) promote ethical leadership and business practices.