Gen B talks to Gerry Anyanwu, the visionary founder of the Uncommon Collective, an initiative born from her personal experiences. Fueled by a desire to redefine success and create a more inclusive society, Gerry established the Uncommon Collective to empower underrepresented individuals by providing them with the tools, mentorship, and inspiration to thrive authentically in various professional sectors. Her journey from feeling invisible and undervalued to becoming a beacon of representation and support for others embodies the core mission of the Uncommon Collective.

Gerry Anyanwu

Gerry Anyanwu

The Uncommon Collective is more than an initiative; it’s a movement to empower the unseen and elevate the underrepresented, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.

Background and Inspiration

The Genesis of a Movement: It all started with a rave in South London. Amidst the pulsating beats and vibrant energy, a friend called me successful. It was a word I had never associated with myself. Years of being the only black, dark-skinned woman in predominantly white and male-dominated workplaces had left me feeling invisible, undervalued, and perpetually out of place. That night, however, something changed. I realised that my notions of success were shaped by external factors—culture, parents, ethnicity—never by me. This epiphany was the catalyst for creating the Uncommon Collective, an initiative born out of a desire to redefine success on my terms and help others do the same.

Challenges and Vision

Navigating the Unseen and Hypervisible: In my career, I faced the duality of being invisible during meetings—my opinions dismissed, my presence barely acknowledged—while simultaneously being hypervisible when things went wrong, often labeled aggressive where others were deemed tenacious. I was underpaid, overlooked for opportunities, and undervalued. No one wanted to invest in me. I had to graft for every inch of progress.

Shaping the Uncommon Collective: These experiences shaped the foundation of the Uncommon Collective, which rests on four pillars:

  1. Representation Matters: I lacked role models who looked like me to show me what was possible. Now, I strive to be that figure for others.
  2. Authenticity Matters: I often felt like I was playing a character at work, far removed from my true self. The Collective encourages young people to harness their inner power and show up authentically.
  3. Personal Development: With no one investing in my career, I had to drive my own development. Now, I help young people set and achieve their goals.
  4. Positive Narrative: As a Black woman, I am acutely aware of the narratives imposed on me and my community. The Collective aims to understand and reframe these narratives.

The Uncommon Collective

Mission and Values: The core mission of the Uncommon Collective is to create a fair society for all, ensuring everyone has equal access to opportunities. Our vision is to see different faces thriving in different spaces—not just in the arts but across all sectors.

Programs and Initiatives: We operate as a grassroots organisation, bringing entrepreneurs from minority communities into schools to share their experiences and provide hands-on learning environments. For the past five years, we’ve run Afrovisibility, a program exploring representation in sectors with low diversity.

Impact and Representation

Success Stories: One of our most impactful moments was working with students in special needs schools, who often have limited access to mainstream opportunities. After a coaching and beauty program on the power of identity, students reported increased confidence. Two years later, many still recalled the program fondly and were considering beauty as a further education option.

Long-term Societal Change: Representation in the workplace is crucial for long-term societal change. A diverse workforce can better champion issues impacting society, ensuring decisions are made for the benefit of all, not just a privileged few.

THE CONNECT: Upcoming Event

Introducing THE CONNECT: THE CONNECT is a 90-minute outreach program designed to give young people, especially from marginalised backgrounds, direct access to influencers and entrepreneurs. The session includes three master classes:

  1. Real Talk: Influencers share their journeys and how they’ve succeeded.
  2. The business of entrepreneurship : Tips on building a community and essential skills.
  3. How to make work work!: How you make your passion your purpose Participants can also expect engaging talks and goody bags.

Promoting Diverse Entrepreneurship: THE CONNECT aims to put minority stories at the forefront, featuring talks from individuals who represent marginalised identities.

Future Goals and Vision

Long-term Goals: Our long-term goal is to become the go-to resource for young people seeking employment inspiration. We plan to expand beyond London, explore more industries, and focus on mid-life women, another group facing significant challenges.

Message to Aspiring Professionals: To young black readers and those with disabilities aspiring to build successful careers: The road is never straight, but take every opportunity you can. If opportunities aren’t coming, create your own. Build your network, show up authentically, be curious, ask questions, and embrace lifelong learning.

Personal Reflections

Advice for the “1% Club”: If you feel like part of the “1% club” in your workplace, acknowledge it but also consider how you show up in those spaces. Seek allies, mentors, and sponsors who can advocate for you. If the environment is stifling, it might be time to explore new opportunities.

Supporting the Mission: Individuals and organisations can support the Uncommon Collective by becoming ambassadors, volunteering, or partnering with us financially to bridge the gap between the corporate world and the community.

Staying Motivated: For a long time, I felt crushed by a concrete ceiling. I decided to focus not on breaking it but on those coming after me, ensuring they have a better experience. This mission brings me peace and drives me forward.

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