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27 Feb 2017

BWMB from the beginning

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During  the mid-90’s Diane became a member of the treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons. This is one of the most important committees with oversight over the economy and financial regulation. The Committee met on a weekly basis taking evidence from bankers, businessmen and financial regulators and travelled regularly to financial centres like New York, Washington and Frankfurt. Diane served on the committee for eight years in total. She met many of the leading figures in British Business and finance and she helped to author many important reports on business and the economy. Her work on business and financial matters served to increase her interest and capability support small black-owned businesses.

Diane’s preliminary research found that black entrepreneurs were conspicuous by their absence from the most of the formal and informal networks for business that then existed. For instance the Chamber of Commerce in Hackney has no black members. And the different London wide business advisory services that she consulted were unable to name more than a few black businesswomen. But from her own experience in Hackney alone, Diane knew of dozens of black women business owners.

Diane decided that she could play strategic role In a number of ways. Firstly, she wanted to make black women business owners aware of the services, support and advice available to small business as whole. But she also wanted to make the financial services sector, Department to Trade and Industry and the different business advice services, more aware of the needs of black women business owners. And finally she wanted to support woman entrepreneurs and help them to network and form strategic partnerships with each other. In 1992 there was no other network for black businesswomen or black female professionals, so the BWMB initiative was the very first of its kind.


The Inaugural Reception

Winsome Cornish MBE.jpgIn 1993 Diane felt ready to launch and initiative targeted at black businesswomen. Her original idea was for a small network for businesswomen in Hackney area. She decided to launch it with a reception t the House of Commons. The keynote speaker was one of the leading black female professionals of the time Ms Winsome Cornish. Ms Cornish was the editor of Britain’s most widely read black publication, the voice newspaper. The Voice newspaper was owned by one of Britain’s leading black businessmen, Val McAlla. Diane had known Mr McAlla for many years and he Voice was to be a key strategic partner for Black Women Mean Business over the next ten years.                           


Val Mcalla - Founder of the Voice Newspaper.jpg

The reception was originally planned as an intimate event for a group of about thirty businesswomen, however many more came. The majority of these women were from Hackney, but many were also from all over London.  It was clear that there was a genuine need for an initiative of this kind and the Diane was well placed to develop it. Through her general work on the Treasury Select Committee she had a number of contacts who were to prove useful as sponsor and as speakers.

The rest of 1993 was spent by Diane’s team of volunteers doing further research and building strategic partnerships with the organisation who were to prove important supporters of Black Women Mean Business was the NatWest Bank, Another key supporter in the early years was the prince’s Youth Business Trust.  A Number of Britain’s leading black businessmen supported the initiative from the beginning. They included Val McCalla of the Voice and the Managing Director of Choice FM, Patrick Berry. Choice was then, as now, Britain’s most successful urban music radio station. Diane was
grateful for the support and commitment shown to Black Women Mean Business by a range of businesses and corporate entities over the years.

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