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Shining the spotlight on unsung heroes

MAN ON A MISSION: Paul Sesay, founder of the National Diversity Awards

AT A TIME when there are more factors that divide rather than bring communities together, one man has a mission to celebrate the one thing we all have in common – diversity.

Paul Sesay, CEO of the Diversity Group, is the passionate guiding light behind the National Diversity Awards (NDA) that showcases the unsung, selfless heroes in every community who inspire us all to lead better lives.

The ceremony embraces the excellence of every citizen, irrespective of race, faith religion, sexual orientation, age, disability or culture.

For many of those nominated, the real award is simply the recognition that their voice has been heard.
This year’s awards will take place in Sesay’s hometown of Liverpool.

And for one special evening on Saturday, September 18, hundreds of people will gather at the city’s famous cathedral to celebrate these life enhancers who have been nominated in the fourth annual NDA awards.

Two minutes spent with Sesay is all you need to understand how he has taken the awards from a small start in 2012 when 6,000 people were nominated, to last year’s glittering London ceremony which attracted more than 26,000 nominations and votes.

BUZZ

“There’s a real buzz out there,” says Sesay, whose own tough start in life was the inspiration behind the awards. “It’s all very humbling when you hear about people’s astonishing achievements that would never have come to light if they hadn’t been nominated. The ceremonies can be very emotional – people are in tears listening to how a role model or a community organisation has changed people’s lives and inspired them to be the best they can in life.”

He continues: “The beautiful thing is that the recognition people receive from these awards helps them to gain more support with the work they are doing – whether it’s extra funding or more help from others. Just being able to put up the award on a website can often give a cause or an organisation a much-needed boost. It’s been an incredible journey so far, but I have to give credit to Microsoft who believed in us from the start and have continued to support us as our headline sponsor.”


SUCCESS: Sonia Meggie, founder of Inspirational You, was one of last year’s National Diversity Award winners

Other headline sponsors include: The Guardian, Penna, the Security Service M15, the Army, Barclays, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Liverpool City Council, the Financial Ombudsman Service and Transport for London.

Judges for 2015 include Dr Rob Berkeley, former director of the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading race quality think tank; Heather Melville, director of strategic partnerships at the Royal Bank of Scotland; Theresa McHenry, senior HR director at Microsoft UK; and Mark Shrimpton, disability equality specialist at Disability Rights UK.

With nominations having just closed for this year, Sesay reveals that the judges had a tough time deciding on the most deserving winners in this year’s categories, which include race & religion, age, disability, gender, and LGBT.

The ceremony has also received backing from many high-profile names, including actor and comedian Stephen Fry; broadcaster Trevor Nelson; Paralympic medallist Ade Adepitan; actor Brian Blessed; six-time Olympian Tessa Sanderson, and singer Beverley Knight.

DIVERSE

According to Knight: “Britain is brilliantly diverse. We are every kind of people. I love the idea that there is an awards ceremony that celebrates our differences and their positive effect on all our lives.”
It’s all a far cry from 41-year-old Sesay’s start in life. As a mixed-race child his white mother couldn’t cope with the situation so he was given up for adoption and spent a lot of time with both good and bad foster families.

“Life was tough as a 16-year-old trying to live on my own in Leeds,” he recalls. “I have to admit I hung around with some bad boys who showed me more love than many of my foster carers, but I knew this kind of life wasn’t good. So at 19 I arrived at a crossroads in life and came to Liverpool with £25 in my pocket. I knew no-one, but the turning point for me was meeting a man called James Klass, who was a respected MC in Liverpool. He gave me the confidence to make me realise that I too could become an MC and that was the catalyst for me because this led to other jobs where I saw I could be successful. If I can make it with no family behind me, then so can anyone else.”

But as he pursued his career path, Sesay witnessed discrimination in the workplace. It was this experience that led him to set up the Diversity Group in 2006, an organisation that promotes diversity.

The awards segment is a successful arm of this company, but he feels there is still a long way to go.
“There is still a lot of tokenism around when it comes to diversity and I see this in the conference world. It can be very frustrating. I want to create more career roadshows for those about to leave school. I know this is nothing new, but I want to take this to a different level.

He continues: “Some of the big companies in the UK are willing to come on board to tell kids what it’s actually like working for them. There needs to be much more encouragement at school.”

There’s no doubt that if Paul Sesay walked into any school in the country he would inspire pupils of all backgrounds to be the best they can be.

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