George Obolo, medical student and co-founder of The Black Excellence Network, placed fifth in the 100 Most Outstanding Black University Students in the UK 2021. We spoke to him about Manchester, mentoring and his mission to open up higher education for more Black students.
George Obolo cares about people; that’s immediately apparent. He’s interested, curious, he asks questions about the camera we’re using and the football teams we support. It’s a curiosity that immediately puts you at ease. It doesn’t take long to understand why he’s a good mentor.
It was during spring 2020, and in the middle of the UK’s first COVID-19 lockdown, when George took advantage of the extra time to set up a mentoring scheme with three fellow students.
The Black Excellence Network offers mentorship to Black sixth form students applying for a place at Russell Group universities. There’s also a professional consultancy service for students preparing to graduate and enter the jobs market.
Making the top five
The network is a passion project for George. He started it while also working with a tech start-up and a charity, in addition to training to become a doctor. It’s no wonder he’s been named one of the 100 Most Outstanding Black University Students in the UK.
Powerlist Magazine’s list of outstanding university students of Afro-Caribbean heritage, supported by Latham & Watkins, Standard Chartered and the University of Oxford, highlights role models for younger students. Finding himself named one of Powerlist’s top five future leaders was “inspiring”, George says.
There are even opportunities directly for Black students, but we’re just not told about them; they’re not really spread and so The Black Excellence Network exists to solve that and share opportunities.
Overcoming the barriers to education
George and his fellow founders were motivated to start The Black Excellence Network after first-hand experience of the hurdles that stood between young Black people and a university education. “Going through sixth form and seeing all the barriers to higher education or studying a degree like Medicine, we wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case for people younger than us or people behind us,” he says.
While there are plenty of opportunities out there for young Black people, often “we just don’t know about them”, George explains.
“There are even opportunities directly for Black students, but we’re just not told about them; they’re not really spread and so The Black Excellence Network exists to solve that and share opportunities.”
In addition to identifying and sharing opportunities, the network also pairs Black sixth form students with undergraduates who are studying the course to which they hope to apply. The team takes care to match mentors and mentees based not just on subject, but personality too.
“Other communities have more parents who have gone to university, so they understand that life already. But for a lot of the Black community who have come to the UK, their parents haven’t gone to university, meaning this is a whole new game they’re playing,” adds George.
It’s nice up north
After moving to Manchester, George was struck by its inclusivity, friendliness and the can-do attitude adopted by many of its residents: “I just think it’s nice... like, people are nice! I could stop someone on the road here and have a conversation.
“When you’re back home, sometimes in your friendship groups it can be an echo chamber, where you’re just hearing the same thoughts and perspectives. But being in a student-packed centre, I got to see so many perspectives on life and that helped my leadership. Because it meant that I see the benefit in diversity.”
Discover more about The Black Excellence Network.