Revised system will help honour ethnic minority ‘heroes’


Imam Mohamed Mahmoud with his OBE for services to the community of London at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace. (Photo by Victoria Jones WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Imam Mohamed Mahmoud with his OBE for services to the community of London at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace. (Photo by Victoria Jones WPA Pool/Getty Images)

by HARRIS BOKHARI OBE
National board member, Prince’s Trust Mosaic Initiative

THE welcome race disparity audit published by the government two years ago showed that Britain’s ethnic minorities have come a long way in many areas of public life in recent times, though there is still much to be done to bridge the gaps of inequality and representation.

Harris Bokhari OBE

Home secretary Sajid Javid, London mayor Sadiq Khan, Church of England priest Rose Hudson-Wilkin, and now the Duchess of Sussex holding prominent public office, however, provide reasons to hope that the establishment is starting to reflect modern Britain – a society that is diverse, dynamic and vibrant, one that looks to the future, rather than clings onto the past.

There is, however, one last bastion of the establishment that people from minority backgrounds have yet to fully break into – the honours system. It is designed to celebrate the achievements of individuals who have made a significant contribution  to public life, and those who have committed themselves to serving Britain. This can be through a variety of ways, not least charitable activities and working with disenfranchised communities.

The question, however, for many Britons, and especially those from BAME communities is, how does someone get an honour? For most, the honours system is seen as impenetrable and mysterious – we see sports stars and celebrities lining up to receive their awards from the monarch every year, but very few of us have any understanding as  to the process – or wonder if indeed these awards are reserved for a privileged few.

There is still a perception that honours are doled out to dodgy donors or the friends of ministers and MPs who move in circles normal Britons don’t have access to. This is no longer the case. A review of the system means that members of the public sit on the deciding committees, leading to a more robust, transparent and fairer process.

Over the past seven years, we have seen the honours list become more representative and diverse, with now almost half of awardees being women and 12 per cent going to ethnic minorities. This marked increase was due, in the main, to the fantastic work of the former chair of the Honours Diversity and Inclusion committee, Dame Clare Tickell.

We must carry on her efforts, and ensure that, at the very least, half those granted honours are women, and a greater number of minorities, young people, LGBT and those outside the London bubble make the list, so that our honours system fully reflects the diversity of modern Britain. This is not only a matter of diversity for diversity’s sake, a tickbox exercise to make people feel they’re building strong communities, it is about rightfully recognising the achievements of people from minority communities who exist outside the arena of privilege that the honours system is seen to inhabit.

During my time on the honours committee, I have come across a number of barriers that prevent more representation from minority communities. Here is how I think we can  address them.

First, many people don’t even know that they can nominate anyone for an honour. We need to ensure that we are getting the word out to harderto-reach communities and explain the process.

Second, often people from minority backgrounds don’t believe these honours are meant for them. We have to make clear that the system is in place precisely so all those who are deserving of an honour are recognised, no matter their background.

Finally, the process of nomination may come across as daunting, but it needn’t. There are now clear guidelines on how to nominate someone for an honour – go to www.gov.uk/honours to find out more. All you will need to do is fill out an online form, describing in no more than 500 words why your nominee is deserving of an award. You will also need to find two people to provide supporting letters of reference.

Now is the best time for us to boost the diversity in the honours system – our nation will be poorer for it if we don’t. So, if you are wondering whether your local youth football coach or charity fundraising volunteer may be eligible for an honour, then go online and fill out a nomination form – you may well be pleasantly surprised