Author Amanda Patterson, Business Research officer – City Business Library
This series of articles will explore the experience of Black Founders in London, from their initial experiences and exposures to business life in London, how London is growing and changing around them and how Black owned businesses are naturally contributing to building equal opportunities in Londons business landscape.
Ronda is originally from the United States. She grew up in a diverse, working class neighbourhood in Tampa, Florida. Her first visit to London was in 2004 while completing a summer study program in international business at Oxford University. What struck Ronda most was that despite the city being so big, it also had characteristics of an intimate neighbourhood. “A human-scale New York,” recalls Ronda. “I was especially mesmerised when we toured the areas of London like Canary Wharf, Billingsgate Fish Market and the Bank of England in the City, where substantial amounts of trade happen every day. I knew then that I had to come back.”
Ronda returned in 2011 to complete her MSc and PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London and has been here ever since, “for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I was home.” For Ronda, London was the place where people always visited or passed through, so doing business here meant that there were a lot of opportunities to meet new people from within and outside of the UK.
“Panoply Digital went from idea to conception throughout 2013 to 2014, before officially launching in 2015,” says Ronda. “London was the ideal place because the time zone meant that we had the opportunity to collaborate with people around the world and was a more convenient jumping off point for short or even long-haul destinations.” Ronda has watched London change dramatically in the last five years, “ The political landscape has changed immensely, three changes in government and the departure from the European Union, we have needed to remain agile to stay on top of the changes and assess how they would affect our business.”
More recently, Covid-19 has presented new challenges and new opportunities for Ronda and Panoply Digital: “We participated in new volunteer ventures to help make sure children were able to continue learning during lockdown.” Education is at the core of Panoply Digital, a women- and Black-owned- socially conscious organisation, which uses their team’s expertise in digital, education, and gender to create sustainable solutions to development challenges. They provide advisory services, learning design, training and end-to-end project implementation with diverse stakeholders in order to create more equal opportunities in London and beyond.
As a Black business owner, equal opportunities are at the core of her work, “Black people who own businesses not only generate profit, but also create jobs, spotlight Black talent, drive innovation and provide opportunities for people within our own community to model new business development based on what they see us achieve.” She continued, “existing is a way to create more equal opportunities, since as a Black-owned business we can inspire others who look like us to do the same.”
Ronda believes London still has a way to go before it is equitable and accessible for all. “I think more needs to be done to understand the Black in the BAME acronym. As a Black American, it is unsettling to see the experiences of Black people in the UK being lumped together with different minority groups, who often have very different experiences. We’re different in every positive sense of the word.” Working towards acknowledging, accepting and embracing these differences is, for Ronda, the first step in making London a more accepting city.
Ronda’s network has been invaluable in helping to build the business: she co-organises the London ICT4D Meetup, which is a network of nearly 1,200 people with an interest in the use of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D). Within the network, Ronda can identify new collaborators, new ideas, potential clients and research projects where she can learn new skills and meet other new people. Digital outreach has also been essential; Ronda attended the London Business Hubs Harness the Power of Social Media webinar which has helped them to manage their outreach during challenging times as the pandemic continues.
“The advice I would give to new founders is that you should strive for quality over quantity,” says Ronda. “In the beginning, it can be disheartening not to get much business. Now, one of our earliest clients remains with us to this day because of the high quality of work we deliver for them.” Although Panoply Digital started out small, steadily building a healthy roster of clients has meant that they are able to consult on projects that both bring joy and help change the world for the better. “I’m not sure we could have achieved that mix if we were taking on any project that came our way just to boost our revenue,” remarks Ronda. “Remaining true to our ethos has been the best decision we ever made – slow and steady wins the race!”
For Ronda, success is a world where people are living their best lives being connected and included, with the help of digital technologies. “Success is a world that has been touched by my expertise, strategy and insight – and is now in a better state than it once was.”
Panoply Digital is a women- and Black-owned, socially conscious organisation using our expertise in digital, education, and gender to create sustainable solutions to development challenges. We work with diverse stakeholders, providing advisory services, learning design, training,and end-to-end project implementation.
Our core business is education, gender, ICT, and digital development. Between us, our team members have decades of experience and are recognised leaders in the field. We are a core team of 3 full-time directors and 7 associates who work on cross-sectoral projects. Our director and associate team is global, with people based in Europe, the US, Asia, and Africa.
Our approach to our work is based on the Principles of Digital Development – and we particularly emphasise human-centred design. Our work cuts across both the private and the public sector, and has included online training development, monitoring and evaluation services, strategy and partnership development, policy work, research, development of toolkits, design of mobile solutions, training, and advocacy and outreach.
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