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Duro Oye: ‘1,100 people later, we are still changing lives and putting young people on the right path’

Duro Oye on how one impactful documentary film led him to found his own youth empowerment company

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Young people are undoubtedly the future, and this notion is something that Duro Oye was aware of from as early as 2012. After premiering his documentary film that followed two rival gangs, he realised that he wanted to do more than film-making, he wanted his work to have a significant impact on young people’s lives. After numerous unreturned calls from charities, he decided to take matters firmly into his own hands and started 2020 Change. Now eight years since its formation, 2020 Change is still educating and supporting young people to realise and act on their own potential. Check out what Duro had to say about 2020 Change, why carving a space for young people in a corporate world benefits businesses, and why his hope for the future is to pass on the baton!  

Tell me a little bit about 2020 Change? 
It came off the back of a documentary film I made back in 2012. That film was about following two rival gang members, three from each side, from Peckham and Brixton, and documenting their change and understanding how difficult it was for them to turn their lives around and transition into employment, or start a business, just because of their background and no one wanted to give them a chance. That made me realise that because of my support system, family and network I recognised that I was a lot more privileged and that made me think to myself that I was in a position to help. We all came up in the same way, but we made different choices. I wanted to make a film, and give the documentary to leading charities that worked with young people like the men in the documentary. We had the premiere at the Odeon in Leicester Square, and we invited them all along and they loved watching the film, and gave us a standing ovation.

In the end, we had a Q&A where they asked ‘so what’s next?’ I told them what the plan was, and they said ‘we would love to support you. Shortly after that, nothing happened, no one followed up or returned my calls, and I made a promise to the young men that if they were authentic about their stories that it would change lives. So I ended up spending all the money I had on the film, and I decided I needed to make something of this, and then I started the organisation and did it myself. That was eight-plus years ago, and we are still here 1,100 young people later, still changing lives and putting young people on the right path. 

How do you think companies, organisations and businesses can do more to support young people? 
Companies, employers and corporations need to be more open to welcoming young people into their spaces. When we started, a lot of young people were intimidated by the corporate space. Intimidated by suits and briefcases. They felt that everyone who worked in the city had to look a particular way, or go to a particular school and be interested in particular hobbies. In some areas of the city that’s still the case, but what we found was a handful of employers who are willing to do things differently! Like welcoming us into their space, meeting and engaging with our young people and understanding their journeys and understanding that they can add value to their business. And because of that, allowing them to add to their business and reap the rewards from that. Because of the success that we are seeing that is forward-thinking in that sense, more companies are open to this idea. What we always say to big businesses, particularly consumer brands, is that young people are the next generation of people who have given up or lost hope in the education and political system. However, there is still hope for corporations and brands. There’s a small window before they lose hope in them too! They need to step up and do what’s right. Of our young people, 70-80 percent of people on our programmes have side hustles, so no one is trying to work a 9-5 and employers need to be accommodating to that too. The dynamics are changing, and it’s those employers that are forward-thinking that are going to reap the rewards of the next generation. 

What was the best bit of career advice you’ve ever been given? 
I don’t think I've ever received good career advice if I’m being completely honest. In secondary school teachers just looked at my grades, and saw that I was predicted to score high and pigeonholed me and said ‘you’re good at art, you’re good at drama, you’re creative, go into graphic design' and that was it. There’s so much more there that I wasn’t even aware of. All of those things helped me to become who I am. All those skills that I developed and still use until this day, and being a lone founder, I was able to do a lot of the creative side as well as the business side so I am grateful for my journey, and the decisions that I made early on that have moulded and shaped me into the person I am today. 

What piece of career advice would you give to your younger self? 
Be open, don’t box yourself in! You have so many different talents and skills, and although you can’t use all of those skills at the same time, use what you can to get to where you need to get to - recognise opportunities everywhere. 

What’s your favourite part of your job? 
Seeing young lives change. That’s partly during the sessions that we deliver when a young person recognises that their future is in their own hands. The penny drops for different people at different times but being able to experience that penny drop and that lightbulb moment is the most fulfilling thing about what we do at 2020 Change. Then you get to see them graduate, and you see their faces as they celebrate with friends and family and there’s a sense of accomplishment. It’s the moment they realise that their past is their past, and their future can be a lot more exciting than their past. The moment that clicks for a young person, that’s the moment a young person becomes unstoppable! 

What are your hopes for the future? 
I hope that we continue to grow and impact lives. My personal hope for the organisation is to eventually be able to step down as CEO and pass the baton to someone who has risen through the ranks, through the programme and the alumni network, who is ready, willing and able to take the organisation to the next level. 

Check out 2020 Change here! 

Words: Grace Goslin

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