Living the dream

Nearly 2 years after my first post and nearly 3 years of pursuing the “Indian dream” I’ve decided to post my last blog and focus on the next chapter of this incredible journey.

Tonight/very early tomorrow morning I head back to the UK.

Anyone who knows me personally will know it is always with mixed emotions that I head back to the UK.

This time is no different but there is an increasing sense of excitement about it, as this time, the trip back, is so much more than being back with family and friends.

Setting up Empower has been without doubt the best decision I have ever made. The last 4 months have been challenging but my decision to do this and the clarity of what I think can be achieved has never faltered.

In the UK

The focus for the next few months is clear and thanks to a recent interview with SSE India the clarity has never been greater.
The discipline to do this greater still.

For the first time ever my decision to be back in UK is entirely based on what I think is the right thing to do, not on what other people perceive the right thing is.
For both the business and me personally.

I will miss being in India but I know that a couple of months focused on building the company in the UK now will ultimately lead me back to India and enable me to continue “Living the dream”.

All about choice

It has been a rollercoaster of a journey.
What I don’t know about myself now is no ones business.
Looking back at my early blogs its odd to think of where this all began.
From a volunteer experience in the rural communities of Tamil Nadu, to employment with one of the UK’s most successful social enterprises to now setting up a new social enterprise.

I’m sure people will laugh at the simplicity of this but, after 3 years of challenging every aspect of convention and discovering what I want to do, it has all come down to choice and being bold enough to know what choices are right for me.

It is all about finding our own voice.  By this I mean knowing where our true skills, talents and passions lie and having the belief and conviction to use them.
Which is hard.
It takes a lot of introspection and knowing yourself.

Making choices based on this is even harder as we are all conditioned and moulded by our culture, religion (if we have one) and societal values on what the ‘right’ choices are.
We all live in a society that breeds fear into making unconventional choices.
A fear that is too often used to control peoples thoughts, emotions and actions.  But how much this fear controls us is a personal choice.

Who are the most influential people you know?
The people who inspire you the most?

Is it those who seek to control you (albeit in the name of love and cultural values) or those who believe in your potential?
Believe in you?

Teachers are often cited as people’s source of inspiration. Why?
Because the most effective teachers see potential in you that you don’t.
They use their talents to bring out individuals skill, talents and passions that are often stifled in the name of convention.
They create an environment for individuals to realise their potential and opportunities for these to be harnessed.
They don’t at the end of your school years try to keep you in school longer because they believe they have the monopoly to your success.
Excellent sports coaches don’t try and keep hold of talented individuals because it means their team/club is more likely to win every year.
They help individuals create and follow a path that enables them to achieve their true potential.  They see past convention and set people free.

In a digital world with increasing societal pressures, to be amazing, always perform, have the best job, family, house, car and life many of us are at a breaking point.  The pressure to conform leads to burnt out, broken, stressed and depressed people.  A result of years of control, conditioning and belief that this perceived success is only possible by following a certain path.  

To recognise this, is hard.  To change this harder still.

All about personal choice

I’ve lost count of the people that have said “I’d love to do this but I can’t”.
My response is always “why not?”
I totally accept that not everyones view of “living the dream” is living in rural Tamil Nadu in a basic house with a bucket to do your washing and neither should it be.
But how many people have taken time to know what they ultimately want to do and more importantly do it.

The only thing holding you back is you.

Finances, job, commitments are practical things that can be managed.
Family, friends and cultural pressure – it’s all a choice in how you respond to that.

It’s not about disrespect, its not about being a rebel.  It’s about weighing up choices and knowing the consequences of each of them and using this to make choices that are right for you.

It isn’t easy. At all.

But how many of us are people pleasers, doing what is right in someone else’s eyes and continuously limiting ourselves.
It isn’t about some hippy dreamy idea of us all being happy.
It is about people realising their potential and using this to create lasting positive change.

The real challenge

The challenge to do this in the west is huge but I believe that people in the west have much greater opportunities to do this than other countries and cultures.
“If you truly want something you will make it happen” but too many people limit themselves to what they have been told is possible.

