How to create a business with purpose

·5-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

"I experienced this all firsthand myself when my family came to the UK," says Mursal Hedayat, who became a refugee from her home in Kabul, Afghanistan, when she was four. "I know what a refugee story can look like when they are given so much generosity from the country they arrive in. But I also know the unique struggles."

Hedayat is the founder and CEO of Chatterbox, an online language training platform that works directly with refugees, leveraging their language skills and training them to teach others. "It doesn't treat them as helpless, it empowers them," she explains.

"My mother was a civil engineer in Kabul, who had to work as a cleaner for nearly 10 years in the UK until she used her language skills," Hedayat continues. "She is now an extremely successful language teacher and is, without doubt, my ultimate inspiration."

Here, Hedayat explains what it takes to create a business which makes a difference...

Remember, anyone can make a difference

"One of the most impactful things someone said to me once, was that the people in charge only look like they know what they're doing. Mostly they just give the impression that they do, but are really just good at thinking on the spot. I think a lot of us have this idea that the power to make change is out of our hands, or the ability to lead a team or be in charge of a company is inaccessible to us. It's not, and it's important we stop placing those boundaries on ourselves."

Self-authorisation is the first step

"If you don't feel that sense of personal power, that you have a right and an ability to make those same decisions about how the world should look, then you take everything as a given. And you work within the constraints of what is already there. I think the constraints of our current education system are such that you're very much trained to follow instructions. So you're taught to stop being creative and to stop making decisions for yourself at a young age. You need to give yourself permission to create a different way of doing things. That self-authorisation is the first step. I really think that the world would be a different place if people felt that they had as much of an important voice as any other member of our democratic society."

Really understand the problem you are trying to fix

"Everyone will tell you, when you start an app or company, that you have to really focus on being good at one thing. That's true, but if your company has been created with a wider social purpose, like ours, I feel it's really important to fully understand the issue and what is needed.

"It was a trip to the camps at Calais that motivated me to start Chatterbox. I went with friends who have never been refugees and what they saw was unbelievable deprivation. I looked and I saw downtown Kabul. I understood that these guys had recreated the cafés and the shops. I was not as shocked and I think it just showed me that my perspective was very different to someone else's. I knew what they would need because it was what my mother would have needed when she came over to the UK. These are ordinary people in desperate circumstances; they are not so different from us. Refugees aren't helpless and I think that's what I saw differently. Often, when people try and help, they don't realise that - they infantilise them and reduce the opportunities they actually need. My unique perspective on that is what made me start my company."

Make your business a conscious one

"Unfortunately, we have to rationalise this and realise that we are still live in a capitalist society, and people only value things that make money. Even if you are helping people, investors want to see that it has the ability to make money. That's what makes this conscious capitalism, which many see as the future of business: companies that make a difference but also make money.

"The way a business is structured, every CEO has a fiduciary responsibility to deliver monetary returns to their shareholders. Of course, that's really counter to what conscious businesses are about. What we have done at Chatterbox, is to have equal proportions of investors from social-impact investment funds, and from profit funds. With a social-impact fund, it is structured in a way that the investors only make money if they can prove they've made a social impact. I think conscious business and funds like this are the future."

Get advice from other founders

"Don't listen to anyone apart from other successful founders in your space. Try and drown out the other noise and get your advice from other founders, because they know the real lay of the land. Because social-impact entrepreneurship is so exciting, a lot of people want to [get involved] in it. That's a good and bad thing because there are so many kinds of red herrings and alleyways you can go through that don't take you very far. So my number one tip is to go and find a successful social entrepreneur in your network and convince them to help you or just chat to you. The best advice I've been given is from other entrepreneurs."

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