Equality Through Innovation is a blog series profiling innovators working in Glasgow and the West of Scotland to tackle inequalities in unique ways. Today we meet Pheona Matovu, who spent years in immigration limbo and is now helping companies to innovate by fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion.
There is a running joke in the Radiant and Brighter office that if you’re away for one day, something will have changed when you come back.
Several times a day, the staff stop to ask themselves if they are serving the current needs of the community they work with. If not, something changes.
A culture of innovation underpins every aspect of the organisation’s work, thanks to founders Pheona and Micheal Matovu.
The couple, originally from Uganda, moved to Glasgow from London in 2007, seeking lower living costs after a paperwork error meant their leave to remain in the UK was rejected.
With no luck appealing the decision, the couple launched a fresh application. They didn’t hear from the Home Office for five years.
Unable to work, Pheona was shocked to find there was no charity or institution that could support them, and the Matovus and their three children had to depend on family and friends.
In 2012, after finally being granted permission to stay in the UK and therefore work, Pheona and Micheal discovered no one would hire them, despite extensive volunteering experience.
The couple then started Radiant and Brighter to provide the support they felt they had missed out on.
The organisation began by offering employment advice to migrants and refugees and has since expanded to offer a variety of training, including business to business, leadership and enterprise, community participation, workplace diversification and career development programmes.
“Integration doesn’t stop at learning the language, you need to become part of the community,” Pheona says.
Radiant and Brighter, a community interest company, has now helped more than 650 people since 2015.
The team also works with private, public and third sector organisations to help them foster a culture of diversity and inclusion, and ensure diversity training is not treated as a box-ticking exercise.
A key part of Radiant and Brighter’s work is a dual approach to integration training – helping migrants find work is important, but so is making sure they stay in that work.
An unhappy employee will eventually either leave or be pushed out, so Radiant and Brighter trains companies first, then candidates, before matching them up. Everyone benefits.
Pheona says often migrants lose their confidence while navigating the UK immigration process.
“When you’ve been through a system that suggests you are not wanted or needed, you start to internalise that.”
Earlier this year, Radiant and Brighter launched a women in enterprise programme after Pheona repeatedly found herself being the only black woman in the room while attending business events.
They were expecting about 15 women to take part in programme, but since it started in January, they’ve worked with over 100.
For Pheona, it doesn’t just mean she’s no longer isolated at events, but that minority ethnic women are more visible.
“One of the best aspects of my work is to be able to bring women along with me,” she says. “I know that one day my daughter is going to be coming along to these events and she needs to see potential role models who look like her, beyond myself.”
And diversity is not only conducive to innovation, but necessary.
“To be innovative you have to embrace diversity on all levels,” Pheona says. “You get stuck in your own ways. You think ‘this is the best way to do it’. You need someone with a fresh outlook to come in from the outside.”
It’s a lesson all companies could benefit from – the Radiant and Brighter staff may joke about the way they constantly evaluate their work, but it has serious results.
When the Matovus first started the organisation they couldn’t find funding because no one understood what they were trying to do, Pheona says.
Now Radiant and Brighter is funded by the Scottish Government, the European Union and the Hunter Foundation and has a range of industry partners.
The team has directly supported over 73 people into employment in the past two years, trained 135 leaders in diversity since 2015 and won multiple awards.
The first step towards innovation, Pheona says, is to look outside your own experience and knowledge.
“It’s not about building on what’s there, but starting from what’s not there.”