In India I think the challenge is even greater.
The digital age is opening peoples eyes to what is possible, a different life but this is in direct conflict with traditional ingrained cultures that confines people to what they know, not what is possible.
So many people feel confined, held back and controlled (particularly women) all in the name of family respect and culture. 

India is known for its family values and rightly so, this is looked upon with envy from people in the west.  The community spirit is strong and people look out for each other in a way that long disappeared in western cultures.
Every family strives for strong social upstanding and respect.
In principle this is good but sadly this often achieved by controlling people to conform to what is culturally seen as acceptable.  It isn’t about empowering people to fulfil their dreams.

If I had a £1 for every story I’ve heard of people giving up on their dreams, of not using their skills and passion to carve a career out of what they love because the family do not perceive this to be the right thing to do, I would be a very wealthy person!

As the saying goes, “you love someone you set them free”. In India you love someone, you do everything you can to control them, to keep them close, out of a fear that setting them free means you will lose control.  Of course it is not called control, it is called cultural values.

Arranged marriage is still the norm in India and in my view is probably the greatest example of how people are controlled.  Of course in theory to have, or not, an arranged marriage is a choice but the family pressure not to marry is immense.
Purely my interpretation but it seems in India marriage is all about security.
Not security for the people getting married but security for the rest of the family.
Based on a principle or belief that people can not grow or thrive or even survive unless they are married.  And once married the control in what people do heightens further.

Of course family trying to control people happens all over the world but the intensity of this and the battle between new and old cultures and traditions is far more visible in India than it is in the west.  I’ve never more firmly believed in creating the opportunity for people to find their voice.
It is a combination of this and finding my voice that has led me to set up Empower.

The last 3 years have been full on but I have not regretted doing any of this for even a second.  It has been a bumpy journey but one that has ultimately led me to make choices that are right for me.
Has it impacted negatively on my relationships with friends and family?  In short no.
Yes they see me less and they definitely find it a little difficult to understand at times but giving me the freedom to do this has ultimately me brought me closer to them in every other sense.  Empower is all about enabling many more people to do the same.
Empower is not seeking to change the world but empower people to change the world in a way that is right for them and their communities.

A huge huge thank you to everyone who has followed, read and commented on this blog over the last 2 years.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing, ranting and sharing my experiences.

To keep up to date with Empower – Be The Change follow our company blog here:



Being a Social Entrepreneur

In November 2015 I took the decision to take a step away from Vi-Ability to set up a new social enterprise.
You can read the press release here

So apparently this officially makes me a social entrepreneur?

By definition this is:

“Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.” Ashoka
“Today’s disruptors and tomorrow’s brightest stars.” Forbes
“A social entrepreneur is a leader or pragmatic visionary who: Achieves large scale, systemic and sustainable social change through a new invention, a different approach, a more rigorous application of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these.” Schwab Foundation
It is with bemusement that I read these definitions and think that this maybe used to describe me.
I believe passionately about people being afforded opportunities and choices to follow their dreams. Believe there is an opportunity to build a business model around this and create lasting social change but, I don’t believe this makes me any better, different or special.  
After all, isn’t anyone who is truly passionate and committed to their job, the volunteer work they do, a social change maker?
Many people have said “how brave” it is, “how bold” it is, how they “couldn’t do what I was doing”.
Everyone who has said this has received the same reaction from me.  “Oh….., thanks” and a look of bemusement because to me its none of these things.
Whilst no stranger to being “different”, to me I am simply following my dreams and doing what is right for me.
I guess this is the very definition of empowerment.
Two and half years into this journey and only 3 months into setting up EmpowerBe The Change I have to admit that the realities of following your dreams is, at times, a double edged sword.


When I left the UK in August 2013 I know I was after one thing.  Complete freedom. 

By my own admissions I spent the first 2 years of my time in India striving for complete independence.
Striving to prove to myself and others that I can do what I want and do this independently.  Whether I went about this in the right way is very much up for debate.  Thankfully the people closest to me supported me to do this, whilst at the same time a little worried and bemused.
It’s been a very steep learning curve and not least of all doing this in, what can only be described as one of the most chaotic, culturally different and demanding countries in the world.
Simply, there is no where like India.
But I know now I can travel anywhere, navigate my way around, find things to do and look after myself.

