Kemi Maumee is Director of Brighter Futures Project, a South London-based initiative for adults with learning disabilities – primarily autism.
Brighter Futures Project is a specialist skills hub providing unique support programmes which help improve the quality life of adults with LDs. Offering an essential service to the community, Kemi leads an experienced team of caring and well-trained staff in offering courses and skills which support its individuals lead more independent and fulfilling lives.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background, and your current role
I am a mum and wife who enjoys running her own business. I have always been in business; in fact, my first foray was at 11 years old when I instigated a local children’s club back in Nigeria. Here, myself and the neighbours’ kids would put on a performance and charged entry to watch. Looking back from where I am in my career and life path now, I realise that it was not just that I possessed a natural business aptitude from a young age; our local book club proved that, even as a child, I valued the power and support that comes from community and inclusivity.
My love business grew from then onwards. I studied Law at university – which has gone on to inform the keen sense of justice I feel should be shown to everyone today – and, because like many born to traditional Nigerian parents, our designated jobs are doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers! A business was always regarded as your side hustle. Anyway, alongside university I dabbled in various businesses including some funded by the princess trust.
Currently I am running Compass Supported living and our charity Brighter futures project where we support people with learning disabilities to access activities and services within their community. Our aim is to enable these individuals with life skills that they can use in their own, homes and in the community, therefore giving them an opportunity to experience life like the rest of us. I enjoy what I do, and I honestly feel like I found my calling. I say this because prior to setting up either of these businesses I had no experience of working with or supporting anyone with a learning disability.
When I am not working, I love trying out new food and love to explore new countries. Most recently having enjoyed a holiday in Greece.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a paediatrician because as a child as I wanted to help children, but I soon discovered very quickly that science and I were not to be best friends! So, I decided to study law as I felt I would still be able to help people by defending them. During that time however I always ran businesses, it runs in the family, so it came naturally, and I just love the challenge, satisfaction and accountability that comes from running a business.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I think like any business owner, I had been tested even before the pandemic came along, but COVID19 presented challenges to navigate that many of us could never have foreseen. In March 2020, the week before London went into lockdown, we launched our skills hub for adults with learning disabilities – Brighter Futures Project – where we teach life skills that our individuals can use both in the community and as an opportunity to socialise and meet likeminded individuals.
You can imagine the shock when just a week after having opened, we were forced to shut our centre down, which remained the case until the summer of 2021. As a self-funded CIC with ongoing bills, regardless of the pandemic, it was quite a crushing blow. Like many other small businesses and projects, we have racked up an incredible amount debt just so we could stay afloat. To be honest we almost considered closing, but we kept pushing through as I knew our service was needed. I trusted that what I needed was the right people to know about us and give support.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I think our biggest achievement, to be honest, has been keeping the business going throughout very unusual times. The charity sector and business of giving care can both be very fickle and, in the beginning, very costly and difficult to establish. To have been able establish the business anyway let alone during one of the most unusual times in our lifetime is something I feel quite proud of.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Being tenacious! One of the things I have learnt over the years is that businesses will always have up and downs. It is easy to run a business when things are on the up but when the downturn sets in and the doors keep shutting in your face, which is when you need to be tenacious and just keep going till you get to your goal.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is great, I have been mentored by some incredible mentors myself (Annmarie Dixon, Mike Harris) so I know how valuable it is to be mentored. I have also had the opportunity to mentor others.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
The representation of women in various positions is on the rise, and this is great to see, I do however feel there is still a lacking in acknowledging the work accomplished by women. Unlike with men, our work nor our achievements are not as celebrated as when men achieve things. There always seems to be “but” with our achievements.
Take football for example. While the fact that the English female football team won the world cup in 2022 was celebrated, media was scant in comparison to the 2021 media coverage for the nations’ male team – which was everywhere.
The general media attention and noise around the male football team, whether that is the build up to the match – or even when they lose – versus the support the female team received when they won are incomparable. Even more frustrating was the attention some of the female players received for choosing to have long nails and eye lash extensions.
I think if society really mean to accelerate gender parity, we need to give women the same level of recognition for their achievements and same level of rewards (e.g., the same sponsorship deals for the female team and the same level of pay etc.). On top of this, when things go wrong, we need to break this cultural cycle that still shames women for it.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Take one step at a time, believe in your own intuition, and enjoy the ride. I took myself far too seriously in my younger years, when really the motto of play hard but work hard is just as rewarding and creates far better memories and friendships as you get older
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I love the work I do, and I love seeing the achievements made by the people we support. I do however feel society need to do better at supporting people with disabilities (particularly those with invisible disabilities – where the disabilities are not as easily seen). My goal is to bring more awareness to the challenges they face with issues such as employment, where there is a huge gap.
I am hopeful by companies and people being more aware – businesses will look at making their services more accessible and potentially look at recruiting some of these individuals to make their companies truly inclusive.