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In the business of compassion: the Clarke family on social work, entrepreneurship and Black identity

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 28 Oct 2021

ICAEW sat down with Pamela Clarke and her daughter, Yvonne Clarke, to discuss motivations behind their work in foster care, what it means to be an entrepreneur, running a Black-owned business and Black cultural identity.

Eighty-seven-year-old Pamela Clarke has spent the last fifty years working as a professional in foster care and social work. She gained a qualification in social work from Brunel University in the mid-1980s and worked as a Senior Practitioner for Wandsworth Council, specialising in supporting Black young people in foster care.

Having moved from Jamaica at the age of 21, Pamela has dedicated her life to giving to others. While she doesn’t see herself as an entrepreneur, her sense of initiative, positivity and people skills make her highly skilled in her field. These professionalisms have been passed on to her daughter Yvonne, who was inspired by her own work in foster care to start her own Black-run restaurant business that believes in supporting and training people, whatever their socioeconomic background.

Pamela Clarke originally got involved in foster care at a young age, after working as a midwife, because giving to others is part of her nature. She continues to be involved in projects in Sierra Leone and she sponsors a scholarship in Jamaica. She is passionate and committed to helping and supporting others who have a great need. She says, “the motivation can come from the personal point. It also comes from knowing there is a need. We are talking about Black children, mainly teenagers who were not able to stay with their families, and were also coming into a new country, or their parents had come over on Windrush.”

Pamela realised that some Black young people in the foster care system were not getting their needs met. Working on the Black Families Project for Wandsworth Council, a flagship of foster care at the time, she and her colleagues dealt with the issues Black young people were facing. Some of these included making sure that foster families were educated about skincare and haircare and had the proper training in Black cultural identity to be able to support Black children and young people that they were caring for. She explains, “their sense of identity needed to be fulfilled”. 

In 1991, Pamela and a team of colleagues, with the support of the High Commission, travelled to Jamaica with a group of ten Black teenagers to provide a sense of history and identity. Many of these children had been bullied in school due to racism, or they had been rejected by their parents and others, and they didn’t have a sense of pride in who they were and where they came from. The trip gave them an opportunity to meet family members and to see people like them succeeding.

When asked about her entrepreneurial spirit in the field of foster care, Pamela Clarke is hesitant to be described in such a way. She sees herself primarily as someone who likes to share and think of others. Pamela considers herself to be a role model who values learning, consistency, time management, flexibility, kindness and understanding. She says, “I go to the full length, to support someone who is in need; I value compassion, I like to share and I'm always thinking of others”. These people skills, while not motived by entrepreneurship, are also values that support someone starting their own business and working with a diversity of people.

Yvonne Clarke, Pamela’s daughter, took the values and skills she had learned working in foster care with her mother and applied those to starting her own business. She wanted autonomy in the workplace and saw a gap in the market for a good Black Caribbean restaurant that was Black-owned. She saw the importance of developing and training young people who were recruited into the business, in the same way that Pamela had developed and supported the young people in foster care. Yvonne explains, “I could develop and train young people, especially women that actually hadn't had a fair chance. I could put in training programs; I could actually recruit in a way that I wanted to recruit, so that I could develop people.”

Yvonne said that funding is difficult for a Black-owned business, and often you have to self-fund. Unless you have the support of community groups, you’re quite isolated and are doing things on your own. There’s also a stigma attached. Some people question how professional Black people are going to be and how Black owned businesses operate. This stigma is a constant battle. 

Yvonne Clarke also said that there is an opportunity for success when you are doing something that is authentic, that comes from the heart. If you have the right professionalism and look at things in the right way, you’ll succeed. From Pamela Clarke’s dedication to giving and developing others, to Yvonne’s commitment to authenticity in her company, the Clarke family shows that when it comes to social work and business, compassion is key.

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