The learning curve gets ever steeper

For me the journey of social entrepreneurship, freedom, choice and empowerment started in August 2013 and I realise now how much of me I have put into this.
Physically, mentally and emotionally with little reprieve or escape back to some kind of normality.
Over 2 years I’ve invested heavily in people, organisations and projects. Seeking opportunities, driving things forward, investing huge amounts of energy, constantly believing that it will result in some better outcome and change.
There is no denying that a lot has been achieved in this time but going about this in a completely independent way has limited longevity.

Constantly putting in and getting smaller returns from people, projects and organisations in terms of energy, commitment and most of all support soon takes its toll.
Since November, starting a new social enterprise, the learning curve has got ever steeper.
There are some, blogs, books and articles about setting up a social enterprise but few talk about the personal journey and the demands it places on individuals. An area I think needs much greater focus and discussion.

Setting up

So day one and where do you start and what do you do?
For me, this was and continues to be the easy part.  
Long term planning, logical processes and having the discipline to manage this effectively is something I have extensive experience of.
Week by week and even day by day I know exactly what I need to work on and its purpose in the bigger picture. The discipline and focus to get things done has been easy.
It is not the challenge in managing this complete freedom and autonomy to follow your dreams.
It is not a feeling of not knowing where to start, what to do and where to focus.  
It is not about not knowing what the business model will be, the sources of income and building partnerships.  
I find myself in the fortunate position that I have a lot of skills and experiences to draw and use.
Setting up in India has not been without its challenges but it is not the technological or limited infrastructure of being in a developing country that is the the challenge.
It is the continued journey of self-discovery that gets steeper and more complex.  

Being a social entrepreneur

Social entrepreneurs are different.
They go places other people wouldn’t.
They find opportunities in the most peculiar places and they refuse to see conventional boundaries.
I don’t think it is arrogant or misplaced to say that this is exactly what I have done.
I’ve definitely created my own opportunities.  Refused to bow to convention or what is expected and created my own path but it has always been on other peoples terms (no matter how loosely this has been).  

To set up a social enterprise with
ultimate freedom was therefore the most natural next step but as I am realising quickly, to do this independently is both foolish and arrogant.
Few jobs offer the opportunity to use and develop such a range of skills and is without doubt the most rewarding and satisfying thing about this.
Its definitely brought out my true geeky side but also creative.
Immersing myself for hours into working out and calculating the business model has been complex, brain heavy but rewarding.
Developing a website from scratch, writing the content, creating the layout, deciding on fonts, colours, pictures and other media has been fantastic.
Building links and partnerships, perhaps the bit I have always enjoyed the most, is providing significant developments in the growth of the business.
With work I am by own admissions a complete geek when it comes to planning, time management and motivation.  I am not tied to a rigid structure at all but knowing what to do when, how and why has never been an issue.
Outside of work I’ve learned to adapt and find ways to enjoy some of the things I would in the UK in India. Doing exercise, watching tv, keeping up with people and I’ve done this pretty well.
Rarely if ever have I felt bored, lonely or isolated.
I’ve become pretty good at
looking after myself, recognising the signs when I need a break, a change of scene, to contact people at home or to take some time for myself.


But having spent 2 years exhausting my independence I am the first to admit that what I crave is a true state of inter-dependence.
The biggest challenge is a constant feeling of isolation.
I wouldn’t say lonely as I’ve become extremely resilient to time alone and keeping myself busy.  
But constantly doing things alone leaves me feeling very isolated.
It is a common feeling amongst start-up business people.  
Once you step out of the conventional rat race no matter how unconventional it might be you are in a situation where suddenly everything is your responsibility, making and doing.
Don’t get me wrong this isn’t about being scared of hard work or having the belief to do this.  
It isn’t about the motivation to work or even the knowledge and skills to know what to work on, setting my own deadlines and managing my own work.  
It’s the lack of external input day in day out.
Yes I have family, friends and mentors that I call on regularly but with a 5.5 hour time different between most of these people it is often mid afternoon before I can seek any input into my day.
This isn’t a criticism but I have learnt early on the importance for any entrepreneur or person doing this how important a wide and varied network of support is.

There have been many articles in the Guardian Women in leadership weekly newsletter that have resonated with me lately but not least of all this one
Simply, ambition is good but a balance in our lives is equally if not more important.

