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Michael Hayman on the power of identity

Michael Hayman on Kamal Ahmed on the power of identity, in his column for Country & Town House.

Your story is your superpower and it is a lesson in life from Kamal Ahmed, the former BBC News Editorial Director.

While many of us will remember his sharp reporting and even sharper suits, Kamal’s life looks very different today: the disruptive entrepreneur is changing the way young people relate to news through his start-up, The News Movement.

His mission is powerful: ‘to solve the undersupply of trusted, engaging, balanced, and objective news and information on social media platforms’. His vision is to create new ways of storytelling to ‘bring audiences on a journey of discovery’ through a community of creators ‘meeting you where you are’ in a digital world.

This new approach matters because, he says, ‘this century has been almost dominated by the idea of identity and belonging, and of whose history do we tell.’

Identity and belonging might be the inspiration for his new business, but it is also at the heart of his own story, captured in his 2018 book The Life and Times of A Very British Man.

Born in London to a Sudanese father and Yorkshire mother, he has come to find ‘pride in both sides of the fence’ of a ‘mixed ethnic identity’. But this was no easy journey. Growing up in 1970s Britain came with the immediate challenge and longer-term consequences of being made to feel foreign in his own country. It’s beautifully captured by his reflections of first visiting the Sudan: ‘The romantic red dust of the Sahara is not mine, the call to prayer is not mine, not in the way the River Thames is mine, the sands of a Devon summer holiday beach are mine, a pint down the pub is mine. I am as British as they come, like hot buttered toast and bacon sarnies. And still, something of an alien in my own country.’

Awakening to the question of his own identity and seeking to find answers has done much to inform his new career path and sharpen his mission to sew the seams of unity back into public discourse. He has been able to look at his own profession anew, co-creating an organisation whose ambition is to do nothing less than to change news for good.

His life experiences, he says, have ‘helped me navigate and think about the journey so many people are now on’. That journey becomes the story of our lives. Being alive to it and its possibilities is how the things that once troubled us become the ones that can ultimately empower and unite us.

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Chapter 1 outlines the concept of mission and how the breakthrough brands of today have succeeded by building a mission that inspires belief, generates a following and instils a purpose beyond profit.