Be a risk-taker and fail forward

Darrell Stenering
20 October 2021

I have always been close to my mum and my older sister. I would say my mum is an inspiration to me; I always behave in fear of disappointing her; she's anchored me throughout my life.

As an adult, I see them both in the choices I have made for myself. I guess in some ways, they've both sparked my passion for the non-profit sector. Both have chosen career paths that are for the wellbeing of others: my mum is a social worker, and my sister works for a charity that offers consulting, recruitment and employment support to employers and individuals with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism. I've noticed it's common for people of Black African/Caribbean origin to work in sectors that are for the good of others. I have three aunts who are nurses, I have more relatives who work as carers, I am sure if you pop your head into any A&E, you will see lots of black women hard at work.

And so this year for Black History Month it's a great pleasure to introduce two wonderful, strong and independent black women leaders from the Pilotlight community. Both women represent the colliding worlds that Pilotlight brings together. I invited them to reflect on where they draw their inspiration from and what advice they'd have for upcoming black leaders.

Tiwonge Chipeta-Cohn, founder and director of Yenge Consultancy, Pilotlighter

Tiwonge Chipeta-Cohn

Tiwonge joined Pilotlight in the spring of 2021 as a Pilotlighter via the Ignite Initiative. She’s the director of an HR consultancy, Yenge Consultancy, a trustee for Changing Faces, and holds various freelance based roles as a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant. Tiwonge is currently a Pilotlighter on the Pilotlight Programme supporting Neuro Therapy Centre.

Who has been an inspiration for you, and helped you drive the level of success you’ve achieved professionally?

Every member of my close family is an ongoing source of strength and inspiration for me. It's due to their courage, resilience, intelligence, ability, positivity, and unconditional love. They have all made me the person I am today. My family has always loved me regardless of my flaws and has empowered and supported my decisions.

What advice would you give to a young, aspiring black leader?

Goodness, where should I start?

Always overcome: we live in a world where, unfortunately, black people are seen as a monolithic group and are assumed historically and presently inferior structurally and societally by many.

You are all you need to be but remain interested in learning: it's amazing who and what you can learn from.

Be a risk-taker (professionally and personally): make mistakes and learn from them, don't let the fear hold you back - you'll regret the missed opportunities.

You are more than your job title: we are human first, and we belong in this world like anyone else.

As a leader, be inclusive: when you're in a leadership position, don't compete with less experienced colleagues that may want to follow in your footsteps. Pave the way to their success as a mentor or a coach. There is plenty of space for all of us to be fulfilled in our personal and professional lives.

Follow your values: work for an organisation that shares your values, or better yet, be a change-maker and work for yourself.

Last but not least, enjoy the ride!

What has been the most significant lesson you’ve learnt as a Pilotlighter?

So far, it's all been truly inspirational and life-affirming to see what charities face and overcome in their day-to-day operations while never detracting from the larger purpose. The charity I've had the pleasure of supporting as a Pilotlighter has been amazing. It feels like sometimes they forget what a vital service they provide for people who wouldn't be there without them.

The biggest lesson from this process has been that charity leaders are incredibly dedicated individuals, but no matter how hard they try, they can't do it all without experiencing burn-out. It's advice that I've taken to heart and am working hard to integrate into my own life - there should always be time to look after yourself, as only then can you truly benefit others.

Susanette Mansour, CEO of Croydon Vision, Pilotlighter

Susanette Mansour

Susanette is the CEO of Croydon Vision, an organisation laser focused on transforming lives for blind and partially sighted people, the journey to independence. As a Pilotlighter who also joined via the Ignite Initiate, she’s currently supporting The Exodus Project on the Pilotlight Programme.

Who has been an inspiration for you, and helped you drive the level of success you’ve achieved professionally?

There are many people who have, and continue to invest in me, pouring their life into me – I am so much better; because of them.

Servant leadership inspires me. I thrive on the idea of empowering people at all levels of the organisation, trusting them to doing the right thing. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns; to the broader concerns of all humanity."

When you serve, you awaken something magnetic inside of you.

What advice would you give to a young, aspiring black leader?

Find your life purpose - you were designed to make a difference. Create timeless principles and make them your habits of brilliance daily. Be intentional, balance confidence and humility as you lead. Don’t curse the darkness when it comes; simply turn on your light. Always remember that most success comes from our deepest pain; having a fail forward mindset helps.

What has been the most significant lesson you’ve learnt as a Pilotlighter?

I am both a teacher and a student; meeting new people is always an opportunity to grow, connect and add value. The experience of being a Pilotlighter has been fantastic and aligns with my purpose.

My fellow Pilotlighters are amazing, and we're currently on the exploration stage, asking the right questions to get the answers we need to help. I've seen a lot of passion and drive from the charity leader. I am looking forward to working as a team, to help the charity build long term success.

The world needs your talent

The good that charities can do is often limited by their resources, experience and ability to respond and thrive in a changing world. But you can make a difference.

As an experienced senior leader your expertise can bring huge value to charities. You can help to transform their strategy, operations and effectiveness.

Mixed race woman standing in an office holding a laptop