Voice4Change meets The Windsor Fellowship

Voice4Change meets Kevin Coutinho from the Windsor Fellowship

By Ben Andrew

On the sweltering hot afternoon of July 19th, Voice4Change spoke to Kevin Coutinho, the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Windsor Fellowship. His charity helps BME people succeed in employment and education.

“We were set up in 1986 as a bridge between the BME community and potential employers,” Kevin says. “Young BME people often don’t have access to organisations which can give them employment or experience. And these organisations find it hard to find BME talent. We have worked with around 15,000 young people to ensure that this access is not cut off.”

“We provide young people with skills, training and practical experience – and have given them internships at organisations such as the House of Commons, the Bank of England and the National Audit Office.”

These internships sound incredibly prestigious. But how to the Windsor Fellowship seek out young talent?

“It’s a multi-channel approach. We look at traditional methods such as Twitter and Facebook, but also use our networks of alumni and volunteers. People find a recommendation from a friend more credible than an abstract advert on social media, so we do a lot of outreach through our contacts.”

Kevin has been the Chair of the Board of Trustees since 2012

 

The help that students receive from the Windsor Fellowship depends a lot on which programme they are on. But the general approach is a long term one. Through their mentoring scheme, The Windsor Fellowship are able to guide their fellows for many years, helping them navigate through school and university.

“Our mentors are volunteers and they do fantastic work. I am a mentor myself, and I speak to students face to face but also on WhatsApp, Skype or on the phone. We support these students personally and professionally. It’s a holistic approach.”

Kevin was a Fellow himself when he was younger, as were two of the other four trustees. Gaining so much from the Windsor Fellowship motivated Kevin to return there as a mentor and a trustee.

“I have always thought that we alumni should give back to the community and keep the door open behind us. I was the first person in my family to go to university, and I didn’t really know what I was there for. I didn’t even know what a 2.1 was. My mentors helped me understand who I was and made me comfortable in the environment I was in. There were also very basic practical skills they gave me. How to do an application form. How to present myself effectively. How to be comfortable wearing black tie. These things are all really important.”

The Windsor Fellowship is currently accepting applications for a programme called Destination STEMM. In partnership with The Royal Society, they have targeted the programme at black people with an interest in pursuing a “STEMM career” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics or Medicine). They are accepting applications from students who are about to enter Year 13, and who are studying “STEMM” A Levels or an equivalent.

“There is an under representation of people from black backgrounds in STEMM careers, so partners are keen to develop a pipeline of talent to change this. These students will get access to opportunities at the Royal Society, and will get training and contacts from us as well.”

Kevin also works for Birkbeck, University of London, focussing on wellbeing, equalities and engagement

 

Things are not always rosy for the Windsor Fellowship though. As no one who has worked in the BME voluntary sector will be surprised to hear, it is often difficult for them to access funding.

“Funding is an on-going struggle from year to year. There is a need for BME organisations to work together to capacity build, or else the focus on race equality gets lost. The difficulty with small, voluntary organisations is that there are huge barriers to entry for institutional funders such as Big Lottery or European Social Fund. They essentially require you to have a whole bureaucracy attached to your organisation, which I understand from a scrutiny perspective, but it’s not easy for small organisations to do this. That’s why there is a need for more joint bidding from BME organisations.”

When asked what the greatest struggle is for his organisation, Kevin takes a moment to ponder this.

“I think it is that race is not as much of a strategic priority for policy makers anymore. I’m not sure if policy makers really want to see race equality being dealt with systematically, or if they just see it as part of more general issues around diversity. People are uncomfortable about focussing on any one disadvantaged group anymore because there are now nine of them. And I accept that there are nine, but that doesn’t mean people don’t need to look at race specifically.”

“We like to think that we have got to grips with race in this country, but we’re not there yet. It is true that Britain has changed, but big organisations, government or key decision makers still don’t reflect the racial diversity of our society. Lots of organisations have bought into things like the 30% Club for women on boards, but we haven’t had that focus on race in a long time.”

“We just don’t have enough representation at the top of organisations. The ‘green lighters’ who make important decisions don’t reflect our community at all. This is much truer of race than gender. And I want to emphasise that we are not in competition. No protected groups should be in competition with each other, and intersectionality is very important. But it’s true that women have been able to navigate through economic decision making in ways that BME people have not.  We need to work to change this.”

These problems don’t fill Kevin with despair though, they just motivate him to keep working on achieving racial equality.

“I’m a stubborn person. We had a vision in 1986 and that vision has not been realised. So we are still going. Race is an issue in Britain today. Just because we have equality in law, it does not mean that cultural discrimination has gone away.”

If you want to apply for the Destination STEMM programme – apply here by midnight on July 24th http://www.windsor-fellowship.org/#!destination-stemm/qhbj8