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Diversitas _ “it’s only taken 23years, but my work is done!”

Patience is a virtue & only good comes to those who wait patiently

_ Abisogun OBE

The successful launch 🚀 of Diversitas represents a very significant milestone for the team behind this much needed initiative. Stemming from my own ‘London centric’ journey into the global Surveying profession, this milestone has been a personal commitment during my entire 30year career. The historic event(s) that took place last week at the 122nd AGM of the Construction Industry Council, builds upon my earlier global commitment with the RICS [attained during August 2020] an agreement secured together with the ‘SLT‘ senior leadership team at that time (Sean Tompkins, Matthew Howell, and Richard Collins) in light and unapologetic recognition of the ‘tragic killing’ of George Floyd in the USA.

The SLT at RICS, also asked at that pivotal time, that I pen a piece and share my own personal view, which was subsequently published by the RICS on 12th June 2020. With a title “Economic inequality as it relates to social injustice and systemic racism” _ I rather provocatively, though intentionally, asked one key and vitally important question at the end of my affirmation _ and you can observe the contents of same on the official RICS website (please click here).

DCS secure global commitment to ‘advancing’ Black Surveyors [August 2020]

Inspired by the American 🇺🇸 approach to equality of opportunity, for all

So now for some context. On the return leg of my very first Business trip to Atlanta, GA (USA), way back in August 2000, I was inspired by the role that the Civil Rights Act had played in the successive facilitation of legislative instruments that led to and afforded Affirmative Action opportunities. According to research, the term “affirmative actions” was first used in the United States in the Executive Order No. 10925, which was signed by President John F Kennedy on 6th March 1961; and included a provision that government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated [fairly] during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin”. It was also used to promote actions that achieve non-discrimination. In 1965, President Lyndon B Johnson issued Executive Order No. 11246 which required government employers to “hire without regard to race, religion and national origin”.

What is and why, affirmative action?!

Essentially, affirmative action was (and still is) intended to promote the opportunities of defined minority groups within a society to give them equal access to that of the majority population. It is often instituted for government and educational settings, to ensure that certain designated groups within a society are able to participate in all provided opportunities including commercial contracts, promotional, educational and training opportunities. The stated justification for affirmative action by its proponents is to help compensate for past discrimination, persecution or exploitation by the ruling class of a culture, and to address existing discrimination.

The current push back, in 2023 …

Yes, I know and even though affirmative action would have been desirous to many (myself included!) - today (01.07.23) we find ourselves in a right old mess. Despite the benefits, it is clear that the same instrument is now being forcefully challenged in the USA 🇺🇸 for an array of reasons, i.e. Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, being a case in point - but work with me; “I’m just warming up and even after almost 30years, I’m only half way through my answer!”

At it’s core, affirmative action, sought and still seeks to ensure that equality of opportunity is afforded to everyone, no excuses and no debate. In the U.K. (back in 1999 - when I qualified) there wasn’t anything remotely similar back then, as is still the case today, in fact I would argue and publicly debate with anyone that in 2023 there is no similar instrument (of innate capability) to facilitate equality of opportunity in the U.K. Despite the absence of such a vitally important ‘commercial’ instrument in my own county of birth and professional training - I had exhausted all manner of other available options prior to deciding to strike out on my own. The Section 106, was still in its infancy back then and largely did not apply to the procurement of professional services. It was also largely non-existent, in procurement of construction contracts too, as it was then (and still is) wholly under-valued by many public sector clients; often being baked into construction contracts for reference only; with little or no meaningful metrics.

The harsh reality for the ‘Black‘ Surveyor (just 25years, ago)

Determined to succeed as a newly qualified Chartered Quantity Surveyor (APC secured in December 1999); I set up my small practice (Accessable Advice Ltd) and began trading on 1st November 2000, working out of the third bedroom of my home in Arnold, Nottinghamshire. Within 6 months I had picked up my first client, Tuntum Housing Association, based near the City centre; and decided to seek out commercial premises in the NDC area of Hyson Green - having been completely denied by my peers of fellow Chartered Surveyors, active in the agency space. I remember with huge disappointment, that not one but ALL of the professional services firms that I approached, categorically and in many ways intentionally failed to support or entertain my initial enquiry for a City Centre location. Hyson Green was my only other preferred option at that time, and was heavily ethnic in its demographic composition and make up. Despite the obvious, I still failed to secure any decent commercial ‘office/type’ premises. The largely Asian population on the high street were not very keen on a Black man entering their space; but that was somewhat understandable / being that I had absolutely no family or personal connections at all and was something of an unknown quantity. I soon gave up on Nottingham and returned to London in 2003.

