“I have felt supported as part of the IoD” Yvonne Obuaya, Managing Director, Curado

Yvonne Obuaya is a British, Nigerian born, female, entrepreneur who runs Curado – a Surrey based care home provider supporting people with mental illnesses. She won the IoD Director of the Year for Social Value and Sustainability Impact in 2020 and is an experienced NED.

I finished university with a mathematics and computing degree in the 1990s and went into the IT industry. It was new, exciting and fast-paced, but although I moved up quickly, I soon hit a glass ceiling. Perhaps I was too young, or it may have been because I was female as back then it was a male-dominated industry.

When the dot.com bubble burst I took the opportunity to get out of IT. I studied for an MBA and then launched my own lingerie business. My father was and still is my greatest cheerleader. I call him my dream catcher. Whatever difficulties I experienced with this fledgling business, he was always encouraging and positive, and he still is a major support. After the apparel industry was transformed by Chinese manufacturing, I pivoted again and in 2007, founded Curado.

Now I employ 20 people providing residential services for people with mental health needs. Being an entrepreneur is very different to being an employee, especially as you start to grow your enterprise. As a director you have serious responsibilities, so it’s good to have professional support at every step of the way.

Being part of the IoD has enabled me to access a network of incredibly useful contacts as well as great business resources. The life of an entrepreneur can be lonely but I have felt supported as part of the IoD network. I have had excellent value from the business resources available with membership – particularly the legal helpline.

In the ten years I have been a member of the IoD, I have seen a significant change; it feels more modern and inclusive. I was encouraged to enter the Director of the Year Award by fellow IoD member, Reena Dayal, founder of The Collaborators. Reena has been a great business coach to me personally, as well as providing excellent training to my employees. We met in the lunch queue at an IoD networking event and hit it off instantly.

I like to keep busy, so alongside running my own business I have leveraged my knowledge around social impact to become a Non-Executive Director with two amazing organisations. Luminary Bakery uses baking as a tool to train women from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain employment and start their own businesses.  Well Grounded in a similar fashion is a coffee company which trains young disadvantaged people to become baristas.

I think young people who want to set up their own businesses need to understand that this is no small feat so you have to be committed to doing this for the medium to long term. Being authentic in business is also invaluable as it builds trust amongst those around you as a leader and this ultimately adds value to your service/product and your brand.

During my career I would say that I have experienced discrimination as a black person and a female, but I recognise this as usually being an individual’s problem which I try not to let bother me. I have encountered racism first hand in the past and I have let it go, but it does feel as though things have changed recently especially since the death of George Floyd in 2020 and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. If something inappropriate was said to me or anyone else now, I would be more inclined to call it out.

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