Sunday, March 17, 2013

Betting on black talent

By CARLOS MUREITHI

Being a beautiful woman is not about fitting the scales of height and weight, Pauline Long says, but being of good character and attitude that bring joy to the lives of other people.

Long, the founder and CEO of the Mr and Miss East Africa UK beauty pageant, has developed a huge passion for giving back to children and the youth. The pageant is only one of her many initiatives, and it encourages entrepreneurship among East Africans in the UK in addition to working closely with East African children charities.

“I think a beautiful person is one who is beautiful inside, with a kind giving heart, one who is full of human love. You are guaranteed that this kind of beauty will never fade,” she says.

Born in Mombasa to a family of 10, Ms Long has lived in different parts of Kenya. She started primary school in Mombasa, went on to Homa Bay Primary School then St Theresa Rapogi Girls and St Alberts Ulanda Girls High schools. All these before heading to the UK to study hospitality.

She founded Miss East Africa UK in 2006 and Mr East Africa UK two years later. Still, she needed to expand.

“I co-founded Miss West Africa with a Ghanian entrepreneur who approached me at the peak of Mr and Miss East Africa UK,” she says, adding that she realised that there were West Africans asking to join Mr and Miss East Africa UK but she turned them down as it did not cover their region.

But her beauty pageants are not just about good looks.

Charity work including work with children abandoned and orphaned through HIV/AIDS and genocide is at the core.

“I believe in human love as opposed to love for objects. I established the beauty pageants because I wanted to support children,” Ms Long tells Buzz. With everything she does or puts her name on, it has to be giving back to the community.

Mr and Miss East Africa UK pageants also encourage young East Africans to become entrepreneurs and leaders in their chosen fields.

Another of her startups, the Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts (BEFFTA) Awards, celebrates the achievements of people in entertainment, film, fashion, television and arts.

It began in the UK. BEFFTA Awards USA is two years old. The Caribbean version was launched in February this year while the Australian and Canadian ones will be introduced in the coming months.

Some of the high profile personalities honoured at BEFFTA Awards include veteran broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald, American filmmaker Tyler Perry and Nollywood actress Omotola Jalade Ekeinde.

And Ms Long has plans to bring the event to Africa.

“BEFFTA Africa is coming to Nairobi with a press launch in May and the main award in November,” she says.

Ms Long cites that Nairobi will be the home of BEFFTA Africa.

“We will bring the entire world of entertainment, film, fashion, television and arts from the rest of Africa, UK, Canada, US, Europe, Caribbean to the beautiful Kenya and its beautiful creative people,” she says.

For Ms Long, the goal here is to inspire people to be high achievers, besides honouring and celebrating them.

Ms Long was inspired to start BEFFTA awards after organising Mr and Miss East Africa UK for many years.

She states that she worked with so many talented people in entertainment, film, fashion television and arts who were not being celebrated despite their contributions to the respective industries. Therefore, she established BEFFTA to encourage these individuals to carry on despite the challenges.

The Kenyan-born lady is passionate about giving back.

Through her founding of Feed the Street Children campaign, which operates in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and is executed by Mr and Miss East Africa UK representatives in East Africa, her team does activities ranging from feeding children in orphanages and on the streets, or buying essentials for them.

“We do not stick with one or two particular charities, we identify a variety and we support them as and when necessary because all this is self-funded,” she says.

Pauline Long has in addition opened an award-winning film establishment called East End Studios which is one of London’s biggest independently owned film and TV studios based in East London and next door to Olympics village.

She is a fashion designer with her label Pauline Long Collection and also founded Diaspora Fashion Week, an annual fashion week and fashion sales and market for designers from Europe, Asia, Africa and the US.

“I work very closely with my mother who does the sewing as I create all the designs. The label is developing and will be branching out to bags, shoes and perfumes,” she says.

Besides being one of eleven inspirational women in Europe listed on Black Women in Europe Power list 2012, Long has received over 15 awards to date.

Financial support

“Being awarded most innovative Kenyan in London was a huge elevator especially at the time when I wanted to give up the pageants because of lack of financial support, she says.

Just last year, she was honoured with The Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award at the UK Kenyan Achievers Awards.

“This was presented to me by the Kenyan High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland Ephraim Ngare,” she says.

Long is a mother of two: Kieran who is ten years old, and Kacy, 7. The boy and girl are co-authors of a poetry book that is currently in UK national libraries. She is able to fund her pageants from money generated through her studio and with help from her husband who is a software engineer.

Her parents played their part.

“They ensured that we had basic needs and the best education,” she says.

It didn’t stop there though.

Her father, Paul Odhiambo, worked with the local government. It is from him that she gained the philosophy of giving back.

“He educated so many people; a whole village. People used to turn up in our house early morning seeking help from dad, and he would always emerge with some money and all you could hear was ‘go and feed your family and take your children to school’, Ms Long says.

Long hopes to settle back in Kenya in future and work with the youth, empower them to achieve highly.