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MGAC Impacts: Kalimba Culverwell on Communicating with Empathy, Pattern Spotting, and Unwinding with Sports Documentaries

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Kalimba at the beach.

The Impact Blog is a spotlight series that highlights and celebrates the diverse employees that make MGAC tick. Beyond their day-to-day schedules, we want to know how they have a greater impact on their colleagues, their company, and the communities in which they live and work. We want to know what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what led them to their current role, and what they hope their lasting impact will be.

Today, we get to know Kalimba Culverwell, Business Development Director at MGAC.

MGAC: Hi Kalimba! It’s great to have you on the Impact Blog.

Kalimba Culverwell (KC): Thank you! It’s a pleasure to join.

MGAC: Describe your role here in your own words.

KC: As a Business Development Director for MGAC | RLF, I’m responsible for developing commercial opportunities for the firm.

MGAC: And how long have you been with MGAC | RLF?

KC: I’ve been with our London office for six months now. It’s been a fast and full six months, because it’s coincided with the world opening up again, after the global pandemic!

MGAC: That’s true! Were you working in a similar role before joining?

KC: I’ve been a business developer within the industry for a number of years now, but previously I was working on the design side, with architectural and interiors firms. In fact, my segue into this industry comes from the creative side—I have a fine art and history of art degree from Oxford University – but I was always interested in spatial fields, in the fabric that shapes our lives.

MGAC: Makes sense! Being a newer member of the team, what fresh perspectives are you hoping to bring?

KC: I hope I bring a creative flair to sharing what my colleagues do and to connecting the dots: people with opportunities. In a way, I see myself as a promoter of unsung heroes. So much of the work that Project Managers and Cost Consultants do is behind the scenes. By contrast, I’m ‘front of house’, and so my role is to promote their hard work and dedication out to the world and beyond.

MGAC: What a lovely way to describe your work! So you came up through the architecture world—was that always your aspiration? When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

KC: Well, when I was younger, I was convinced I’d be the next Nadia Comăneci! I did gymnastics, ballet, and swimming at Borough level up to my teens. I continued rowing and swimming through university. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure where my Art degree would take me. But I always loved buildings and was drawn to the creative industries. What I appreciated about architecture and interior design was that they attracted more humble souls than other disciplines within the art, design, and media world, in my experience. I felt they were more democratic. While you did have star architects, it was an industry that felt collaborative, where everyone had to work together to achieve things. That was highly appealing to me.

MGAC: What keeps you busy these days?

KC: Fundamentally, business development involves cold calling, cold emailing, and building a network. I explore the differences between sectors, research key players within those sectors, and from there, then find best approaches to all. I’m always scanning industry press; going to countless events to network and raise our profile; and just being out in the market so I can hear about new developments and bring that news back to the team. As much as I’m out there promoting what our unsung heroes do, I’m collecting information and bringing it back to their doorstep. That all keeps me very busy!

MGAC:What impact do you hope to have through this work?

KC: I would like us to be involved in one of the most defining projects for London within this decade. A project that really shapes and comes to define the city. A changemaking building that transcends brick and mortar and has a value and significance that’s symbolic, even archetypal, for example. That’s my goal. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m scanning every day. I know that something amazing is coming.

MGAC: What an inspired idea—and an excellent way to impact the broader community through your work here.

KC: Absolutely. The construction and design communities are very closely knit in London—and the UK in general. To be involved in bringing something to life that some of the brightest, most invested creative people within our community have a stake in would be incredible. To be involved in something we can all share; something people can truly have an experience of and that fosters deeper human connection, would be a goal come true.

MGAC: As you mentioned earlier, you joined the firm at an interesting moment in time. What challenges have you faced during these last six months?

KC: Since joining MGAC | RLF, it’s been uncanny how many challenges the UK market has faced. We’ve had rising mortgage and loan interest rates, and rising inflation, which has really impacted developers and the market. At the same time, we’re experiencing a cost of living crisis, and an energy crisis. We’ve also had the death of a monarch, the induction of a new monarch, and three Conservative Party prime ministers. There’s been a record number of train and tube strikes, which have created huge challenges for business. And then we’ve had unprecedented heat waves and snow — things our buildings and infrastructure just aren’t designed to cope with. These are just the last six months’ challenges! I think we’re going to feel their longer-term impact across next year.

MGAC: Wow, no kidding. Are you already seeing some of those impacts today?

KC: Absolutely. There’s been a palpable change. COVID had already begun this shift, but all these factors have thrown the normal business calendar out. Whereas there used to be a set time for and a way things were done, people are reimagining interactions now. We’re transitioning to a new world.

MGAC: True. And if these last few years have taught us anything, challenges come in many forms. Have you developed or encountered any techniques to overcome those you’ve experienced?

KC: Every day I try to get better at communicating with empathy. That has helped me navigate the majority of the challenges in my line of work and remain focused on the essence of what it is I do: which effectively is, first and foremost, to listen. I listen to the market. To the people I meet. It’s my job to ensure individuals feel seen and heard, and to take their message back to the team. I need to “hear between words,” so to speak, to identify where things are going—be it with individuals or the market—and hold all that in the balance.

MGAC: A thoughtful take on business development.

