Creating a fairer Britain
Having arrived in England from Bangladesh aged 12, Bashir Ahmed is now a successful businessman with a string of higher education qualifications. He has been awarded an MBE for his community work in the West Midlands.
He is all too aware, however, that such a success story is the exception rather than the rule. He says:
Ahmed himself had to battle years of racist abuse at school, where he was one of four ethnic minority children out of 600 pupils. “I would be attacked in the changing rooms. On the way home gangs followed me, they’d shout Paki and try to beat me up. It was a really dreadful, frightening experience.”
As a result, he left school at the age of 14 and started working in a restaurant. After years of hard graft in the catering industry, he opened his own restaurant with two cousins in 1986. He also started educating himself, first at night school and then at college. He left the restaurant trade in 1993 to focus on community work.
He is now among a group of professionals who have set up Fyshnet (www.fyshnet.co.uk), an organisation aimed at providing recent Bangladeshi graduates in the West Midlands with work experience and opportunities to form professional and social networks.
He believes that a lack of work experience is one of the major barriers preventing Bangladeshis and other ethnic minorities from accessing senior roles, even once they have been through higher education.
“In this country we always give more importance to good quality work experience, rather than qualifications alone. Also in the background you still have issues of racism. As unemployment goes up the fear is that Bangladeshi and other BME groups will fall behind even further.”