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Kumbi's journey

On the eve of BCHC's first Black History Month conference, we caught up with Kumbi Kariwo, manager of the sexual health service for young people in Birmingham who have a learning disability or difficulty and those who are in care.

Kumbi Kariwo has a passion for helping people who may be vulnerable; and those who face barriers to fulfilling their potential.

Kumbi has been manager of the sexual health service for young Birmingham people who have a learning disability or difficulty and those who are in care since February 2017 after five years working with teenage mums came to an end when the Birmingham Family Nurse Partnership was decommissioned.

Kumbi Kariwo

“It was a very uncertain time as I’d been acquiring a lot of skills and then, suddenly, I didn’t know how or whether I was going to be able to use them,” remembers Kumbi.

“I was determined to pursue a leadership and management role and so I took advantage of CV-writing and interview skills training offered by the Trust and applied for several positions.”

Kumbi’s tenacity paid off  when she was offered the opportunity to set up and lead the young people’s sexual health service as part of a new service model for delivering sexual health services for young people in Birmingham

“Although there’s no clue in the title, the service is specifically for children and young people who have a learning disability/difficulty or are in care,” she explains.

“In a year and a bit of operating, we’ve done a lot of good work building relationships with the Umbrella sexual health service for Birmingham and Solihull, special needs schools and the BCHC children in care team, as well as our partners at Birmingham City Council.

“It’s been a steep learning curve and we’re in productive discussions with the local authority commissioners now about how we can be more targeted in order to best serve the needs of the communities we serve.

“It’s been a journey of learning about Birmingham demographics and analysing where the gaps are in what is already provided.

“For example, historically, there has not been any systematic collection of personal health data for people with learning disabilities, which we need to develop a citywide service meeting the particular needs of that client group.

“So, we have real expertise and commitment to supporting the needs of some quite vulnerable young people but we need to continue developing our understanding of where and what the particular needs are.”

Zimbabwe-born Kumbi came to England in 2001 to study for a nursing diploma at the University of Huddersfield. As an active member of the Royal College of Nursing student body, Kumbi successfully lobbied for a change in nursing qualification from diploma to degree.

After graduating in 2004, she moved to Manchester to start her first nursing post as a specialist community learning disability nurse, working as part of a multi-agency team with families of children with severe learning disabilities.

After graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in health, Kumbi then worked in a dual role in community healthcare in Manchester – dividing her time equally between health visiting and working in a specialist team supporting children with a disability.

Kumbi is keen to use her rich personal and professional experience to support BCHC’s drive to improve policy and procedure to promote diversity and equality of opportunity.

“Who knew you needed an English translator as an English speaker?” laughs Kumbi, recalling those early years as a student and professional in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

“But more seriously, I came away from some situations feeling judged for a lack of understanding or responsiveness. It’s just one small example of many barriers that may not be noticed or acknowledged.”

Kumbi says she has learnt to adapt her engagement style, harnessing the power of humour to defuse tension.

She says: “You have to consider at certain points whether to assimilate or integrate. Having cultural and emotionally intelligence has been key in breaking some of the unconscious barriers or biases that I have held. Change starts with me.”

Implementing the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) is a requirement for NHS organisations and Kumbi says she supports the Trust’s recent move to address senior level under-representation of people with particular ‘protected characteristics’, as defined by the 2010 Equality Act.

“It’s important to acknowledge that there may be barriers or issues of relatability, however unconscious, so that we can collectively work out how best to address them,” she says.

 “If we look at the data being produced within BCHC through the equality, diversity and human rights team as a result of WRES, we can start to see clear emerging trends that need to be acknowledged and addressed.”

“This is important because studies show that a motivated, included and valued workforce helps deliver high quality patient care, increased patient satisfaction and better patient safety.”

As a member of the Trust’s BME Network, Kumbi has enjoyed taking on the role of ‘reverse mentor’ for non-executive director Neil Scott.

Neil said: “It’s been very instructive. Each board members has been given a ‘reverse mentor’ taken from the membership of the Trust’s BME Network and I was lucky to be ‘paired’ with Kumbi.

“The purpose is to challenge preconceptions and consider perspectives of people from different backgrounds and with different personal and professional experiences to your own.

“It’s been very helpful in understanding presumptions, barriers and biases – whether conscious or unconscious – that can stand in the way of our work to create a great place to work built on best equality and diversity practice.”