Student’s social enterprise chosen to represent SOAS at Santander Awards

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MSc International Politics and Diplomacy student Angelo Eduardo Da Costa Mengowako is one of three brains behind Vocal Communities, a London-based organisation helping disadvantaged communities.

Vocal Communities has recently been selected to represent SOAS at the Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards 2021, one of the UK’s largest student and graduate business pitching competitions. We asked Angelo about Vocal Communities, SOAS life and the Santander competition, in which he is competing to win up to £75,000 worth of business support.

Hello Angelo! Can you tell us about Vocal Communities?

Vocal Communities (VC) is an ethnic-minority led organisation founded by first-generation immigrants who have all grown up in London, UK. We’re passionate about helping disadvantaged communities by giving them the skills and education they need to influence change. VC has a wide range of skills and talent, but we intend to use this to better others instead of our own careers exclusively.

I’ve found that what may seem evident to me in terms of democracy and economics, may not be for someone else. This has nothing to do with their capacity to learn, but it has a lot to do with exposure to specific policies which may change their lives. Secondly, unfortunately, it has a lot to do with whom you know rather than what you see. We want to try and change this dynamic for the better.

Why did you feel an enterprise like this was needed?

Having grown up in minority communities, we could quickly see a lack of education within our communities when it came to advocating for better socio-economic conditions and welfare in the UK. VC will work with corporates, policymakers, educators, and the community to educate, consult, and advocate for a fairer society.

During this year, alongside the global pandemic, we have witnessed the aftermath of inequalities within the minority communities. For example, Black people are 4.5 times more likely to die from complications from Covid19 than their White counterparts: this highlights issues of inequality from the type of work Black and Asian people are represented in.

The Windrush Scandal unearthed decades of hostile immigration policies that have led to the unjust deportation of Caribbean elders. In addition, the tragic killing of George Floyd in the United States has re-ignited the anguish and pain of Black people regarding over-policing practices within the UK and the overrepresentation of Black people in the criminal justice system. This shows us that marginalised people need to become more aware and engage more in policies that affect them most, without relying on political parties to access them.

Vocal Communities was created as an alternative way to create political pressure and encourage policymakers to address the urgency of the persistent inequalities that the BAME communities encounter, and find a solution best to engage more BAME people into politics and policy involvement. By doing so, VC would act as the secretariat of the All Party Parliamentary Groups, aiming to increase the agency of BAME people in the UK.

What are some of Vocal Communities’ most significant achievements?

I’m proud of our first-ever organised event, which was a panel event discussing the link between knife crime and school exclusions, held at Parliament. More recently, we have been a part of the Waltham Forest COVID outbreak panel, advocating for the BAME community.

Along with other residents in our local area, we decided to create an anti-racism initiative in the wake of the George Floyd murder and the uprise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. In addition, we’ve played an active role in the No Space For Hate campaign in our borough by providing Bystander Intervention training.

What does being selected for the Santander Awards mean?

Being selected to represent SOAS is exceptionally humbling. They are one of the top universities in the country, filled with talented students with a passion for their causes. At the same time, this gave me the confidence to know that VC has the potential to be great.

Tell us about SOAS life – what are you studying?

Angelo

I am studying MSc International Politics & Diplomacy!  My passions for politics and diplomacy is an interesting one. Supposedly I am the spitting image of my grandfather. He was one of Angola’s first diplomats, having served in Poland, Russia, The Ivory Coast, and other countries that I am too scared to ask for reminders from him, as I forgot! I was an aspiring athlete trialling for Arsenal, my district team and other semi-professional clubs; however, when I turned 23, I fell in love with politics and diplomacy, as it felt instinctive.

It was a tricky year for everyone because of Covid-19; many of us were hopeful of meeting our colleagues in person. However, I was also fortunate as I studied an undergraduate course a year before taking my masters, so I was able to experience the vibrant culture of SOAS.

I enjoyed this year the most because all staff and students did their absolute best to make something foreign to all of us work.