Suffice to say, that whole experience in Nottingham brought one vivid, evidenced based fact to light; whether as independent practitioners or senior level serving employees, where on earth was the ‘Black’ Chartered Surveyor?

Why Mentors and Industry Allies, are so important

On my return, and after consuming a huge slice of humble pie, I took a deep breath and called my mentor, Chris Currell MRICS. After a long but open and frank conversation over a coffee, Chris gave me permission to occupy and set up on the third floor of his London HQ, located at 309 Upper Street - and that was the beginning of my London presence which also became a precursor to securing my own office during the latter part of 2003, at 66 Nile Street, Hackney (in the same borough where I was born!). Unable to thrive as a PQS, for all sorts of reasons, I set up a NewCo and began trading as Urbanis Limited for the next fifteen (15) years, during which time I regrettably took on a disastrous sub-contract with Tier 1 Contractor (Apollo Property Services / Keepmoat Property Services / ENGIE) now trading as EQUANS. Despite being invited by Council colleagues to participate in this ‘unique contract opportunity’, initially sourced by myself – a huge error of judgement followed, due to a huge lack of transparency and third party contract management – which precipitated the commercial demise of my own company and the end of my 20year career in ‘traditional construction’. The real irony is that this would never have happened in the USA, and could have been avoided had the client adopted a 'digital twin' solution and implemented the 'smart contract' provisions that they were keen to explore, but not implement. In the absence of same, the inevitable outcome would have been materially different; but I was just 'too far ahead' of the curve. All events took place in full view of critical stakeholders, care of a ‘single vexatious decision’ by a Senior Site Manager, who was also 'moved on'; and who’s name will not be printed here. Funnily enough and even after some 6years, I actually saw the culprit again (well he saw me and came over to say hello?!) at the ‘amazing invite only’ Savills Networking Event - at Housing 2023 in Manchester, just last week!! And, well let’s just say that I thank God that I am able and still confident NOT to use my physical prowess, to articulate and settle differences; ‘after all, the pen is still very much mightier than the sword’. Point to note for all my mentees reading this 😉

Anyway, I digressed, back to the 'historic' launch of Diversitas!!

Trying to create a 'safe-space' for Black Surveyors .......

Years passed from 2000 to 2005, and with a constant and niggling anxiety (and pent up frustration!) to do something; about the lack of ‘presence’ of this particular persona; I was motivated by my Mother to “go and do something and stop complaining joh!”. With that said, during September 2005, I proceeded to purchase the web domain name - the Black Surveyors Club aka ‘BSc’.

The acronym ’BSc’ was also fitting as I had hoped to inspire EVERY Member to hold or seek a degree level of professional standing enroute to sitting their APC. Naturally I wanted to create a ‘safe-space’ for Black Surveyors, but rather regrettably, the few in my peer group, even at that time, we’re extremely nervous about being associated with such a 'cantankerous’ name. In fact many in my network, stemming from an array of professional disciplines, considered the name simply too radical for the (then, 137year old) Surveying profession. Initially I was angry and confused but decided to seek Counsel from my white peers and the RICS too. And wow; they were right!!

Everything from “Bola don’t bother, you’ll only make a rod for your own back” to the other extreme of “so, will you become a splinter group within RICS too?” - are and remain the legacy of that great and rather innocent idea.

Despite the wholesale opposition, I was NOT going to be denied the opportunity to ‘follow my dream’ and set up a ‘safe-space’ for Surveyors of Black origin, I saw what was possible in Atlanta, New York and Washington D.C. _ I just had to think of another name.

The birth of DCS ….

