Black innovation matters

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To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most inspiring Black-led initiatives and organisations that are creating change and developing new ideas to tackle social problems.

From swimming clubs to mentoring programmes, our list recognises the pioneers and innovators who are often left out of the mainstream innovation narrative but are working hard to challenge white-dominated sectors, creating space for Black people to thrive and flourish as equals in society.

Over the last two years, Nesta has been taking time to reflect and drive meaningful change within our own organisation. It hasn’t been an easy journey and the work of our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion group has surfaced some uncomfortable truths. We are committed to ensuring that equity, diversity and inclusion principles are embedded in our thinking and our actions. We are now working to translate our vision and principles into a set of practical actions that we can commit to, that will direct our activity over the next five years. We will publish much more information about these actions in the late autumn and new year and look forward to sharing our journey and rationale with humility.

We hope this list inspires you, as it has us, to recognise and support the work of Black innovators today. This is an evolving resource and we welcome suggestions for additions at [email protected].

The environmental activists

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With the dominant narrative of the climate movement being that of the white middle-class, the efforts of Black environmentalists are often overlooked or altogether unseen.

This list highlights the people, community groups and initiatives that are challenging the status quo and creating spaces and voices for Black environmentalism.

Shining lights in Sierra Leone

Founded by Mariama Kamara, Smiling Through Light combines womens’ entrepreneurship and sustainability by setting up distribution networks and supporting small female-run businesses. The organisation has helped thousands of people in different areas of Sierra Leone access safe, clean light technology, whilst creating employment and income opportunities. Profits of the social enterprise are reinvested by buying more solar products and providing capacity building training and ongoing support to the women.

Creating inclusive outdoor spaces

Flock Together is a birdwatching group founded by Ollie Olanipekun and Nadeem Perera with the aim of making birdwatching as accessible as possible, especially to those who feel excluded from outdoor spaces. The collective is on a mission to create spaces for people of colour to connect meaningfully with each other, as well as engage in nature.

Tackling plastic pollution in Cameroon

Forbi Perise is a Cameroonian environmental activist who wants to build a mass environmental movement in his town of Beua and beyond to combat plastic pollution and create structural change. Since going door-to-door throughout his community and collecting thousands of plastic bottles and other waste, Forbi has been on a mission to educate people on the effects of waste on the environment and has led several community projects.

Building close bonds with nature

Writer, academic and community organiser Tianna Johnson started Black Girls Camping Trip to encourage young, Black women and non-binary people in the UK to explore the benefits of the outdoors through tailored outdoor retreats. Campers can pick from a range of activities done outdoors including knitting, creative writing, meditation and yoga, which aim to establish closer bonds with earth and nature.

Tackling Black under-representation in geography

Only 7 in 1,000 geography professors in the UK identifies as Black. This shocking statistic prompted Francisca Rockey to set up Black Geographers, an initiative aiming to tackle the under representation of Black people in geography and geo-science. With a focus on encouraging young Black students to pursue geography, they facilitate mentorship, support with summer internships and share opportunities to get involved with local geography projects.

The equality champions

Black professionals and those from ethnic minorities face alarming discrimination in the jobs market with huge disparities in positive responses from potential employers in contrast to white people. Black-owned businesses face similar setbacks with higher interest rates and lack of access to overdrafts from lenders.

Here, we celebrate the organisations and projects that are taking action to disrupt the system from the ground up, providing the networks, skills and resources that will help to level the playing field.

Social impact projects for Black communities

Founded by Bayo Adelaja, Do It Now Now is an open innovation organisation that runs social activism projects supporting individuals as they seek to solve problems they have experienced in their own communities. My Moon Landing is one of these inspirational projects, aiming to address the effects of period poverty in the UK.

Entrepreneurship support that breaks down barriers

Foundervine is a social enterprise on a mission to break down the social barriers to entrepreneurship and support people from under-represented communities to develop, start and grow new businesses. Founded by Izzy Obeng, Foundervine runs award-winning accelerator programmes, supports people to build professional networks and provides essential business training.

Enriching opportunities for young inner-city boys

Noticing a disconnect between the mainly Caucasian audience at a Stormzy gig and the young people of African and Caribbean descent on the Brixton streets outside the venue, friends Lillian and Michaela set up The Reach Out Project. They work with inner-city London boys to provide enriching opportunities such as workshops and reward trips that help them reach their potential and access a positive future.

Opening up career opportunities in tech

Featured as part of Nesta’s Women Shaping AI, Simi Awokoya is the founder of Witty Careers, a non-profit dedicated to combating under-representation in tech. Witty Careers puts on educational events and provides mentoring opportunities for minority women.

