Kweku (‘Kwek’ pronounced like the ‘quake’ in earthquake) is facing deportation after having lived in the UK for 25 years. You may recognise him from the news, as an investment banker at the centre of a complex situation which resulted in him being made an extreme scapegoat for an out of control investment banking industry and poor management. Kweku paid the ultimate price, with years of his life spent in prison, the details of what happened are in the petition link, as well as further on in this post. Essentially he’s served his time and deserves to be able to get on with his life, with the friends he calls family in the country he calls home.
I wanted to share some words to support Kweku’s mission during this crucial time approaching his Court of Appeal hearing on 7th December. My initial attempt was a post on facebook, but his is such a complicated story of injustice, as well as there being so much that’s amazing about him, I had to tell the story as I saw it, in big. With more words, I hope to share a bit more about my experience of Kweku, what he stands for and what he’s fighting against to gather support on the petition to #KeepKweku.
As everyone who meets him does, I instantly liked, and became friends with Kweku when we met through mutual friends. Kweku would cringe to be described as this, but nonetheless he was the special guest of the night. He immediately struck me as being upbeat and silly, yet able to get serious in a heartbeat; boisterous with a deep, booming voice and hearty laugh, but also a private person, secretly shy. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know him since and steal snapshots into the staggering world of contrasts he has experienced: his incredible life purpose and motivation, along with the challenges he faces and issues he raises awareness for. This is my version of why he is such an outstanding contribution to this country and how his inspirational story has taken on much broader implications for our country as the fight is on to #KeepKweku.
Happiness is Homemade
Manchester city centre, one morning in March. It’s 7:30am and the merciless rain is playing up to its reputation. Trams come and go from the Shudehill tram stop, weaving through the streets, depositing batches of commuters as they make their way to work; weekend fun washed away, bracing for the prospect of a new work week. It also happens to be International Day of Happiness this particular Monday, a global initiative from the United Nations to recognise the importance of happiness across the world. Kweku joined me to take part in a happiness flash mob, dishing out smiles, hugs and good vibes to amused and confused strangers as they got off the tram (it was the best fun, you can see what happened here). Driven out of his comfort zone by a wish to share positive human connections to brighten people’s mornings (and egging on from me), secretly shy Kweku unwittingly became the poster boy for the activity; his ‘Happiness is Homemade’ image being the one the public took to the most with the highest social media engagement from the event photos. He was a great part of the team and as you can see in the video, got fully involved in creating a buzz in Manchester that morning. After gifting his final hug to a stranger and grabbing a coffee, his next action was to get suited up in a train bathroom en route to London, setting his mindset for a packed schedule of meetings that afternoon and the following days. Demand was high for Kweku’s insights and learnings, with appointments at institutions such as The Financial Times and The Forward Institute, a group which promotes more compassionate leadership in the UKs biggest organisations such as the police, the NHS, the government and, pertinently, banks.
How friends became family, and a country a home
Born in Ghana, Kweku moved to Israel at the age of four, Syria at 8, and was evacuated from the first Iraq war at 10. All of this whilst learning the importance of conflict resolution as a United Nations ‘brat’. He next found himself in a Yorkshire Quaker boarding school in Yorkshire at age 12, where he learned the values of silent but shared reflection and placing his community before himself. Those first 6 years of stability at boarding school, away from his parents and sister, instilled the foundation of the UK being home, the responsibility he went to take on as Head Boy further deepend the sense of family he had created through friends. In his time at the University at Nottingham he was ensconced at the heart of his student community as a member of the Students’ Union Executive committee, keeping Freshers’ Week running smoothly for other students to enjoy. What followed was 9 years of hard work and sleepless nights at UBS bank where, within 3 years he was asked to help run the biggest trading book in the bank, through the dark storms of the Great Financial Crisis and out the other side.
Paying the ultimate price
Kweku had a successful time with UBS Bank, flying high, learning lots about the deep complexity of our broken financial system. But it was all to come crashing down amidst the renewed financial storms and burning riots of London in the summer of 2011. Wanting to protect his team and his bank, to do the right thing, he sent an email taking personal responsibility to protect the team and his bank after a series of decisions led to the £1.4bln loss that ultimately saw him convicted and sentenced to 7 years in prison. On his own. Taking on board the horrors of the three and a half years he spent in prison, paying the ultimate price for all that ails our finance industry. Imagine the things he has seen along his journey.
