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‘When life gives you sour lemons, make lemonade’

Positive News meets Sade Brown, founder of Sour Lemons. The social enterprise helps young people use adversity to their advantage in the creative industries

Positive News meets Sade Brown, founder of Sour Lemons. The social enterprise helps young people use adversity to their advantage in the creative industries

— What is Sour Lemons?

Sour Lemons is about nurturing diverse leadership in the creative, cultural and social sectors. We deliver leadership programmes that help level the playing field for young people from all walks of life. Alongside this, we provide consultancy services – led by our young leaders – to help organisations become more diverse and inclusive.

— Where did the name come from?

Our ethos is that when life gives you sour lemons, you make lemonade. I believe that regardless of what adversity you have faced, you can use it to fuel your creativity and create social change. So, at the heart of our programmes is how we shine a light on the capabilities that people can gain from overcoming adversity.

— What inspired you to set up Sour Lemons?

I wondered: what would happen if I gave young leaders from similar backgrounds to mine, access to the same opportunities that helped me succeed? I was frustrated with always being the minority, and I wanted to create space for more diversity at decision-making tables.

— What challenges have you faced personally?

So many! But I see them as assets and recognise the capabilities I have developed from these experiences. My resilience comes from being excluded from two secondary schools and attending a pupil referral unit. My resourcefulness comes from leaving home at 14.

— How about professionally?

I faced many barriers when I started my career: I was a young, working-class, brown-skinned girl without a degree and without a professional network. I was really fortunate and had brilliant mentors, who helped me to see past these difficulties and believed in me enough to keep giving me opportunities to grow.

— Why is diversity important in the creative industries?

The more types of people we have making decisions behind the scenes, the better, more authentic and artistically brilliant work we will see trickling through to our stages and screens. And when I say diversity, I don’t just mean ethnicity – I mean socio-economic, class, race, gender, disability, everything. People from all walks of life, basically.

— How does Sour Lemons help form and prepare young leaders?

Over a year, the young leaders experience a series of masterclasses, bespoke mentoring, networking dinners, bootcamps, creative trips, a residential programme and the opportunity to produce their own commission. The programme is co-delivered with a range of partners including UnLtd (a body that supports UK social entrepreneurs), The Lyric Hammersmith theatre, Somerset House and Tate.

— How have your graduates fared?

All of our young leaders have moved into employment or set up their own ventures. One young woman from Slovakia, for example, set up a podcast about Brexit that is aimed at young immigrants. Another one of our amazing young leaders has been putting on music and poetry gigs to celebrate British Asian talent.

— Red Bull is supporting social entrepreneurs – how has it helped you?

Red Bull said that they wanted to back me, which was incredible. They enrolled me on some training to look at my skills as a leader and to understand where I need to grow. And when I told them I had to deliver a speech in front of 600 people, they gave me public speaking training. Having that extra level of confidence was really helpful.

— And you’re now helping Red Bull in turn?

Yes. Sour Lemons designed key elements of the selection process to help Red Bull identify the best social innovators to participate in the forthcoming Red Bull Amaphiko Academy [a mentorship programme for social entrepreneurs that’s launching in Bradford this year]. It is designed to make sure social innovators have something useful that they can take back with them, regardless of whether they get through to the academy or not.

— What’s next for Sour Lemons?

We’re gearing up to launch our second programme, which will last a year. We will work really intensely with young leaders and develop relationships with them. But we will only take on 12 people: we aim to scale via the ripple effect.

Find out more about the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy here

Photography by Dan Hipkin