With my web domain acquired almost 17years to the day of the 122nd CIC AGM - held on the 29th June 2023, DiverseCity Surveyors aka ‘DCS’ was born in June 2006, as the successor (and acceptable alternative) to the BSC. With the support of RICS some twelve (12) years later DCS was ‘officially’ launched during Black History Month in 2017, as the 'first' BAME Network for Surveyors (with an unapologetic focus on the B - Black);

The rest as they say is His-Tory and today (01.07.23) my efforts, along with the cursory and intrinsic support of my entire Board [Justin Carty MRICS, Samuel May MRICS, Karen Ching MRICS, Arnold Musisi MRICS and Nikki Bulteel MRICS], have been recognised as we have since been commended Honorary Associate Member status of the CIC / Construction Industry Council.

Even after such well documented evidence produced by the amazing team at Building led by Chloe McCulloch; there is still so much anger, upset and opposition to anything labelled 'Black', but in 2023, why is this still the case across the UK, built environment?

Well, let me put it this way, having Chaired the amazing industry facing, award winning Moving On Up initiative (led by Action for Race Equality) it has been statistically proven and researched to the nth degree of clarity, that the Black man [less so the woman!] remains at the bottom of EVERY conceivable / measurable metric that exists in the U.K. and this ‘lived-experience’ begins in your mid-to-late teens and remains a 'tangible' life-long trajectory. I’m living proof; so please come and talk to me if you need to see the evidence.

The arrival and role of Diversitas (June 2023)

With all that being said, last week was simply a roster of historic firsts over at CIC and I will focus on the one most relevant to us, being the inauguration of the first Chair / Vice Chair of this new 'vehicle for change'.

Credit: Bola Abisogun OBE / DCS

The primary objectives of Diversitas are :

_ to encourage and provide more diverse leadership and increased representation within CIC and the industry from black construction professionals.

_ to appoint black professionals to sit on the various CIC committees, panels and regions

It is my hope that members of DiverseCity Surveyors will step up and step in, in seeking to show up and show out!

Credit: Bola Abisogun OBE / DCS

So, as I have said to many [including the new Chair of Diversitas] – after 25years in this space, driving this often uncomfortable, subjective, emotive, and in may ways hugely divisive conversation in the U.K. 🇬🇧 – “it may have taken me 23years to get here, but my work is done!”

Humbled and in the presence of greatness; the changeover of CIC Chair, from Justin Sullivan to Dr Wei Yang, the first female, first Planner and first non-British Chair, in the 35year, history of the CIC!!

DiverseCity Surveyors will continue to co-exist and contribute / support the profession and the wider sector / built environment, as I continue do so via my new role as Chairman of the DEI Committee, at the CIC.

Last blog as CIC Chairman _ Justin Sullivan - 29.06.23

Whilst the rather public facing challenge(s) at RICS continue, I am elated and confident that my dear friend and industry all will soon be at the helm to "shake the tree" and instill much needed stability to a profession that I have served tirelessly for all of my professional career, primarily as a 'disruptive PQS'.

Justin Sullivan FRICS _ New RICS SVP _ 01.07.23

Credit: RICS

So, as I assume the 'back-bench', I’m leaving all future primary and industry facing conversations, actions and debates, to the inbox of the incoming Chair and Vice-Chair of Diversitas - please feel free to engage and converse with myself [as a founding member] alongside the CIC leadership team via the website, link below.

"Diversitas has been launched by Construction Industry Council to promote a more inclusive construction industry and encourage increased representation from black professionals across the Built Environment

Personally, it’s time for me to (re)build what is now left of my amazing, well documented career, which has been largely focussed on Service to Others for Others, often at the expense of everything else that means or meant anything to me. I may well have to do some travelling too ….. 🛫

Please take a look at the link to the short video [above] - and yes, know that, along with my amazing team [Phil, Paul, Stuart and Audley] I’m heading West [and then East] to deliver something amazingly special too; all in the name of equality 🟰 of opportunity for all. However, this time it’s a an inclusive and innovative #MMC solution, designed to inter-alia, lift local people out of dire living conditions; and where digital construction, SDG, ESG and Net Zero goals, remain mission-critical incentives.

And then, you can safely drop the mic! 🎤


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