A vast and unique perspective
How many people do you know who have gone from running a $50 billion bank trading book – equivalent to the GDP of a small country – to standing in a 3-hour long immigration queue, in the rain, just to report to the Home Office that he hasn’t run away? How many former head boys do you know that have spent time in prison? From dinners with central bankers, to teaching young drug dealers at HMP Maidstone how to find a better path. From being a Listener in prison, helping other offenders avoid suicide, to writing in the FT about how to rebuild our regulatory system. From dancing at The Social Service club night to teaching ethics to students at Edinburgh University and elsewhere around the country. From having fun with any of his 7 god children to speaking about the future of finance at the Oxford Union. From photographing the wedding of a Baroness’ daughter to giving hugs to strangers on a tram platform in the pouring Manchester rain. Kweku is open and happy to share his experience with anyone who asks, often about subjects that would be painful and challenging for many of us to talk about. Whether out and about with friends or at speaking at the Financial Times Annual Global Banking Conference, Kweku speaks with intelligence, patience, insight and compassion, standing for putting humanity before profit.
Through his vast and unique perspective, Kweku describes his ‘life focus’ on his website as being able ‘to contribute in a positive way to cultural and systemic change in our society’. Kweku puts his knowledge and experience to use in an effort to improve our economy and our society, which is why we absolutely need to keep him in the UK. His approach is an example of why it’s so important to work with what you have got; minimising focus on the negatives, instead building on the strengths of a situation to share value from an authentic place with others. This is exactly what my mantra, Truth made Fabulous, is all about, and why I am in awe of what Kweku has achieved and his mission into the future.
After publishing his writing on ways to achieve cultural and systemic change in the finance industry, Kweku has recently been offered a job as a writer at the Financial Times. The publication wants to use his insights and learnings to help our corporations better understand the changes they need to put in place to meet their social contracts with our wider society. He is a national treasure, an inconvenient reminder of a failed financial system, who nonetheless seeks to add his authentic value to a country he dearly calls home.
Despite the UK being his home for more than 25 years, thanks to draconian immigration rules designed by our government to reduce unwanted immigration through creating a hostile environment, the Home Office is trying to deport him to Ghana because his prison sentence was longer than 4 years. He hasn’t lived in Ghana since he was 4 years old. The UK is his home. He has paid the price he was asked to pay and yet now he is facing further punishment with the threat of being deported to Ghana to be made an example of. This is why we need to #KeepKweku, you can sign the petition to support him as he defends his right to remain in the UK in the Royal Courts of Justice on December 7th here.
As a little extra, I asked Kweku for his top tips for staying positive and making progress, even when times are hard. This is his advice:
“Always remember that making mistakes is central to the human condition. You are guaranteed to fall down. That’s how we learn. So when you do, look around you and learn why. Then get back up, remember your lessons, and try again to do something good. It’s only through finding purpose in our struggle that we learn the true magic of our shared journeys. When life gets too much, and the fear of failure starts to haunt me, I try to fall back into the loving embrace of my friends and family. That’s always a nice reminder of what’s truly important in this life; the primacy of our shared humanity.”
“If there’s one thing that those years in prison taught me, it is the power of making space to meditate and reflect. Even in the most difficult times, we have to meet the practical challenge of achieving our goals in life and work. Having a white board provides me with the space to explore my most innovative ideas; it’s a space where I can allow thoughts to break free, evolve, as well as organise them. To make real progress I try to practice doing what Cal Newport calls “deep work”. For 90 minute blocks at a time, I switch my mobile phone into airplane mode and turn off the internet connection to my laptop. I set a timer and make sure to honour it. When the bell rings, as a reward, I come back up for air to check emails and Whatsapp messages. If there’s still lots to achieve, I just repeat the cycle again.”
Thanks Kweku, I hope to see you at this year’s pre-new year Social Service party where we can celebrate our friendship, as well as your rightful place in the UK.
One more time with that petition to #KeepKweku… bit.ly/KwekuWeLoveYou