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Diversity in Leadership: Spotlight on female leaders

Neely There

This blog is part of the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce’s (ABCC) Diversity in Leadership campaign.

The Diversity in Leadership campaign works with some of the regions’ biggest employers in order to boost the numbers of women and those from black and minority ethnic (BAME), lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and disability groups being represented on boards of directors and in leadership roles.

Click here to find out more about the campaign.

This blog is a spotlight on female leaders blog, written by Neely Khan, founder of 'Neely There'.

Passion. It seems to be an enigma for many professionals.

You hear many of us talking about it, writing about it, using it as a hashtag on Instagram; but the majority of us struggle to even acquire it. The majority of us struggle to understand the concept of passion and what it can allow us to achieve.

For me, passion has defined itself as the journey of a girl raised in Alum Rock, who went onto study literary geniuses at Cambridge. Who refused to victimise herself as a single mother; who set up a business from a beaten one-bedroom flat in Digbeth.

As a little girl, my advantage was that I always knew what I wanted to become. Back in Year 2, when Mrs Zakariya presented this question to our class, I was the first to raise my hand and scream, “Writer!”.

I was lucky to have a supportive father, who taught me to prioritise academia. I remember the evenings when he used to make me read Groiler’s The New Book of Knowledge (all 21 volumes). “Successful people are not gifted”, he would say. “They simply  work hard”.

But I’ve always been the whimsical type. Whilst I did work hard and achieved straight A’s, I religiously believed in talent and gifts, too. Like Alice’s gift of an exquisite imagination, which allowed her to dream of a magical wonderland.

It was at 19 when I finally “grew up”. I moved to Cambridge for University and explored a world outside my bedroom walls, as well as the emotional walls that I’d created for myself, out of fear and lack of self-belief. What I hadn’t predicted was that my time in Cambridge would change my life.

When I was 22 and almost at the end of my BA course, I fell pregnant.

It was clear to me from the get-go, that I’d be facing pregnancy and motherhood alone. But it’s truly breath-taking how you can fall in love with a human even before meeting them, like I did with my baby. Sure, I was afraid of breaking the news to my parents back home; though I’d already decided, I was going to complete my degree and raise a child in a world where dreams can come true.

My daughter, Saphia became my ultimate “why”. We moved back to Birmingham in 2014, and I – now a single mother - worked several waitressing jobs to make ends meet.

I served tables for almost 11 months to feed my daughter. Most days, we made do with packet noodles and cheesy pasta; other days, we’d treat ourselves to Meal Deals from Dixy.

Even though we were financially struggling, I eventually quit my jobs and pursued writing full-time; just like I’d always dreamed. I worked from coffee shops with Saphia sitting on a high chair next to me; and with her as my only driving force, I formed a modest client base for Neely There. We’re now 3 years in, and my content writing business is still growing.

If I had the chance to speak to 7-year-old Neely, I wouldn’t tell her to do a single thing differently. Because in spite of any mistakes and immature decisions, what I ultimately did was follow my dreams. And in a heartbeat, I’d advise everybody else to do the same.