Re-instating some normality

Since November I’ve realised the value of having that immediate support network around you and when its suddenly gone (albeit from personal choice) it takes a lot to readapt.  
Under normal circumstances, normal being based in the UK having stepped out of a job to start a company, would still be daunting but I perhaps a lot more manageable.
Starting this after 2 years of injecting all of me into adapting to another country and trying to work out what to do has been a different ball game.
Empower is about supporting people, communities and organisations to realise their ambitions and goals.  
This is the primary drive and focus of the company but to do this effectively I need to make sure I’m am also getting the right support, challenge and input.
This is challenging in India and at a time when I feel exhausted from the input I have already given I have to accept that right now I need to be a bit selfish and take some time out for myself.
Yes being based in southern India I have opportunities to travel but having spent 2 years on an independence crusade I am totally over solo travel.
I know I can travel anywhere in India and be ok doing it.  
I know how the buses and trains work.  
I can get myself around the country with relative ease.  
I know places to visit, places to stay, restaurants and bars.  
But I want to share this with other people now.
This isn’t a moan at all.
99% of the time I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
I don’t have to rely financially on anyone else to do what I am doing, a position afforded because of what my previous UK job allowed me to do.
I am surrounded by an extremely supportive family who yes have questioned what I am doing but have never sought to stop me and have helped in anyway they can.  
Same goes for my friends.  Long distance relationships of any sort are hard but I’m fortunate that I have good loyal friends who invest the same level of time and energy into a friendship that I do.
But right now, I recognise the importance for me to reinstate some normality back into my life.

On 14th March I head back to the UK and for the first time in 2.5 years I am counting down the days.  I haven’t fallen out of love with India at all and I know as soon as I land in the UK I will miss it.  
But there is an increasing sense of frustration about not being able to do the things I need to do for the company and having ready access to the input that I think is critical right now. 
Every entrepreneur is different and every one will have their own battles and challenges, but for me, from my personal experience I can not underestimate the importance of:
1.  Looking after yourself, recognising the signs of potential burnout and accepting its ok to take some time out.
2.  Building a solid support network around you with as much input as you can get.


Twitter: @Empower_BTC

FaceBook: Empowerbethechange

Our latest news: Tumblr-Jan2016













Vi-Ability is proud to announce its first micro-investment to support a female entrepreneur set up her own social enterprise.

On Women’s Entrepreneurship day Vi-Ability visibly demonstrated its on-going commitment to support individuals achieve their goals through an agreement, which will see Vi-Ability commit a micro-investment for Jo Clay to kick-start a social enterprise.

volunteer of the year
Over the last 18 months Jo has worked for Vi-Ability as the operations manager, in Tamil Nadu, South India and has successfully built a strong presence for Vi-Ability in working in partnership with Indian based social enterprise Silo India.

Through her role Jo was able to successfully support Silo India to not only establish themselves as a thriving and stable social enterprise, but to set up a high quality international volunteer program of which 16 of our young people directly benefitted.

From funding received through ‘Gwirvol’, Vi-Ability successfully placed 16 young people from Wales, many of whom were unemployed, to complete month long volunteer placement in India.  Through this placement all 16 individuals developed their skills, confidence and knowledge and have all successfully secured and sustained employment on their return to the UK.  Equally these young people have had a profound and lasting impact on the local communities in which Silo India operate.

To build on this strong foundation Vi-Ability will now work in partnership with Jo to support her to set up her own enterprise.

The ethos and social objective of the company will be to empower individuals to achieve their personal goals and ambitions.  By doing so creating a society where people are more willing to support each other and the communities in which they live and work.  Firmly based on the principles of freedom, opportunity and choice.

Initially the company will focus on three distinct aspects, life coaching, international work-based opportunities and empowerment projects in the rural communities of India.

The company will be registered in Wales and will have a strong presence in both the UK and India. The company will commence trading in early 2016.

Vi-Ability will retain and grow its presence in India through commissioning this new enterprise to deliver products and services.

Founder & CEO Kelly Davies said: “This is an exciting time for both companies, and we wish Jo every success in this forthcoming venture. We also hope this will be the first of many investments Vi-Ability makes in budding entrepreneurs and the future change makers of the world”

See more of the work Vi-Ability and Jo has been doing in india here!