Connecting Black professionals around the globe

The Black Young Professional Network (BYP) is a platform that helps Black professionals around the world to connect with each other, leverage professional networks and share opportunities. Created in 2016, the network aims to change the Black narrative by harnessing the wealth of knowledge and expertise within the Black professional community.

Making arts and cultural spaces more accessible

Arts and cultural spaces are often overwhelmingly white and middle-class. Year Here fellow Yasmin Ibison is on a mission to change this. She set up Critics’ Club to boost young people's cultural knowledge and sense of belonging in cultural spaces. The 8-week programme invites young people into these spaces and empowers them to develop their critiquing skills.

Fair access to finance

Since 2018, Lendoe has been paving the way for fair access to finance as the UK’s first lender dedicated to black, early-stage entrepreneurs. With a focus on small businesses, it has successfully dispersed close to £1 million in loans to entrepreneurs across the UK's most urban cities.

Developing the voices of tomorrow

Founded by Rasheeda Page-Muir, Revolyoution provides a platform for young people to speak up about issues that they are passionate about. Through debate and political discussion young people are empowered to stretch their curiosity, develop their voice and build a sense of self-belief.

Diversifying STEAM-based careers

Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA) runs events that aim to inspire young people from diverse backgrounds to pursue STEAM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) subjects. Founded by Rasheeda Harry, YFYA offers advice and mentoring to ensure that career opportunities are accessible to the most under-represented in the industry.

Supporting under-represented entrepreneurs

Impact X is a black-owned venture capital company that supports under-represented entrepreneurs across Europe. Its £100m fund has been used to fund 17 minority-owned businesses to date.

Instilling maths and money skills in young people

bMoneywize is an award-winning, youth-focused social enterprise that aims to enable young adults to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to become financially literate and numerate. Developed by Arinola Araba, the initiative teaches young people to appreciate the value of money in an increasingly cashless society.

The self-care advocates

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In the late eighties Black feminist Audrey Lorde stressed the importance of self-preservation of the body and mind in the face of racial adversity and discrimination. "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare" - Audrey Lorde

This list spotlights the initiatives that are creating spaces for promoting positive mental health amongst the Black community. From the calming act of knitting to the social benefits of a community garden, explore these important projects that nourish the body, mind and soul.

Harnessing the great outdoors

Founded by Rhiane Fatinikun, Black Girls Hike creates a safe space for Black women to be active outdoors, establish a support system and be free from judgement. To date, Black Girls Hike has engaged over 150 Black women giving them an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and focus on well-being.

An inclusive knitting club

Empowering Black women to unite through craft, Black Girl Knit Club is an inclusive space for women to gather, grow and inspire each other. The collective hosts monthly workshops and talks, developing hand knitting skills and in turn creating a learning platform that highlights the importance of creativity in the community.

Free professional mental-health support

Black Minds Matter is on a mission to connect Black individuals and families with free professional mental health services offered by professional Black therapists – specifically for Black trauma – across the UK. The fund covers up to 12 sessions of therapy to support people on the journey towards improved mental wellbeing.

A space for Black gay men

BlackOut UK is a not-for-profit social enterprise run and owned by a volunteer collective of Black gay men. The organisation mobilises gay/bi and/or trans men of African descent in the UK to work together to address shared challenges, create platforms for their voices to be heard, build networks to support aspirations and enable individuals to play a more active role in the communities they are a part of. Listen to the Nesta Ideas podcast with BlackOut’s founder Rob Berkeley.

Digging up roots

Black Rootz is the first multigenerational Black-led growing project in the UK. Growing techniques of produce that is relatively new to British shores, including sweet potatoes and tomatillos, are passed down from one generation to the next – ensuring that these methods survive while also supporting youth engagement in the natural environment.

Keeping a community active

Founded by journalist, creative and avid runner Matilda Egere-Cooper, Fly Girl Collective is a running and fitness community inspiring Black and Brown women to get active.

Making a splash

Ninety five per cent of Black adults and 80 per cent of Black children in England do not go swimming at all. The barriers that prevent Black people from getting involved in aquatics are entrenched and complex, which often leaves these communities without the necessary education in water safety and drowning prevention. The Black Swimming Association’s mission is to change that through education, advocacy, research and support for people of colour in aquatics.

Creating a thriving community

Lambeth has the highest number of Black people accessing mental health services in the UK. Black Thrive is a partnership between communities, voluntary and private sector organisations that was created to initiate the system change required to see Black residents thrive across the borough.

The identity allies

Black History Month is a chance to reflect on the history of Black oppression in the UK, but for the rest of the year, this story is often sidelined.

This list highlights some of the incredible work being done to provide spaces for centring and celebrating Black identity and to ensure that British history is decolonised and told truthfully.

Challenging racial stereotypes

Mentivity is a mentoring organisation with a focus on supporting young people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds to explore their identity and aspirations for the future. Working across London and Brighton, the programme aims to challenge racial stereotypes and create relevant role models for students.

