Profiling a Precious woman: Foluke Akinlose MBE

Profiling a Precious woman: Foluke Akinlose MBE

Last week, I was an attendee at the 2015 Precious Awards – an annual event which celebrates the achievements of women of colour in the UK. The ceremony was amazing – uplifting, inspiring, all the superlatives. I’ll blog a bit more about it and some of the women who I met in another post, but ahead of then: here’s a re-blog of an article I originally wrote in 2011.

The Precious Awards were set up by journalist, entrepreneur (and all round superstar friend) Foluke Akinlose. I profiled her for The Glass Hammer four years ago and thought that, as an introduction to the Awards, the article could do with a wider audience. Here it is.

* * * * *

As a child growing up in Manchester, Foluke Akinlose dreamed of launching a magazine for women and girls who looked like she did. But how did this childhood vision culminate in the creation of Precious Online, an e-magazine, network and resource for the UK’s c. 2.3 million women of colour and of the UK’s only awards for this community, described as a “memorable occasion” and “inspirational” by Prime Minister David Cameron?

“When I was younger, there were no British magazines that featured girls who looked like me. I’d spend my pocket money on American imports and they were great, but I really wanted to read about the Black British experience. When I grew older and started working in the media as a journalist, I quickly realised how expensive setting up a print magazine was. I just didn’t have those kind of funds, so I decided to put the magazine idea at the back of my mind for a while.

“In 1996, I began working in the online department of TV company ITN. Because of the nature of my job, I spent a lot of time researching online. I came across so many online publications aimed at African-American women but there was nothing for those based in the UK. I soon realised that the web gave me a publishing channel and that it was a way for me to launch the magazine of which I had always dreamed. So I followed my dream.

“Precious got underway in 1999 and was the first publication of its kind to launch in the UK. We now get 80,000 unique website visitors each month and reach 10,000 women via the mailing list – our goal is to be the premier destination for women of colour on the web.”

Precious aims to provide resources for and to showcase women of colour and to shine a light on their achievements in business and life. The site runs articles on health and beauty and profiles black writers and artists, as well as organising events every quarter on topics such as the joy of networking or audiences with entrepreneurial women.

The living embodiment of the phrase “seeing a gap in the market”, Foluke then launched the Precious Awards in 2007, as a result of “always being invited to awards ceremonies and yet rarely seeing black women receive recognition.”

“The Precious Awards are unique, in that they are the UK’s only awards to focus on diverse women of colour. Back in 2007, I went in to see Pearson, who agreed to host the first awards and to support it. I had no budget initially, so had to do everything myself. The first awards honoured women in six categories, which included leadership in the workplace, best social enterprise, best creative business and best start-up. Pearson are still big supporters and I’m very grateful for their vision and involvement.”

Foluke’s own vision and determination to succeed saw her lobbying the great and the good of British society to ask for their support for the Precious Awards – which in turn led to her receiving messages of support and goodwill from then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his wife (and social activist) Sarah Brown (“she was great – she re-Tweeted the details of the awards to her thousands of followers and encouraged them to nominate women”) , (then) Deputy PM Nick Clegg and many other luminaries.

In the fifth year of the awards, Foluke introduced new categories, which in 2011 included Mentor of the Year, Blogger of the Year and Precious Man of the Year, for which actor Idris Elba, rapper Tinie Tempah and politician Chuka Umunna were nominated.

As for the awards in the future, Foluke would like to find a major sponsor who will commit to supporting Precious over an extended period and being part of their success.

“The awards have had a huge impact on women’s professional and business lives. To win, or even to be nominated, gives them so much confidence and is a wonderful platform for any sponsor.”

So, where next for this intrepid woman?

“I would like to create a Precious presence in every corner of the globe – that’s my aim and I want to encourage young girls everywhere to be the best that they can be. I see myself returning to my childhood dream, when I read those American magazines – I would love to do an event for women of colour in New York.

“Here in the UK, Precious is proud to partner with [high school] St Matthew’s Academy in south London – we work with their pupils, both girls and boys, to inspire and encourage them to see that being a woman of colour and having your own business is a possibility. I want to make an impact and to show girls that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.

“I hope that’s what Precious shows them.”

Precious Book of QuotesEarlier this year, Foluke published her first book, The Precious Book of Quotes, which features inspirational advice from 50 women of colour. She is now working on a novel and would like to create a publishing wing of the Precious empire by establishing an imprint for young female writers.

“I’m passionate about what I do and I hope to continue being an inspiration and a role model to other women.”

Awarded the MBE in the 2010 New Year’s honours list for her services to the creative industries (“I thought it was a spoof call at first when the Cabinet Office called to tell me I had been nominated”), Foluke is proof of the strength, talents and diversity of the black British community.

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