A leg up on the career ladder
With a vision for a world in which where you start out in life does not determine where you end up, successful lawyer and social entrepreneur, Claudine Adeyemi, is blazing a trail for others to reach their full potential. Following on from her UK Social Entrepreneur Index nominee Q&A and her subsequent entry as one of our ‘Ten of the Best’, Ashleigh Smith caught up with Claudine to delve deeper into her journey.
You left home at 16 and overcame so many obstacles to become a lawyer. How did you achieve that?
“My mom passed away when I was quite young. So I always had this whole thing of wanting to make her proud. That helped keep me focused when I could've gone off the rails a little bit. The second thing is I'm quite goals driven. I was 11 when I decided to be a lawyer. Because I had this goal set, not achieving it just doesn't align very well with my personality. I guess having this ultimate goal that I wanted to achieve in life also kept me going.
“Then the third thing was I had some support from Kids Company, which has now folded. Having individuals around me who believed in me and thought that I could achieve meant that they helped push me to stay focused and get where I need to be, including some of my teachers at school. Weirdly, that's also part of the reason why I do what I do. I know that most people in my situation aren't necessarily as academic as I was or as focused. Because I was quite clear on I wanted to achieve, I worked really hard and for the most part got straight A-grades. It made it easier for them to back me and give me the support that I needed.”
When you became a lawyer, what became your next goal that you set for yourself?
“That's a really interesting one. I definitely reached a crossroads where I was kind of like, ‘Whoa, I've actually achieved my life's dream. What on earth do I do now?’
“I just ended up taking each day and trying to be the best at what I was doing, learning my craft, speaking out over law and really immersed myself into that experience.
“I'm quite ambitious. So I guess I naturally was following the standard path that people think you're supposed to follow, but simultaneously realising that I had this duty to give back to young people. Particularly the ones that come from a similar background and had a similar journey to me. Making sure that they had a platform of support and people around them that can support them.
“So wanting desperately to make sure that I was giving back in that way is what led me to set up The Student Development Co. CIC. I ended up being someone who wore quite a lot of different hats. I reached a point where I realised that I did want to have an impact in the world and I wanted to make sure that my legacy after I'm gone is that I helped people. The ambition is to help loads of people, but ultimately if I did something that helps just one person that would be totally worth it.
“That became something that I was quite passionate about and it found many different outlets. So The Student Development Co. was a very explicit way of doing that, but that also extended to mentoring students in my own spare time outside of the student development, supporting people internally like junior colleagues... just any way that I could help people, I would do that. And then part and parcel of that was trying to bring about change in terms of structures and policies and perceptions – particularly around diversity inclusion in the workplace.”
And then you went on to launch Career Ear in 2018. How have you handled the growth of the company? Have you found it challenging?
“Yeah, I think if you're running a business and you don't face challenges, then you're probably doing something wrong. It's just about enjoying the journey. I've always been someone that enjoys being challenged by the work that I do. This most certainly is, across a lot of different areas!
“It's just about solving the problems as and when they arise and trying to think strategically about what problems might come up. And really learning from mistakes and being open to failing, being comfortable with that and sitting with that comfort and learning from those experiences.
“I think pretty early on I was lucky, because I learned some lessons from The Student Development Co that I am using now with Career Ear. It was driven by volunteers, so particularly around how to motivate people; how to garner support and get people involved in what I'm doing in there. And getting excited about what we're doing, which helps dramatically, thinking about Career Ear as well. As we raise investment and try to bring on paid employees, it obviously makes it easier to attract people here. But I think increasingly, wanting to be doing work that has a purpose and that they believe in has helped. So I specifically set out to work with young people, because that's what we're all about, creating opportunity.
“I wanted The Student Development Co. to be driven by young people as well. We had young people working with us and volunteering with us. And we tried to support them in their own career development journeys personally. So you know, having check-ins with them, reviewing applications, helping them with CVs and whatever else I could do to help or putting them in touch with people in my network. And then from a personal development perspective, really trying to rope them into opportunities that arose through being involved with what we're doing. So if there were particular events where I thought ‘actually there might be people that would be useful for them to connect with’, I invited them to things that I knew would take them out of their comfort zone, increasing their confidence by networking, which worked really, really well.
“And we mentored quite a few of them out of the organisation, which was sad, but necessary. I think if you're going to lead, you should 100% be supporting those individuals to be the best that they can be. And that might not be within your organisation.
“We always made sure that they were volunteering in a capacity that they were excited about. We would have a conversation about what they were wanting out of their career and tried to create a role around that ambition. If they wanted to go into journalism, we’d get them involved in the news. They want to go into marketing, getting them involved with that kind of thing. It worked quite well, because it then meant that they were actually doing something they wanted to rather than just for the kind of sake of it.”
You have said that you want to help millions of young people across the UK and overseas. Have you branched out internationally yet, or is that planned for the future?
“Yeah, definitely, it’s in the plans for the future, hopefully late next year. We're currently at the stage of raising a round of investments that we can use to scale up.”
How did you feel about being recognised in the UK Social Entrepreneur Index as one of the ‘10 of the best’ that were chosen by the judges?
Surprised. It's incredibly humbling. I think for me, I've had a number of issues with the social entrepreneur title. I think straddling the pure entrepreneur space but also wanting to deliver impact is quite difficult. I think the terminology in the space is quite challenging as well, so for example ‘social enterprise’, there's not a definition that everyone accepts.
“I guess it's about trying to change perceptions and how people look at all these things. I am super passionate about being able to demonstrate that you can be a completely pure for profit business that also is driven by impact and can deliver that.
“I think from my perspective, being included in the list and the events is really amazing, because it's kind of validating that there are other people that think this is an important message to get out to everyone; that you can do this, and that more businesses should be set up this way. That's quite important for us.”
Claudine’s personal experience, business growth and drive to move forward have seen her recognised as one of the 2019 UK Social Entrepreneur Index’s ‘Ten of the Best’. To find out more about the Index and see the others recognised, head over to the website. Keep an eye out for even more in-depth interviews with some of our other social entrepreneurs.
Announced earlier this year, the UK Social Entrepreneur Index is a celebration of entrepreneurs running businesses with social purposes. Out of the 29 entrepreneurs who made it into the Index, we’ve highlighted our ‘Ten of the Best’ and are bringing you a more in-depth look at some of their business journeys and lives as social entrepreneurs.