KC: Some people are quick to dismiss this work as schmoozing. But schmoozing is really bloody hard! What I do is centered on truly listening, which itself is an art and takes patience, and also thorough research.

MGAC: What at MGAC | RLF has made an impact on you?

KC: I can actually speak about a very tangible impact here! Not too long ago, we had a director’s development meeting, and, by chance, it was held in Windsor. It was a great couple of days of gathering and brainstorming. Windsor is a beautiful place with great big parks and riversides. I enjoyed being there so much, being on the river and seeing the rowers, and I felt so at home near the water that within two months, I’d moved here!

MGAC: Wow! What an exciting change.

KC: Yes! It’s had a positive influence on my life and work. And I would never have considered it before. I travel straight into our office on London’s new Elizabeth Line, so it works well logistically. And my move to one of the seats of the Royal family happened at the most historic time too: a week later, it was announced in the press that William and Kate would be moving to Windsor, and then, of course, the Queen passed away and her body was carried into Windsor Castle.

MGAC: You’re a trendsetter! What have you found most rewarding about your job?

KC: The moments when I make the right connection or connect the right person to the right opportunity or ‘moment’. I love spotting patterns developing and connecting the dots, so to speak. It’s so rewarding to see a trend developing, and to learn that your intuition was right. It’s even more rewarding when it leads to something. You feel then like you’re perfectly in tune.

MGAC: What gives you energy?

KC: This is a timely question, because I’ve noticed having less energy this past year, coming off of COVID. Generally speaking, I get energy from being around people, being in the city. Simply seeing new things and feeling grateful for all that I get to be a part of all that I get to experience. I still feel that way, but this year, I’ve found myself seeking a new balance. In my personal life, I know it’s important to be thoughtful and intentional about what you give your energy to. But in my work, sometimes that’s not really a choice to make. After all, you don’t know where the next thing will come from, so you hesitate to say “no” to anything! Still, it’s important to be present and authentic to yourself in this line of work. As they say, people buy from people. It’s a balance I’m still trying to strike!

MGAC: That’s a great point. It seems like many, if not most of us, are still figuring out our own “new normal.” In terms of daily practices for finding balance, do you have a secret for winding down at the end of a long day?

KC: I love watching sports documentaries on Netflix. I find them simultaneously relaxing, energizing, and inspiring. There is something fascinating about athletes, and documentaries are a great window into their world, their practice and focus.

MGAC: Very cool. Any tips for starting the morning off on the right foot?

KC: I normally start the day listening to a meditation. I have an app on my phone that generates a new one each morning. I do the breathwork and let the perspective help how I’ll go into the world that day… And then it’s usually a mad rush to get out the door in time! Haha.

MGAC: We can relate! Name a book that has made a significant impact on your life.

KC: I would point anyone to You Can Heal Your Life by Louisa Hay. It’s about connection, kindness, and empathy—a good book for our times. I also read a lot of fiction. Two forever favorites are Toni Morrison’s Beloved and John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

MGAC: How about a favorite quote that inspires you?

KC: I love to come back to something my cousin once said: “A thing is a thing until it isn’t anymore, and then it’s something different.” It may seem really obvious, but as much as we might claim to like change and all things ‘new’, and see it as a positive, we’ll always find ourselves in relationships or situations where a slight change or developing revelation can be unsettling. That quote teaches you radical acceptance. It might be a tiny shift, but we must be conscious of moving with it and letting go of what it isn’t. I’m good at letting things talk to me about who and what they really are. I hear that now, where before I might have avoided it. And I also give myself the permission to transform in step, if needs be.

MGAC: Time for some rapid-fire questions! What’s the first thing you do at work every day?

KC: I go into the office at least twice a week. When I do, I always start by saying hello and having a friendly chat with colleagues. Coming out of the lockdowns and remote working of the COVID era, I feel it’s more important now than ever to be present with people.

MGAC: What’s the last thing?

KC: My working day doesn’t always end at the end of a “traditional” workday for most people. I’ll often go on to an ‘after school’ event, a drink, or a dinner. So, the last thing I end up doing might be talking with someone, somewhere in the city, well into the evening— always in search of the next new opportunity or lead.

MGAC: What’s the most interesting thing we might find in your desk or work bag?

KC: I’m not a religious person, but I was given a Saint Christopher pendant by a Christian friend. He attached a K to it and put it in a pouch with a note that reads, “To keep you safe on your journeys and travels.” I keep it with me in my work bag. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel frequently in this line of work across the years.

MGAC: What’s your go-to weekday lunch?

KC: I’ll often have working lunches, which give me the opportunity to go to a nice restaurant. Lunchtime in business development is made for maintaining relationships with clients and the broader community, and for bringing new clients and partners to the table. We’re spoiled for choice here in London in terms of restaurants, and that’s never lost on me!

MGAC: Well said. What’s the most used app on your phone?

KC: Citymapper. It’s an app that figures out the best way for Londoners to get to their destination. Also, Spotify when I’m journeying—that’s the best money I spend every month!

MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.

KC: Connecting people to creative opportunities.

MGAC: Nice. It’s hard to believe that 2023 is almost here. What are you most excited about?

KC: Traveling to the US to work alongside my colleagues there, in person. We’re working together to help US clients, looking to get into UK and European markets, make that leap across the pond.

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