Welcome to Wonderful Women, my regular series featuring interviews with some of the UK’s – in fact make that the world’s – most inspirational ladies!
Today I’m speaking to Asma Shah, the founder of You Make It.
Asma’s journey towards setting up You Make It began in 2009 when her mother sadly passed away from cancer. Her mum had been a strong influence in her life, raising her and her three sisters in a South London council estate whilst working relentlessly to support their eventual transition into university and successful careers. Reflecting on her mother’s difficult start in life in 1970’s England, she began to question in what capacity she wanted to use her leadership skills.
You Make It was born in pilot form in 2011 at Asma’s kitchen table, with just £3,000 investment. Working alone at that time, she trawled the streets of Bethnal Green and worked with other local organisations to identify an eventual twenty-one women to enrol in the first term.
To date, You Make It have supported 81 women through the programme and 78% of their graduates are now in paid employment, working on their own start-up or have accessed a formal education place. It is one of the UK’s smallest yet most impactful charities, changing the lives of unemployed women in London’s East-end.
Many of the women have complex personal lives and backgrounds which can include surviving abuse, mental health issues and poverty.
The programme gives these women tools to manage life and creates deep shifts which take them from seeing themselves as a problem or victims who need support to valuable assets of society ready to size and create opportunities.
Over to Asma to discover more about her awe-inspiring charity work!
Describe a typical day for you?
Right now a typical day for me is coming into work and grabbing some toast before dealing with emails from anyone ranging from my small but wonderful staff team, trustees, funders and other partners.
Once I’m clear of emails, I tend to dedicate time to writing proposals to funders to make sure the great work continues.
It’s such a tough climate and charities are always fighting for their lives and so bringing money in is so important.
With on-going programmes being delivered at the same time, I usually have catch ups with my newly funded Big Lottery team as well, because they’re still learning a lot/ being trained into taking over much of the development and delivery of our services. I can’t believe that this moment of being able to delegate is really happening – for so long I was mostly just reliant on myself to get it all done!
Right now we’re also recruiting young women for the next programme, and this involves me either going on outreach with my programmes manager to local job centres, or having her go in to them and bringing women back to meet me for coffee at our lovely co-working space in Haggerston.
Meetings with potential beneficiaries are amazing, hearing their life stories inspiring and having honest conversations about how we can really help them get to where they need to be is always exciting.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
By far the biggest professional achievement is setting up this organisation. I did it with just £3000 which just about covered participant expenses, and it all took off during a really tough personal time. My late single mother had passed away and I’m proud that I managed to use that grief and reflection about her journey and that of her 4 daughters to put in place a positive empowerment programme to ensure other young women coming up behind me survived and thrived against the odds.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
A book, gum, my iPhone 6, house keys, purse, swim suit and towel – I work and live close to the London Fields Lido and especially during summer months, that’s where I head after work to clear out my head and feel weightless!
What are your ambitions in life?
I’d really like to become a parent, and at some point live abroad in a country hot all year round, even if just for a year.
What advice do you know now you wish you did at the start of your career?
Believe in yourself, take time to really know who you are, dare to dream, take calculated risks and be kind to yourself, even if you make mistakes.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I know I’ve created an innovative way of working with young women and it really works, and I’d like to continue using my creativity and energy to not stop here, but to try and establish other services that continue to make brilliant changes for other types of people – young men possibly – who are wrongly over looked.
I also see myself as being a mother – though that comes with challenges because of age, I feel determined about it.
What advice would you give a budding CEO of a social cause?
Don’t lose focus of what’s really important – be led by your core values and be fierce in ensuring that your organisation and how it’s run reflects them.
I love my work still, after these 5 years, because I know that what I do really reflects my personality and true self. It’s also important to make sure that when growing a team, that you aren’t just looking for people who can do the job, but those who also truly share your passion and values – I’m confident I’ve managed to achieve this.
Also, when there are moments that you doubt yourself and may sometimes feel undermined or nervous to make a decision or challenge something, remind yourself that you’re the CEO for a reason!
Finally, happiness is…
Never seeing a job just as a job, but as an integral part of my purpose in life, and also being able to switch off from it to focus on those other important things like travelling, feeling really in tune with my body and being alive by swimming, and eating, talking and watching films with my loved ones, especially my gentle and kind other half.