Interview with Jacqueline Onalo FRSA
Thorny trade negotiations, governments behaving badly, trade wars, recessions popping- up faster than mushrooms, whatever the weather, and an endless list of unwise moves, pose some of the greatest risks to the world economy. Is anything, anything at all, that we can do, to change our world for better?
On reflection, I remember that early this year I read a government-backed review which has found that a £24bn could be added to UK economy each year, should black and minority ethnic (BME) people receive help to access professional success on equal footing with their white counterparts. How damaging is discrimination for humanity? How fast can you go when you only promote what is called ‘your own’? What is society’s loss, in figures, when leaders across industries and across the globe, promote people similar to themselves and ignore those who are ‘Different’? How far can you go alone?
I reached out to Jacqueline Onalo, Human Rights Lawyer, purposeful leader and passionate Diversity and Inclusion expert, from London, UK, to share her story with us.
Jacqueline decided to become a lawyer when she was about eight years old, when other kids her age were playing with dolls, she was toying with the idea of being a world leader and sorting out all global ills.
Against the odds, she begun her practice as a criminal defence barrister, she then stumbled upon human rights and never looked back, this became her true passion.
Jacqueline is very proud of the fact that the United Kingdom was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 following the end of the Second World War. These rights are enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998 and are unfortunately now applied selectively thus by discrimination. Immigrants in the United Kingdom without leave to remain, no immigration status have, no right to access NHS treatment except in emergencies, no right to work, no right to rent accommodation, no right to a driving licence thus no right to drive, no right to an education, no right to open a bank account etc This effectively means that they have no sustenance, shelter , medical care etc which makes them vulnerable for exploitation by criminal gangs by illegal working under minimum pay, domestic and sexual slavery, coercive force, domestic violence, medicine dispensed illegally by rogue pharmacists, homelessness, destitution, hunger etc It is paramount that the UK whilst maintaining effective immigration control ensures that the human rights of all are protected whilst they are on these shores even if ultimately they may not be entitled to live here. This is something Jacqueline is actively campaigning for.
At the core of Miss Onalo’s activities is leadership development and she has worked with hundreds of professionals in the past few years. She loves that she supports individuals and organisations to accelerate their productivity, improve work relationships, increase innovation whilst achieving personal and organisation ambitions, all of this through leadership development.
She understands the power of living your purpose and passion, and provides technical expertise, practical tools, guidance and inspiration.
‘I was going to impart the lessons I had learnt, the cautionary unwritten tale not just how to do it. I used my training, expertise, my failures and my successes to devise my own leadership development programmes, and the vehicle for this is JOLT. The name is what it says on the can – it’s jolting individuals and organisations to fulfil their potential.’
“Although I have supported the development of hundreds of leaders be they mid level managers, executives or those on preceptorship programmes, the most rewarding work has been that with our youth, they challenge the millennials stereotype with their ambition, work ethic, energy, innovation and community spirit. I listen to them, I am candid with them and they exceed all my expectations. They face far more obstacles than we did, the world is more competitive, and intolerance is on the rise but they have proved to be up to the challenge. My mentees are pursuing degrees in Russell group universities, seeking policy making roles, volunteering, running successful businesses, pursuing their passion, applying for roles they were once reluctant to or procrastinating etc Their testimonials are all the encouragement I need to continue this role.’ Jacqueline says.
‘This is the most rewarding of all the work I do, empowering emerging leaders to chart their own course, overcome obstacles, seek opportunities, be active citizens and crucially fulfil their potential with choices that suit them.
The UK education system focuses on academics with nothing or little taught about essential career, life and active citizenship skills. The consequences of this on those without social mobility is reduced life chances, opportunities, income, health, quality of life and even life expectancy. Jacqueline used her own experience, expertise and research to develop a unique holistic programme that focuses on these skills, JOLT Youth Leadership and Mentorship Programme which she has run for over 3 years at various Universities including Kings College, UCL, University of a Roehampton, Kingston University, EdSpace, Equip Boys Summer Camp, Face of Kenya etc. She has also run this programme in Kenya under the name Ignite.
She believes real leaders create new leaders and for her, this is the most important part of her work. Legacy making, she remembers an audience with world acclaimed photographer, James Bannor where she first heard this proverb, “ A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” It is crucial that everyone realises that their life, journey is not just for themselves but for the benefit of society. “ I have taken a rickety ladder up, it is encumber on me and everyone else to send the elevator back down.”
Her extraordinary contribution to leadership development, her heartfelt efforts could not be overlooked. Jacqueline was selected as one of the top African Diaspora leaders in the U.K. and Comic Relief sponsored her one-year Women in Leadership training programme where she met some incredible women(now called Power 14) , who ‘motivated, inspired, rebuked and challenged me all at once which led to tremendous personal growth. Never underestimate the influence of the passionate and ambitious.’ Jacqueline says.
