After grilling Nathaniel Peat about the G20 Toronto conference last week, I turned the focus onto other aspects that the inspiring young social entrepreneur has an interest in. On the agenda today – the Safety Box, climate change, corruption, and leadership…
How has the Safety Box helped young people?
There are so many examples of young people back in the Safety Box scheme in England that have been reformed. A prime example is a young boy who went to a school in Wood Green – St Thomas Moore Secondary School. He used to sell sweets in the lunch break. He would go to the cash and carry and buy a bulk load of £20 worth of sweets, penny sweets, which he would sell during the break. The problem then is that teachers are saying ‘you should not be doing this, you are not allowed to earn money’. He gets into trouble and can’t understand the reason he can’t do it.
The teachers basically think he is being disobedient and he is taken out of normal class and placed into the referral unit. He is [labeled] as a disobedient child, but we are not recognizing his ability as an entrepreneur. WE are not using his skill set and creativity, his entrepreneurial nature, or focusing it and channeling it in the right direction.
So what we did in the Safety Box is we took this guy out of that and we enabled him to start a tuck shop in the school. It is about focusing his mind in the right direction.
It is cheaper for us to invest in young people than it is for young people to be incarcerated. So in the long term [we’re] investing in human capital.
Do you believe that the recession inspires people to become more entrepreneurial?
I don’t think it inspires people to become more entrepreneurial, however I believe it forces people to become more entrepreneurial, as they have to think about ways they can become more successful.
‘Oh I’ve got to make more money’, that pressure, so it forces them to do it. What is inspirational is when other people achieve stuff. They are inspired by other people that have made it. The recession is a great time for people to become more entrepreneurial.
If you look at some of the best businesses that formed out of the 1979 recession, like IBM and Microsoft, these are multimillion pound businesses. Billionaires have come out of recessions. Now, what is starting to be realized is that entrepreneurship is the backbone for the modern economy.
How has being highly educated helped in your entrepreneurial journey?
Education has been the key to my success. It turns my ‘project’ (because I’m black it automatically becomes a project), it makes my ‘project’ look like a business.
What I run is a business, a social enterprise, and so what it does it that is gives me more credibility as an individual. It also helps me to articulate my speech better; it makes me become a better orator. It gives me a wider vocabulary of words to use. I can sit among people that are equally educated and sound as though I know what I’m talking about.
Information. Those people that are well informed are able to deliver effectively. I remember having an interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 news and he is a very articulate and quite a hard, tough journalist. Being interviewed by someone like that, education plays a big key, in order to answer the questions accurately and with as much depth as the question requires. Education is the key to success. The more informed you are, the better choices you can make.
Do you see yourself as an icon for leadership as you have won the Enterprise Young Brit Award… twice?
I was the very first person to get it twice and also the very first person who was black. That was really amazing.
Icon?? I’m just plain old Nat, I grew up in the middle of Tottenham, North East London. I wouldn’t say that I’m an icon because icons are the type of people that are idolized a little bit and I don’t want to come across as being somebody that is idolized, by no means no. I am just like every other person.
As the result of shining your light, naturally people gravitate towards that, naturally people want to be associated with you and naturally it makes you a leader. Even though you don’t ask for it, it just happens. If you can lead yourself, then you may be able to help others to lead themselves too. It is about creating more leaders, not just students. I am just trying to awaken my creative potential and be the best person I can be for myself.
How do you think strong leaders impact in addressing global issues, such as poverty, climate change, corruption?
With great difficulty. I think that global leaders experience a great deal of difficulty from the people that finance their governments. Especially in political systems such as the United States of America; there are certain families that have a great influence in government and I believe that all power corrupts at the highest level.
It will take a very dynamic leader to actually try to create a change. If you look at dynamic leaders that have existed, such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and John F Kennedy, these people were simply removed. I believe that it is very difficult to do it in a political system, however it is easier to do it outside of a political system.
They need to put themselves in the position of a key influencer, so that governments come to them for advice. Then they are able to influence changes. I believe that it is these kinds of people that are really going to be the instrumental people in looking at these key global issues and being able to advise with an unbiased perspective.
What do you think can be done about tackling corruption? In your experience have you actually personally experienced any corruption issues in the work you do?
Well that’s a big question! The way to combat it, especially in Africa, is to not do dealings with the government and not accept bribery. If a place is corrupt, in order to excel and to do better, a lot of people will use bribery to start their businesses. They will pay the government to make sure their business gets in place.
What needs to happen is that entrepreneurs and people that want to invest in developing countries of the world need to stop accepting bribery, they need to do it in the proper way. By doing that, the people that are corrupt are not going to have anybody to ask for money. If they can’t bribe anybody they will stop asking. That is the key way to do it. I don’t believe that a political system can come in and change it.
After thanking Nathaniel, I heard the familiar ping that ends a Skype call. This had been my longest and most intense interview yet. Nathaniel is a young man with many opinions and as a successful entrepreneur he has shown that, with the right drive and determination, anything is possible.