Tour de Britain?

21 stages

2200 miles

Each section a different physical and psychological challenge

One overall winner but within each day, different winners,
Fastest rider,
King of the mountain
and Sprint rider.

Each one awarded different points which plays a part in the overall riders race position.

Most riders race as part of a team with usually one stand out rider per stage (depending on their particular strength) who is supported by their team mates through chain gang riding (aerodynamics), blocking break-off riders from other teams and sometimes simply acting as a ‘body guard’.

For a non-contact sport it’s brutal.

Elbows, shoulders and tyres clipping each other, all end in some pretty spectacular wipeouts!

Yes this is the Tour De France or Le Tour.
Probably the greatest annual road cycling event in the world.

But what the heck does this have to do with India or even my recent trip to the UK?

Whilst I might not have completed it on a bike, the distance, terrain and experience has certainly been comparable.



In 24 hours I went from;
          Rural Tamil Nadu        to              central London
It couldn’t have been a bigger contrast.

Happily bumbling off the plane at Heathrow and straight on to the tube.

Hold on…………. men and women who don’t know each other are sat next to each other!!!!

And there aren’t just Indians on here but people from every corner of the world, all with regional british accents in western clothing!

A little bemused by my own shock and realisation that perhaps I’d got too used to rural India I was happy to arrive an hour or so later at my sisters house, home for the next 2 weeks.

There was no time to rest and it was literally like heading onto the cobble paved sections of the Tour de France.

Bumping along (literally) next to hundreds of other people at great speed, when at any given moment you could be nudged or hit a wonky cobble and fall off.

The more commonly used description “reverse culture shock”.

Suddenly I had every freedom and choice in the world,
to do what I wanted,
go where I wanted,
total choice in food
and alongside one of the most diverse populations in the world.
It was surreal to say the least!

Outside of this, at the forefront of my mind was the major (work-related) reason I was back in the UK.
To secure investment for the India project.

And so started the arduous process of identifying, contacting, meeting, schmoozing, hassling and finding investors.

I’m still not sure whether it was an overall expectation but the expectation I placed on myself, but I rapidly became frustrated at an inability to move at any great pace.
It was like riding over cobbles, wanting to move fast but the cobbles slowing things down and creating an incredibly unpredictable terrain.

May in the UK was hectic,
North Wales
Spain (yes a holiday!)
North Wales
and then Cardiff.

But as I settled into this crazy routine, I settled into UK life and started to appreciate some of the things that I had sorely missed – Family, friends, the countryside, hectic city life and holidays.

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Spending time with family and friends has definitely been the highlight, not least of all my nephew who at 3 is now incredibly chatty.
The morning walks to nursery have definitely become the highlight of the day!
There would always be a discussion about the weather!!! But what has become more challenging is the constant questions of ‘why?’.
Why don’t cats like getting wet?
Why is that snail still in its house (shell)?
Why don’t all cars live in houses?
Simple? Maybe! But try explaining it to a 3 year old! Who then follows up with a lot of ‘whys’
All ok until you walk past a couple of teenagers who are already embarrassed to be seen together without this inquisitive one piping up,
What are those two doing?
“They’re just talking?”
“Because they’re just catching up with each other before they go home?”
Why are they standing there?
“Because they haven’t gone home yet?”
“Because they’re talking?”
How do explain to a 3 year old about teenage romance?
Needless to say I was the most embarrassed and ended up apologising whilst trying to divert the conversation to my favourite wind-up conversation of telling William that
“He IS a sausage”
“NO!!! I AM NOT A SAUSAGE” (see card above)



Perhaps the toughest but most rewarding part of being back.

Anyone who cycles a bit will know that whilst the up hill climbs are hard work, muscles burning, wondering when they are going to end, they are ultimately the best part of a ride!  
It’s totally a mind game and nothing else.  
Every part of this has been a steep learning curve.  Yes bad pun!  But its true.  

Suddenly having to prepare corporate pitches,

Have I done one before? N0! Did we have any examples of any? No!

Promote the volunteer opportunity to paying customers,
Ok, How much for?
How many do we need?
How do we market?
How do we get noticed?

