ANNMARIE LEWIS: From Prison Officer to Pioneer

From Prison Office to Pioneer

“I have been able to fuse innate talent and innovation with creativity and entrepreneurship to bring about significant and positive change”

Annmarie Lewis is a leading justice consultant, business strategist, leadership & success coach. She is the founding director of the award-winning social enterprise Rainmakers Worldwide and consultancy The Rainmakers Group. Annmarie specialises in providing support to those from diverse and challenging backgrounds, primarily to create their own sustainable businesses. Here, we find out how Annmarie is paving the way for socially engaged businesses.

You were the first Black female prison officer in HMP Feltham Young Offenders Institute & Remand Centre. Was it this experience that motivated you to become a socially engaged entrepreneur?

It certainly played a significant part, but being a socially engaged person was in my DNA. My family raised me to care about the welfare needs of others and be entrepreneurial. Before her passing, my beloved grandmother recalled that when I was six I came home with a group of children who were being teased for their unkempt appearance. I asked if we could wash their clothes and give them a bath. Even then I saw beyond the circumstances, and found ordinary solutions to what others deemed as the extraordinary.

I often find people are dismissive of the back stories as to why some young people are ‘dying’ to belong. They are so often dealing with issues of rejection, abuse and more- but trying to take back their lives. What is often missed is their talents and entrepreneurial spirit driving in business ventures, albeit often illicit ones. I overcame my adversity and attended university at 19 to study Criminal Justice. I became the first black female prison officer at Feltham Young Offenders Institute and Remand Centre at 22 years old.

I managed to made significant changes to our prison system on a local and national basis. I became a national hostage negotiator, contributing to national policies, and lead a national diversity recruitment drive, which saw a significant increase in staff from minority backgrounds. Throughout my career, I have been able to fuse innate talent and innovation with creativity and entrepreneurship to bring about significant and positive change.

Can you tell us a bit more about your companies?

Rainmakers Worldwide provides business development and support to young people, young adults and women from diverse and challenging backgrounds, primarily to create their own sustainable businesses. I strive to see the talents in everyone as many people have great entrepreneurial skills, but use them inappropriately.

With just an idea and my faith, I was sponsored in April 2010 by Linklaters LLP. I developed the Youth Enterprise Leadership Programme as an innovative model. YELP takes the entrepreneurial spirit of young people who are deemed to have no employable skills, and incorporates business skills and therapeutic programmes to address the root issue. I founded Rainmakers Worldwide to provide additional personal development and business support services.

I was one of the first in the UK to marry the corporate, public and third sectors in this unique way, bridging the gap between the ‘corporates and the streets’. I began to question whether entrepreneurship could be utilised as a catalyst for wider socioeconomic change among different marginalised demographics. This proved correct so I diversified my work to work internationally.

The Rainmakers Group was born out of the need to sustain the social enterprise as we had much to offer the business, social justice and entrepreneurship worlds. Therefore TRG provides a range of business development skills to individuals and businesses, research addressing cultural change both in business and social justice areas and global education programmes in partnership with the London Business School. Rainmakers Worldwide were the winners of the inaugural PwC Award for Social Impact 2014. I was also the recipient of the Winston Churchill Memorial Travelling Fellowship 2017 where I conducted 5 months of research in the US regarding entrepreneurship as a catalyst for positive change, the report will be published later this year;

Tell us a bit more about your other exciting projects

Firstly, I’m restructuring to accommodate additional growth and success. I am committed to continually learning in all spheres. Additionally, I hold two masters degrees in Youth, Community Work and Applied Anthropology and in Research. I am currently a doctoral student of Anthropology, Youth Crime and Entrepreneurship and loving it! I am privileged to be a guest lecturer at various institutions. Most recently, I delivered two business and entrepreneurship courses for under 12’s at the Oxford Summer Schools programme and am now developing an academy for younger groups.

I am passionate about performing arts, especially musical theatre. I’m currently writing two gospel-based musicals of my own. One addresses serious youth violence and the other focuses on social action. After being in the making for several years, they should be in production early 2019.


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