When journalist and social entrepreneur Foluke Akinlose decided to launch the PRECIOUS Awards in 1997, she was prepared to fill a void that had been left for far too long. At the time, there were little to no platforms in the UK celebrating the business accomplishments of women of color, and over the past 15 years, Akinlose has done just that and more. Recognized by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth herself, the success of the Awards have led her to launch PRECIOUS Online, a web network and resource for female business owners of color, and most recently PRECIOUS Girls, a project that works with UK schools to inspire and promote entrepreneurship amongst young girls.
Akinlose will be among the four esteemed speakers featured at the next I’mPOSSIBLE Conversation in London on December 12, so in true Parlour MAVEN fashion, we talked to her about everything from breaking new ground in the UK to inspiring a new generation of leaders.
Parlour: After working in the media industry for so many years, what inspired you to start the PRECIOUS Awards in 1997?
Foluke: I was tired of being invited to so many awards for women in business and never seeing any women of color celebrated. I knew that we were out there, I met them every day in my role as editor of PRECIOUS. I was irritated, then annoyed, then knew I had to do something. I was very specific about the content of the awards, I wanted them to unashamedly celebrate the success of women of color in business and those making an impact in the corporate world. This was not about celebrity, music or sport. It was about toasting success in business and, to be honest, it’s not easy to gain support for that in the UK.
Have you noticed particular strives in new opportunities for women of color in the UK since then?
The awards have had a definite impact on other so-called ‘mainstream’ awards event, their shortlists more diverse now. Many women who have won a PRECIOUS award go on to even greater things like meeting Prime Ministers, Presidents and getting bigger profiles for their brand. This makes me very happy!
Since starting the Awards in 1997, has there been one ceremony that really stands out for you?
The one in November, our original venue pulled the event less than 24 hours before the awards were due to take place. It had never happened before, I was stunned. We had given them a great deal of money towards the event. We had a 2012 Olympian and a woman at the top of her game in corporate life as our guest speakers and the venue just cancelled. I was devastated for our finalists and it was the first time in six years that I wondered whether I could pull it off. Ultimately, this year’s event was held at the five-star Waldorf Hotel in central London. The atmosphere was electric, the staff treated us with such respect and it was probably our best event yet!