Being a consultant solicitor, gives her the independence to be involved in grassroots community and international development work. She has been a trustee for Community Development Initiatives UK for almost a decade and is its current chair. Through CDI U.K. she has been involved in the following successful projects in Kenya and the UK:
· Converted an old colonial building in Lemoru into Trinity Healthcare Centre serving hundreds in this rural part of Kenya
· Maana Meals in Harold Hill in the UK. A community project of a hot meal once monthly, to befriend the vulnerable in that community so that our volunteers could support them with their varying needs; homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, domestic violence, mental health issues, loneliness etc. After one year, our volunteers from Brentwood opened their own charity with the same name to continue the work in Romford.
· A Comic Relief funded livelihood security programme for 100 women and their families from Dandora Dumpsite. Focus has been taking them from their hazardous existence of the dumpsite through provision of healthcare, entrepreneurship training, parenting and resilience classes, counselling, support with children’s education, setting up savings and loans groups to support micro finance and their new micro enterprise geared at sustainable Livelihood security.
Jacqueline says that her time volunteering in Kenya a several weeks every year, is challenging but extraordinarily uplifting. The women she encounters have survived the unimaginable but still maintain hope, their resilience is incredibly inspiring. These are the unsung heroes of our society.
She doesn’t shy away from difficult topics and she is respected for her insight even by those who do not agree with her. She never lets her triumph and applause turn into vanity, embracing both, positive criticism and unfair critics, discarding the latter.
‘I am candid about my good, bad and ugly always aiming to share lessons learnt by me and others, a real desire to support others where they can to fulfil their potential not just for themselves but for our communities.’
‘We live in interesting and challenging times which means that I have to challenge intolerance even within my own personal sphere. There is much to do and we all must play a part, I do mine.’
In Jacqueline’s journey she has faced racism, sexism and ageism. The former was surprising to her because in a Kenya, race was never an issue but its institutionalisation here perpetuates historical inequities. She decided to devote her efforts to challenging the aforementioned. She has established herself as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Expert and has worked with several NHS Trusts, The Home Office, Connect4Better, Brent Council, Comic Relief etc
She is keen for organisations to not only adhere to the Equalities Act 2010 but crucially be values led.
Jacqueline works with several NHS trusts on programmes targeted at race relations and ethnic minorities breaking the glass ceiling. She has sat on the Midlands NHS Leadership Academy Think Tank on equality, diversity & inclusion issues. She carried out research regarding the aforementioned and the learning from this has informed North East London FoundationTrust’s (NELFT’s) Ethnic Minority Network (EMN) Stronger Together Strategy 2020. She is delighted that Reverse Mentoring has been launched at NELFT this year after she introduced the concept, championed it and designed a programme of delivery. The latter has been modified and launched this year.
Jacqueline worked with Barnet, Enfield & Haringey Mental Health Trust (BEH) on Change Management, assisting in developing their Strategic Plan for their Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff network and had an instrumental role in helping establish. The staff network is tackling racism and its consequences . She acts as a catalyst and guide for change and then lets stakeholders navigate the change sought, empower people to resolve their challenges.
Jacqueline supported the former North Essex Partnership Trust (NEP) in establishing their BAME staff network which was launched in February 2017 to tackle race relations.
She delivers leadership training programmes at NELFT & keynote speeches including the pivotal “Changing the narrative of the “snowy peaks of the NHS.” This speech was the catalyst of several leaders emerging to tackle issues at their own trusts including BEH and NEP.
In recognition of her career and community achievements, she has received the following recognition and awards in recent years:
· Ambassador of Peace Award for peace building through development work focussing on gender, race and youth.
· Brummell‘s, 1 of 30 Most Inspirational Women in London 2017 for being a Transformational Leader, ChangeMaker.
· Lift Effects Award Recipient 2017 for her community work.
· Finalist as Positive Role Model for Race/Faith/Religion, National Diversity Awards September 2017.
· 1 of 100 Rising Stars finalists for WeAreTheCity under the Law Category 2017.
· Motivational Speaker of the Year: Women4Africa 2016.
· Community and Social Development Award Recipient: British African Development Award (BRAAD) 2015.
· Humanitarian Recognition: African Women in Europe 2015
“The common theme in all my roles is use of my voice for transformative change, upholding rights and empowering individuals.’
A great Humanitarian at heart, Jacqueline believes that her life, career, community work and social activism, her failures and successes, her pursuit for social justice and international development, serve as lessons, motivation and inspiration for others in their own journeys.
Sometimes, knowledge is not enough, and what really drives Jacqueline each day is wisdom, the desire to grow, be more, become a better person. Her life motto is an African Proverb that impacted my life too: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone and if you want to go far, go together.’