The speed in which the online systems were incorporated mirrors the efforts made by students and reps to create an online culture through WhatsApp, socials, and extra development activities such as the CISD student engagement opportunities, one that stood out was by Dr. Rofe on Working in Policy: Policy School.

How do you feel your time at SOAS/your course prepared you for setting up Vocal Communities?

The culture around SOAS made me feel like a student with unlimited potential; I love to socialise, campaign and debate, which opened my eyes to many issues overlooked by me and society. The resources found in the library online was second to none, only matched by the respect and time of day given to me by my extremely understanding tutors. I communicated my difficulties with them in confidence, which allowed me to manage my time and expectations better.

If I had been under stress, or did not feel valued or listened to, Vocal Communities may have remained an idea in my head. Academically speaking, it surprised me that there was such a parallel in running a business to political theory. As my most prominent critic, this experience allowed me to challenge myself more and constantly strive to comprehend what a fair world looks like. I have always wanted to study at SOAS for this very reason. Diversity for me at SOAS comes down to the various points of view, and my passion for democracy and diplomacy matches well with who I am and what I envisioned VC to be.

You also work in Financial Crime – is your work for Vocal Communities done in addition to this job?

Haha, yes, I do. I was also a political candidate in 2018 and am due to go again in November this year, meaning I am always doing more than one thing at a time, and I love it! My mother and grandfather take credit for this; I remember being a young boy being told that I need to find value in work and work hard whilst I’m at it; there is always a link between everything. So from early on, I saw the value in having work experience in politics, economics and banking, law and technology, which gives me a sense of authenticity when tackling social issues that my business partners and I are passionate about.

We are a complete core directorship: Rebecca works in tech, project and client management and Uzma is a teacher-soon-to-be-Politician who also has years of diplomacy experience. So I have immense confidence in VC succeeding. However, we cannot become complacent. We hope to continue to work with SOAS and other partners, which will enable us to focus solely on VC, Education and Politics shortly.

What are your plans for the future, personally and for Vocal Communities?

First things first, TO WIN THE SANTANDER COMPETITION!

Aside from that, for Vocal Communities, our next goal is to help communities nationwide. We are London-based at the moment, but we’re eager to work with other communities up and down the country. Within five years, we want to work in Africa, Asia, America and Europe. Outside of our consultation and advocacy, we run our flagship democracy academies. We want to continue to deliver councillor academies, the Member of Parliament Academies, sessions on how to be a magistrate etc., which would allow us to understand and engage democratic education for communities with different needs.

VC will continue to work with those we set out to work with within our mission statements. We will deliver podcasts with policymakers and academics to have a jargon-free conversation that interprets social issues today. I shall stand in the next local election starting in November and then take it from there. I am highly passionate about business, development and education, so if I am successful, I shall aim for a cabinet position working on these policies, maybe MP Mengowako in a few years!

Furthermore, we want to continue to strengthen our relationships with SOAS, as we believe we can make a difference to society, and I think no university needs to be the flag bearer more than SOAS. I would like to work closer with SOAS in some capacity, whether teaching about democracy, Angolan history, researching sports democracy and development in Africa or working with the directors, to identify exciting new ways to ensure SOAS grows.

How can people support your work and find out more?

The world is very different due to the pandemic, which means we have to change how we deliver some of our work, such as the councillor academy launching this year. This means that depending on the restrictions, we could be online or face to face. We need your help to mark and challenge the way democracy and economics are traditionally accessed. This means the best way to support us now is digitally through our social media platforms and website. We are always open to suggestions on improving, so please follow us on our pages below for more information and updates on what we are up to. If you know anyone interested in our program, where we will help participants understand local democracy, which could lead to them working with policymakers or taking part in an election themselves, please contact us!

Take a look at our website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. To ensure we are successful at the Santander competition, please show support on socials using the hashtags #DemocracythroughConversation, #DemocraticEducation or #EconomicEducation.

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