Voltage Revolution Is Making London’s Creative Industry As Black As It Can Be

Yoanna 'Pepper' Chikezie Interviewed By Koumbah Semega-Janneh And Zion Estrada
7 min read
Newly launched social enterprise, Voltage Revolution, is focused on making London's creative and tech industries as Black as it can be.

We spoke to Yoanna ‘Pepper’ Chikezie - Voltage Revolution’s Innovation Manager about their plans to reshape the creative and tech industries in London for the Black creative community, for good.

Black Discourse (BD):  What was the inspiration behind the Voltage Revolution?

Yoanna 'Pepper' Chikezie (YPC): There is a distinct need for direct investment into the economic empowerment of Black people living in London. We believe that young people have everything it takes to make a massive impact on the world. So we've created a platform that provides young Black people in the UK with access to the people they need to know, and the knowledge they need to have to get to where they want to go.

BD: What are the challenges young Black people are facing as they try to secure work in the tech and creative sectors right now?

YPC: There are a number of systematic barriers in the tech and creative sector. In the first instance - with 1/5th of all UK tech jobs in London and London's Black population standing at 14% - Black people make up only 3% of the UK tech force, which clearly shows a negative bias in the hiring practices of these companies.

In the creative sector, Black people are struggling to take up space in an industry that was not built for them, they are still fighting to be recognised for work that has been appropriated and are still fighting for representation across the board. The culture of unpaid internships for instance makes it significantly harder for a young Black creative to climb the ladder because we know that, to begin with, Black people tend to be at a disadvantage financially to be able to afford months of unpaid “work experience’.

There is also the fact that fashion houses tend to hire from prominent fashion and film schools and universities - again Black students are in the minority, which leaves the rest of Black creatives who are just as talented out of the pool. If there is a lack of role models in the tech and creative industries and leadership roles that are positions of power - it makes it even more difficult to get a foot in the door and craft the type of career they desire.

We also know that these biases are deeply entrenched in the education system from primary to tertiary level, which are reflected in narrow curriculums and discriminatory behaviours and practices towards students of colour. The lack of options for promising students and minimal funding for postgraduate study does not help too. This can have long term effects on an individual in terms of career aspirations, confidence and how they see themselves in society.

BD: Who can engage with the Voltage Revolution? And what will they gain?

YPC: Voltage-Revolution is for 18-24-year-old young Black people living in London, primarily in the south London boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham, Lambeth and Wandsworth, who are not currently in employment, education, or training and are looking for an opportunity to create a sustainable future in a career. 

Along with Lambeth Council and STRIDE we are supporting 50 Black and Mixed with Black young people (18-24) who are currently not in employment, education or training (NEET) to access a 6-month skills development programme that will increase their opportunity of getting a job in London's creative and digital sector.

The deadline to register is March 21st, 2021. Please encourage your audience to register here. The programme has 50 spaces only.

Voltage Revolution is a six month part-time training programme that will support young people to gain the digital and creative skills needed to get a job in one of London's best-paid industries. The trainees on the program learn and gain new skills in podcast production, web development, branding, marketing and content creation. They also have the opportunity to be mentored by leaders and experts in the field and a two-week paid internship with leading industry brands and companies.

BD: What does it mean to have specifically Black led organisations fostering young Black people’s talent?

YPC: As one of the minority groups in this country, young Black people spend their whole life going through education and work mostly being led by White teachers and managers. It’s rare to see someone in a position of power who looks like them, other than in sports and music; which can unconsciously send the message that that’s all they can do.

The team of professionals we have in our programme not only share common lived experiences with our participants, but also understand the needs of young Black people better than anyone else. The power and impact they can have in helping to unlock young talent cannot be understated - it is phenomenally critical to the growth and development of young Black futures.

BD: What does a Black led tech industry look like? What are its possibilities?

YPC: Genius is everywhere. More Black people being supported to have our experiences and unique view of the world turned into creative or technical products or services is a good thing. It means more Black people’s problems being solved, rather than solutions created for other community groups that we have to adapt to.

BD: Who is making moves in the UK/London tech scene? And what projects/ initiatives do we need to be watching right now?

YPC: Two things I can definitely point you towards are Afritech XYZ and Black and Good. Afritech XYZ is an ecosystem development mechanism that empowers various stakeholders across the UK, US, European and African tech ecosystems to communicate with, and support, each other on the basis of knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Black and Good is an online-offline incubator program that engages Black entrepreneurs building tech-enabled businesses. They work with hundreds of entrepreneurs each year and collaborate with leading companies to share resources and tools with members.

BD: What is the long term vision of Voltage Revolution?

YPC: Our goal is to empower young Black people to create a better future for themselves, their peers and the future generation of Londoners.

Visit: Voltage Revolution’s website

Voltage Revolution ︎on Instagram

Yoanna Chikezie is an award-winning entrepreneur and has developed an extensive  career within the arts and creative economy for the last 15 years drawing on a wide ranging knowledge of contemporary practices and networks to provide specialist advice as  well as participating directly in project design, branding, implementation, management, and evaluation.

Yoanna leads The Assembly, a platform that unites creativity and entrepreneurship, bridging the gap between young entrepreneurs and communities in fashion and design to build businesses that can thrive and create impact.

Yoanna is passionate about creating opportunities  and access for young people and women, pushing the agenda of social and economic development through the arts and innovation in Africa and the Diaspora.

In 4-years The Assembly has supported over 2000 entrepreneurs whilst securing partnerships with the likes of the British Council, Cultural Enterprise Office, Scotland, Jobberman, Facebook, AFFORD, Dalberg, and University of The Arts.

A serial entrepreneur, Yoanna has worked in Fashion production, marketing, and branding  for the last 15 years. In 2013, Yoanna’s was recruited to take on the role of Head of  Channel of the first 24hr international African fashion and lifestyle channel, SPICE TV. In  her role as the Head of Channel, she led a team of 30+ in content creation television and  event production and maximised audience and strategic business relationships with  brands such as; Unilever, Johnnie Walker, Jumia, Samsung, Nokia, and Vlisco, leading  teams to co-create numerous brand-consumer experiences and content for TV and digital platforms.

Yoanna enjoys mentoring and coaching young start-ups and consulting for the tech and  creative sector and working with projects that require creative solutions and innovation  with clients such as Sales Gossip, Nairabox, Tremendoc, FranklynTill, and AFA Sports.

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Voltage Revolution Is Making London’s Creative Industry As Black As It Can Be
7 min read