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Tales from the frontline: Harris Bokhari OBE

Harris Bokhari OBE knows the value of mentoring, having seen how his father inspired people from minority communities. As a national advisory board member of Mosaic, he is continuing a family tradition.

There are too many young people in the UK that don’t have the same opportunity as many in their peer group. This could be because of their socio-economic background, the colour of their skin, or their sexuality.

Mosaic was founded by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in 2007. It’s one of his key mentoring programmes now housed under the Prince’s Trust. With the help of our voluntary mentors, we aim to be the bridge between aspiration and attainment. We link young people with inspirational role models and try to boost their confidence and their long-term employability.

Right now, there is nothing more important. I’m involved because of my late father. He was the first Asian Muslim head teacher in the UK and he had a great role in helping support a lot of minority communities that came to the UK. When my father was a head teacher in the early 1980s, there were still posters that would say “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish”. This was at a point when a lot of ethnic minority children’s fathers worked in low-level jobs. So when he got into a powerful position it really inspired them and enabled them to understand they could achieve anything.

One of the many young people my father inspired is the now mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. He was very gracious, and in his winning speech he talked of how my father was a mentor and an inspiration because he showed him that despite the colour of his skin he could achieve anything. My father was involved in Mosaic and after he passed away it was one of the many charities he supported that I wanted to continue helping.

One of the most difficult challenges is trying to improve our work and to reach out to more individuals. There is a growing need: unfortunately deprived communities are increasing and young people are facing more difficulties. There is always a case for us wanting to do more.

In the charitable sector, the generous support we get from donors and volunteer mentors is fantastic. We wish we could expand our work and have a greater impact, but we need the resources
to do be able to do that.

The young people we work with face multiple challenges – some may become homeless during our mentoring, or face mental health issues, and there are the basic issues of not being able to afford a good meal during the day or even having the money to travel from one place to another. We always need to be aware of these issues and think ahead of each young person’s needs.

I’m an optimist by nature, and I think you have to be in the charitable sector. I always want to see the best for the young people we work for. I not only want to see each one be able to reach their potential but go beyond it. As a country, as an economy, and within the charity sector, I think we have no choice but to be positive in terms of the road ahead. I think we need to focus and understand that there will be challenges, but there will also be fantastic opportunities.

The one thing that Brexit has done (that I’ve noticed in this particular sector) is that it has highlighted the divisions this country has always had. If that’s to do with relationships with deprived communities, or the lack of community integration in some areas of the country, at least we have become more aware of the reality of these challenges. The charity sector will have to step up.
The internet and social media are extremely important to the lives of young people today, so charities are looking at clever ways of engaging with these communities that don’t necessarily require the same amount of resources as before.

We’ve got some great innovators and some great thought leaders in the sector. The Prince’s Trust under the leadership of Dame Martina Milburn has already launched its e-mentoring programme online, an example of how charities are innovating and proving that we will take on challenges, maximise the opportunities and more importantly work towards ensuring our work is no longer required for future generations.

In the business world we know disruptive technology is changing the way business is done globally. There is no doubt technology will always enhance the work of business and enhance the work of charities, but I think it is far off in terms of solving the problems.

You can find out more about the Mosaic Network here 

Originally published in Economia, January 2018.