Black history in the curriculum

Founded by Lavinya Stennett, The Black Curriculum is a social enterprise on a mission to address the lack of Black British history in the UK curriculum. Since the team came together in 2019, they have successfully created a 12-topic curriculum which centres Black history and Black experiences, and is delivered to schools and companies across the country.

Stories for and by Black British women

Black Ballad amplifies the voices of Black British women through their media platform, events and platforming of Black-owned brands. Founded by Tobi Oredein and Bola Awoniyi, Black Ballad has grown impressively since it began, creating a community of diverse Black writers across the UK who create content that sparks conversation and empowers Black women.

Celebrating African culture and heritage

The Africa Centre is a London-based cultural space that showcases African culture and heritage. Founded in 1964, the centre hosts music and cultural events, exhibitions and conferences that centre and celebrate African culture, identity and history.

The new children's publisher on the block

Knights Of is an independent children's publishers dedicated to creating stories with as many perspectives as can be squeezed into a book. Founded by Aimée Felone and David Stevens who were fed up with the lack of diversity in the publishing world, they opened their pop-up campaign shop in response to a report that only 1 per cent of 9,000 children's books had a BAME main character.

A platform for young and upcoming creatives

The Young Sierra Leonean CIC is a platform for young and upcoming creatives across various art disciplines, including entrepreneurs, local business owners and global change-makers across the African diaspora, with a focus on Sierra Leone. The team is committed to changing the narrative of Africa through the positive promotion of arts and culture.

Their annual flagship event, the Sierra Leone Arts & Culture Festival (#SLACfest), combines showcases and cultural exchange.

The Black tech pioneers

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The tech industry is growing faster than any other UK industry, yet the number of employees from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds is estimated to be as low as 1-2 per cent.

This list features a list of impressive initiatives that are carving out alternative narratives for the scene and demonstrating the wealth of untapped tech talent.

The 100 year diversity plan

UK Black Tech is on a mission to make the UK’s tech industry the most diverse in the world. Its 100-year plan includes running youth projects, building business networks and increasing visibility through media and events.

Educating tech companies

Abadesi Osunsade wants to see the tech scene as representative of society as a London tube carriage. She founded Hustle Crew, a network of consultants that run workshops and develop content to help companies take meaningful action to improve representation in the industry.

A community of Black female coders

Coding Black Females was set up by Charlene Hunter as a way for Black female developers to meet each other, share experiences and develop strong networks. It runs regular meetups and run the #VisibileInTech campaign to platform their community.

Black-led tech events

AfroTechFest is a tech festival run by and for Black people. The flagship London event is due back in 2021 but in the meantime, BlackTechFest has been holding the reins with a three-day virtual event celebrating Black culture and tech breakthroughs.

Connecting people with tech opportunities

Founded by Deborah Okenla, Your Startup, Your Story is a community dedicated to connecting diverse people with opportunities in tech. It partners with organisations that are dedicated to promoting diverse and inclusive workforces to reach their bold mission of helping 100,000 people to excel in tech by 2023.

Five Black changemakers from British history

As well as platforming the Black-led initiatives that are driving change today, we wanted to look back at the individuals whose new ways of thinking altered the course of history.

From authors to activists, this list captures five free podcast episodes that delve into the stories of Black changemakers in Britain.

The first Briton of African heritage to vote in a UK general election

In the series Britain’s Black Past, Gretchen Gerzina examines the pasts of Black people who settled in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In this episode, Gerzina centres on Ignatius Sancho – a composer, writer, social reformer and the first known Briton of African heritage to have voted in an 18th-century general election.

The former slave who taught Darwin

In this episode, Dr Angelina Osborne, heritage consultant and co-author of 100 Great Black Britons, examines the life of John Edmonstone – a freed Black slave who became a scientist in Edinburgh. Edmonstone went on to teach taxidermy skills to Charles Darwin that were crucial to the preservation of the specimens he used in support of his theories.

The first Black woman MP in Britain

In 1987, Diane Abbott became the first Black woman elected to British Parliament. Farhana Haider interviewed Abbott as part of the series Witness Black History, touching on her pioneering spirit and determination to shake up the status quo for good.

The godfather of British Cultural Studies

In the first episode of a series that explores the work of the Jamaican-born sociologist and theorist Stuart Hall, Ben Carrington, Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and Les Back, Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, discuss the contributions that the thinker made to the field of cultural studies.

Fighting for racial justice

This episode brings together two women who have been instrumental in the fight against racial injustice and police brutality. The first is Doreen Lawrence whose campaigning following the racially motivated murder of her son Stephen in London in 1993 led to a public inquiry and the landmark Macpherson Report that brought about widespread police reform. The second is Patrisse Khan-Cullors – an American activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.