Meet Charlene Wilkinson

Founder
I-dentity

I-dentity is a youth focussed organisation providing Caribbean Studies programmes based in London.

Founded by Charlene Wilkinson in 2009, I-dentity aims to inspire, challenge and promote positive cultural awareness and understanding for students both in and outside mainstream education.

Accredited by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), I-dentity delivers modules in cultural studies and presents a platform that pushes forward the notion of Caribbean antiquity, underpinned by current perspectives.

The company currently employs a team of five and is poised to launch a series of networking events that will be hosted later this year.

Why did you decide to start your company?
I decided to start my own company as I felt it was the only way to teach Caribbean history to the masses. The Caribbean region has contributed and sacrificed so much that its story needed to be listened to and appreciated, not just by students of Caribbean heritage but by everyone.

I also believed that it needed to be taught in establishments where many young people are developing and coming into their own awareness of global issues.

What was your career path prior to starting your first business?
My career path in the last six years has been within the education system; studying and working towards establishing I-dentity. I’ve tutored in mainstream schools, Saturday schools and Pupil Referral Units.

I enjoy the vibes you get from working with young people; they’re full of enthusiasm and are always questioning the status quo.

Did you always know that you would start your own business?
Growing up, starting my own business was not something I envisioned for myself, mainly because I didn’t know what my business would be. It wasn’t until I was in college studying African & Caribbean Studies that the thought of starting my own business came into fruition.

What steps did you take to launch your business?
I first launched I-dentity at a secondary school in West London. The very first I-dentity programme lasted 16 weeks and had a vast array of guest speakers and included an interview with Colourful Radio.

It was with the pilot project where I learnt the most about what to include, what to delete, what to amend and how to deliver the workshops in a format that would keep young people engaged.

I also signed up to Business Link and attended workshops on Starting Your Own Business and other workshops related to small businesses. These workshops were extremely helpful in terms of the advice, guidance and support provided and gave me the confidence I needed to start my own company.

In relation to research, I contacted schools in London and Greater London to establish whether they would be interested or had a programme in place similar to I-dentity.

How much do your workshops cost and what age-groups do you work with?
The workshops start from £20 per person per hour. Prices can be negotiated for group bookings of more than 15 people. The workshops are aimed at young people between the ages of 14-21 years of age.

What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m working on a series of networking events that will be hosted later this year. The networking events will be a means of promoting the workshops directly to schools, Young Offender Institutes and other community projects that work with young people.

Can you describe your typical working day?
A typical working day starts around 7.00am as I prepare myself for the day ahead and get my son ready for school.

The rest of the day is divided between responding to emails, meetings with potential and existing clients, meeting with companies that I have previously collaborated with to work on upcoming projects and working on I-dentity workshop modules.

I’m currently conducting interviews with individuals who came to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s to find out more about what Britain was like during this period. I’m also completing an interview with members of the Bobo Shanti tribe for a module on Rastafarianism in the U.K.

I’m usually home by 3.30pm depending on whether I have tutorials or governors meetings. I try to have a good working/home balance so I don’t touch the business when my son is awake and I’ll usually start working again for a couple hours after 8pm. My days are varied and I enjoy the flexibility I get from running my own business.

What have been the highlights of running your own business?
There have been many highlights and personal achievements for I-dentity over the past 2 years. Having the programme accredited by AQA was an amazing highlight as it provided recognised certification to those who complete the programme.

The other highlights have included watching students fully engaged in the programme and seeing the changes in attitudes and perception and developing working relationships with other youth focussed organisations and creating bespoke projects.

What is the hardest part of running your own business?
The hardest part of running my own business is realising that it is exactly that – my own business! I gave up my full time job in order to focus on I-dentity, this means that financially it’s been hard and at times I have wondered if I made the right choice.

However I know that if I hadn’t given up my job I wouldn’t have been able to invest time into developing I-dentity. Nothing comes to you when you’re starting out, you have to have the tenacity to go out and seek the information and contacts you need.

I have to work really hard in order to see any results, which means that at times, my working hours extend into the early hours of the morning. Combined with family commitments, the initial stages of starting I-dentity, have been quite exhaustive but very rewarding.

If you truly believe in your business then this belief will carry you through the hard times.

What has been your proudest business moment so far?
My proudest moment so far was an interview on Colourful Radio last May when I-dentity was still in its early stages. Three students were asked about their experiences on the programme and their responses were so positive that I was brimming with pride.

It wasn’t just their positive feedback but just listening to how eloquently they articulated their responses and the professionalism they executed was a great moment for me.

What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
I’m lucky to have a truly wonderful and supportive network of family and friends around me. My mother and my son are my inspiration and motivation.

My mother has laid a foundation to which I am able to follow my dreams with the knowledge that I have her support at all times. My mother has always encouraged me to “just go for it” and to remember to give thanks to the Almighty for his blessings.

My son is the reason why I work so hard. I want him to understand that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve but the belief system must firstly come from within. I want to be able to lay a solid foundation for him built on faith, love and determination to succeed. My mother and son are ONE and they are who inspire and motivate me.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting an education organisation?
Firstly – Research! Research! Research! I can’t stress enough the importance of researching your business idea. The last thing you want is to go full steam ahead with your idea only to realise that there is another company or companies that are doing exactly the same thing as you.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to talk about your business proposal. At first I was quite dubious talking about I-dentity which is a natural emotion to have when starting out, however, it was through the many discourses I had with educationalists, students, parents, business owners – anyone who would listen – that I become conscious of the fact that there was a need for a project such as I-dentity within the education system.

Thirdly, but not finally, you have to believe in what you are trying to achieve and be prepared to work hard for your desired goal. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic guest speakers on I-dentity workshops and this would not have been possible if I didn’t believe in my business.

Fast forward five years, where do you think your business will be in 2016?
In the next five years I would like I-dentity to be a national project that is being delivered in schools, Pupil Referral Units and Young Offender Institutes across the U.K.

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For more information on I-dentity visit www.i-dentity.org.uk. You can also find the company on Facebook and find Charlene Wilkinson on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Charlene Wilkinson was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.

The Twenty Ten Club is an award-winning networking organisation designed to connect, inspire and support Black female entrepreneurs. You can also find Twenty Ten Club on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

One thought on “Meet Charlene Wilkinson

  1. ActionAid

    Charlene ,

    Well done on such an inspiring article. It is fantastic to hear how you were motivate to set up such an organisation to help young people achieve their goals.

    ActionAid would like to thank you for your support to the charity, from modelling for us in the tea time for change pictures to donning a blue monster suit to encourage friends and family to walk across London to raise our profile and much needed funds.

    We wish you all the best with i-dentity.

    ActionAid

    Reply

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