"Sir, Sir, Sir!"
It was about five years ago when I was leaving an event at JP Morgan, who were hosting a London-wide competition seeking to find which borough had the most entrepreneurial school kids, that a six foot something young lad came running after me following a talk I had given about how I had started in business.
I turned around and asked how I may help. He asked if I would be his mentor. I gave him my card and said he should e-mail a very short and powerful reason why I should.
Later that day, it came: "Sir, my father and brother sit at home all day with no job. Sir – I don't want to be like that."
Well, needless to say, he got me interested. Richard was 15 at the time and was the only one on his council estate in Peckham, south east London, of his age who wasn't involved in drugs or gangs.
In inner city estates, that's no easy task – you don't just get to say "no thank you" and move past people peddling the power and allure that goes with that life away from the mainstream, that most readers of IBTimes UK don't have a day-to-day experience of.
But Richard was a talented basketball player, lined up for the England Under 16s. He had grit and determination to make something more for his life than running from the police. But fate had played him a devastating blow – he developed a problem with his knees and with the flick of a switch his ambitions were crushed.
For the next five years my mentoring relationship with Richard has evolved from insights into the power of positive thinking, the loneliness of being on the right side in a wrong environment, and opening up stories of others who have provided inspirational role models that were otherwise seemingly unavailable to him.
He now has a motivational speaking business where he goes into schools who pay him to tell kids about the greatness they have inside of them. He has begun to mentor some of them.
National Mentoring Day falls on 27 October, and to coincide with it, a new online mentoring platform which I am supporting is being launched.
Connect Mentors will bring together businesses who increasingly understand that the lack of diversity in their workforce is slowing them down and more widely, that failure to address issues of social mobility is slowing down UK PLC. They are not connected with the untapped potential the Richards of this world can bring them.
Jessica Huie, one of the project's founders, writes: "Britain arguably faces a serious labour problem. More than 600,000 experienced employees reach retirement age every year, and there are currently 695,000 (ONS) job vacancies, up from the 2012's 438,000.
"If just those extra 257,000 jobs were filled at average salaries, GDP would be increased by £7bn. If all were filled, GDP would increase by £19bn.
"This deteriorating situation is only likely to increase after Brexit. There is an anticipated employment shortfall of 3.1 million by 2050. Connect Mentors believes that the issue is more about an "opportunity gap" than a skills shortage. It aims to close the gap."
Similarly, June Sarpong's recently published book "Diversify – Six Degrees of Integration" is stacked with data showing how unequal access to opportunities not only serves to perpetuate alienation from the mainstream for white working boys, but young British Muslims and black men in particular, which in turn leads to lives of crime rather than as active economic citizens. This presents a net drain to the country's reserves. It makes no sense and governments have historically failed to address this in a coherent and competent manner.
Businesses that have had the mirror of unconscious bias in their recruitment patterns reflected back on them know they need to shape up but often don't know how – it's said that 72% of British businesses face a talent shortage but only 36% have a plan in place to tackle that. So it's encouraging that today two insurance companies – Canopius and Brit Insurance – are backing the launch of Connect Mentors by each providing 10 mentors to the platform.
The mentoring I personally do is largely with people wishing to start up in business because when I first did so I made a huge number of costly mistakes which damaged my prospects for success. The term mentoring just wasn't around 30 years ago.
In larger scale organisations there is a prospect of a fuller closed loop in mentoring. Not only does one gain personal satisfaction from seeing people's lives take on meaning and purpose, but our companies thrive better too. Projects like Connect Mentors take the process of engagement from the extra-curricular to the core curricular. And that's why you should look them up.