Secure Government support and potential investment,
Ministers? Civil servants?
Tell them what?
What the heck has India got to do with Wales?
Get all this done then secure the meetings, London, Cardiff, North Wales, Cardiff, North Wales, London, Cardiff, London and finally North Wales.
At the time its difficult to see the progress you’re making but we’ve had some big wins:
1.  Now a preferred supplier to the British Council (the UK’s largest charity),
2.  Firm partnerships with University of South Wales, Trinity St Davids University and Glyndwr University
3.  Exciting project with Wrexham warehouse which will see disadvantaged young people from North Wales travelling to India for a community building project
4.  Growing partnership with Airbus
5.  Significant Welsh Government ministerial support
6.  Continued support from Welsh Government in UK and India
7.  Listed on Young Ambassadors Cymru website as a ‘recommended international  volunteer opportunity’
8.  Unique project with Youth Sport Trust directly linking our UK work with international placements
9.  A new promotional video – thank you Helen (We Break Chains) which will be launched soon
10.  And an unexpected award from WCVAsee international volunteer of the year



The short sharp intense bursts of energy where its head down and focus!
There haven’t been too many of these, thankfully.
But where an opportunity suddenly appears, not just for the India project but for Vi-Ability, its all hands on deck to get it done.

Its been a transition switching back to UK/western way of working.  Expectations of instant responses to emails, phone calls and messages.  Expectations of turning pieces of work around in 24 hours.  

Its been no bad thing being immersed back into this environment and its been great to really understand how Vi-Ability works but its also been a challenge to be more disciplined about when I have time out of work and switch off.

Ultimately in India I never do, particularly when there are volunteers with us but the pace is different (which is both good and bad).  Back here I’ve had to be much more disciplined about keeping weekends for myself or for spending time with family and friends.  You can’t keep up a sprint pace for long and I’m learning that the rest periods (evenings/weekends) are essential.


Its been a hard slog being back, constant travelling, living out of a bag, building connections and having to explore every opportunity.  All on a tight timescale with a constant deadline of September looming!

At the moment no money has been secured but a lot of positive partnerships and links have been established which I’m sure will lead to investment.

I have at times been really critical of myself for what hasn’t been done but as people rightly remind me, it takes months to establish a solid working relationship with people before they invest, the UK has a new government that is talking about significant cuts which is likely to mean less money everywhere for everyone over the coming years and, of course, I can only be in so many places at once!

I’ve also had helpful reminders such as this article:

“All womens initiatives lack corporate sponsorship”

It’s not just been about the India project but an opportunity to get involved in other areas of Vi-Ability work and perhaps establish myself more firmly in the company.  Without sounding arrogant but being in the UK for this amount of time has enabled me to show that I have a lot more to offer than simply managing the India project. Which is ironic as there has been little that has been simple or straight forward about the India project but hopefully you get my point.
Yes its been good being back, spending proper quality time with family and friends has been the highlight and definitely important to do.  I think even I had forgotten how little time I have spent in the UK over the last 2 years!

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I’m excited and looking forward to returning to India.  Its been great for perspective being here but its not where my passion or interest lies right now.
Can’t say I will go back better rested at all but I’ll go back with a renewed energy for what we are doing there and real belief about why I’m doing this.  
Few people truly ‘get it‘ and I don’t expect them to but as always I am massively appreciative of the support I get.  More so on a personal level than anything and have been a little stunned by the positive and complimentary feedback from people I knew through my previous work life!  
As my sister rightly said, “if 2 years ago when you started this and you would have known that this is where you would be, would you have believed it?”  No I wouldn’t.
Almost 2 years ago I walked out of the Sport Wales office nervous, apprehensive, terrified but excited about taking a year out.  2 years on having quit that job, taken a risk and still not sure where all this going.
It hasn’t quite been 21 gruelling stages on a bike but every stage has been a different experience.  No bad thing at all!
So 11th August and its back to India.  
First stop Trivandrum for 5 days holiday, yes holiday!  
Then back to Manur, my house and my local village.  
Really looking forward to being back working day to day with Swathi and Raisa, Skype and whatsapp are just not the same!  
And then begins Tour de India with first stop Chennai to meet Government reps and British Council.

Watch this space!