In this article, Capco's Jacob Koree reflects on his Ghanaian roots and being an ethnic minority in financial services.
"If you know where you're coming from, then you know where you're going."
This statement strongly resonated with me throughout my childhood. Here's why...
I have always felt a true belonging to Africa and especially Ghana, where I was born. However, as time goes by, I have now spent twice or three times as much time in London as in Accra. When I first returned to Ghana aged 15, having left at 5 years old, I felt that I was beginning to lose my Ghanaian identity - and it concerned me.
Whilst I was always raised in a household that adheres to the traditional Ghanaian culture, that trip to Ghana was the moment where I rediscovered where I was truly from. Reconnecting with family, and particularly my grandparents, made me realise how proud they were of me. They had also advised me to continue to develop myself and become a real agent of change in my community. These words drive me to be better every day.
Going to school in London, one of the world’s most multicultural cities, was in many ways a shelter from the reality that I am statistically an ethnic minority. And yet, I was never the only black or ethnic face in the classroom. Many times you could argue that there was no ethnic minority in the classrooms of my schooldays. It was when I entered the world of internships and work that I realised that I was – and am - a minority.
All the internships that shaped my early career were in London. However, as I sat there in the offices of investment banks and management consultancies, I often asked myself: "Where have all the brothers and sisters I went to school with gone?" Even if they were not all heading into financial services, there surely must have been a few others in other schools who had similar ambitions to myself?
It wasn’t until I encountered a mentor who was very senior at a leading professional services firm that I began to look at my career from a different lens. He was also a black man and shall be known as Mr. M for the remainder of this post.
Mr. M was clearly a man who knew exactly where he was coming from, and believed it was important that others knew where they came from too. He made it his purpose to instil that belief in young men and women of ethnic minority backgrounds.
Mr M was incredibly important in shaping my early career, and not just because of the contacts he provided in securing an internship, or because of the support he offered in completing my dissertation for my degree. He was important because he was real representation of someone who knew where he was coming from, and had used this as a driving force to excel in the workplace, and inspire others to do so as well.
LIFE AT CAPCO
You cannot determine where you are going if you cannot hone in on your current location, and this is very much about knowing where you are coming from. Understanding my ethnicity as a minority has been important in understanding the role I play at the workplace. Since joining Capco in early 2018, my knowledge of where I am coming from has been important in chartering my early career. Capco as a community does embrace its stance on ‘Be Yourself at Work’.
This environment means that I can bring my journey prior to Capco to the workplace and not be outcast for being different. In fact, this difference is celebrated if it can bring positive results to the community and success of Capco. However, this does not diminish the fact that I may be potentially one or a few black people my colleagues may interact with. This means I need to primarily focus on delivering excellence and portraying a quality of work that impacts the perceptions individuals may have towards other Black people. This responsibility is something that I do not take lightly and is a motivator to be better every day.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
Reconnecting with my Ghanaian roots was particularly important because I believe there is a power in understanding heritage. Knowing where you are coming from is central for understanding your identity wherever you go in this globalised world. It is no coincidence that one of the first questions you may get asked when interacting with someone for the first time is “Where do you come from?” Knowing my heritage and where I come from has given me the drive to embrace my uniqueness and to use this to bring diversity into a workplace. I am a firm believer that diversity only makes for better teams.
When I say you should know where you are coming from, I don’t mean you should take the next flight to the motherland and begin a journey of rediscovery. Some BAME people reading this might even be second or third generation UK citizens. But for me, knowing where you’re coming from means understanding what have been the key factors that have shaped your journey up to this point, and using this to drive you towards a destination, whether that be a career or some other goal or target. The destination can be a lot clearer when we have a clear idea of where we have set off from.