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“It’s been a nuts year – a nuts last couple of months, even!” Josh Babarinde responds when we ask him how he is.

The 27-year-old entrepreneurial alumni from Eastbourne has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

“It was completely unexpected,” Josh says. “I even thought it was a joke at first. I associate OBEs with people who have been working for decades. I feel like I’m just getting started!

But it wasn’t a joke, and the OBE for his ‘Services to Criminal Justice, Social Enterprise and the Economy’ was indeed intended for him.

Josh is the founder of Cracked It, an award-winning technology business that has supported over 200 ex-offenders away from crime and towards employment. Cracked It was named Evening Standard’s Social enterprise of the Year in 2018 and 2019. Not only that, Josh’s work has won the backing of the US Embassy and River Island, and has been featured in the BBC and Forbes Magazine.

He speaks with confidence and gusto, that no doubt comes from his accomplishments. But first and foremost, Josh is humble. He is wise beyond his years and is committed to helping others achieve their dream, a goal that sees him stay close to home in Eastbourne. Born and bred in the town, Josh dedicated his OBE to Eastbourne and has been working tirelessly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to support the community.

“During the first lockdown, I thought, I’ve built and run this successful business, now what can I take from that to give back to the town?” Josh explains about his recent activity, working with a corporate partner to repair broken devices. “The fully restored phones were donated to local care homes, and over 100 residents benefitted from them, being able to use Facetime and speak to loved ones during an extremely difficult time.”

Josh was already responsible for what is probably the largest telephone drive of its kind, reaching out to 5,000 of the town’s elderly and vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

“Covid did a few things,” Josh contemplates. “It gave us space to think about how we can achieve bigger and better things, that we can send out into the world. For the past five years, I’ve run a successful business. Covid allowed me to think, what is it that I want to do next? More widely, it made me want to deouble my efforts to give back in my wonderful hometown.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Josh joined the board at East Sussex College. He has also started a new job heading up learning at a global social entrepreneurship school, where he can now “support other people in building businesses to help others.”

“Joining the college board is something I’m really excited about,” Josh enthuses. “College was the making of me. I would not have been able to achieve half of what I’ve been lucky enough to do had it not been for my courses and my teachers.”

Josh studied A-Level Politics, Law and Sociology, and AS Economics between 2009 and 2011 at East Sussex College in Eastbourne, subjects that have nurtured his understanding of business, people, and the world we live in. Nine years on, he fondly recalls his course tutors, Chris (x2!), Stella, Tracey, Steve and Tony.

“I was set on the courses I wanted to study at ESC,” he tells us. “The ones I picked were perhaps regarded as less academic subjects; they weren’t on some of the top universities’ wish lists, but my tutor, Chris, said, ‘Forget their list. This is about you,’ which is probably some of the best advice that I’ve been given. I made it to the London School of Economics!”

Chris also helped Josh write his personal statement. “He was brutal, but in a good way,” Josh laughs, before going on to praise his Politics tutor, Tracey, whose “infectious passion for the subject and encouragement really helped me”.

Stella taught Josh Law. Not only that, “she taught me the value of structure. She’s a special teacher. I took a lot of how she methodically structured things and still apply it today.”

“For Sociology, I was taught by Steve. He never missed a lesson and put so much effort into helping us as students. Then, for one day, he was away. He came back and we found out that, sadly, his dad had passed away the previous day – yet he was still pumped to support us students right away. Inspiring. He taught me resilience. How much he cared for us made me see that I could succeed.”

Josh’s supportive and entrepreneurial nature was evident from a young age. He was a Maths tutor to a family friend when he was just 13, and this quickly developed into tutoring friends of friends. At Cavendish School, he was Head Boy, and has been campaigning for the Liberal Democrats for 10 years, because to him, “politics is all about helping people”. He has also volunteered as a youth worker. “My youth work gave me an insight into young people and why they commit crimes. I launched my business, Cracked It, on the basis of working with these people.

Josh moved to London to study Politics and Government at London School of Economics (LSE). He stayed in London to launch his first enterprise, mobile phone repair company, Cracked It, in 2016. The decision was made to close its doors at the end of 2020, partly because of Covid-19, and partly to allow Josh to pursue new projects back in Eastbourne.

“This has been a super hard decision to make,” reads a statement on Cracked It’s website crackedit.org. “We’re gutted that our unique business model of office-based repairs has been busted by coronavirus – and that our agile pivots haven’t done our mission nor balance sheet justice.” However, the legacy of the business lives on in the form of the Cracked It Lab (www.crackedit.org/lab), where “we’re devoting all of our resources to incubating the innovations below to seed systemic change for people with convictions beyond Cracked It’s lifetime.”

Back home in Eastbourne, Josh made the decision to support young adults in the area. “I grew up in Hampden Park, an underestimated part of town. But it’s packed full of great people, innovative businesses and a strong community spirit. I want to build on this and help to create opportunities for more local folk to thrive.”

“At college I dreamed of travelling the world, and, through my work, I’ve had the opportunity to do exactly that. Cracked It became internationally recognised. I’ve been to the US Embassy and travelled to meet entrepreneurs, and even had the chance to work with ex-gang members in L.A. I had great teachers who believed in me. I have been able to achieve many of my dreams. I want to see that Eastbourne remains a town where people can realise their dreams, too.”

Inspirational, resilient, and not afraid to stand up for what is right, ESC alumni Josh Babarinde is definitely one to watch.