Inspired by her work, our online editor Vanessa Faloye met with Hanna Naima, Founder-CEO of Fearless Futures, to interview her and learn more about the social enterprise and the founders story. This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and divided into two parts. Check out part 2 of this interview here or listen to the full interview podcast (which we highly recommend) to learn more about cracking schools and corporates as potential clients.
PODCAST: Interview with Hanna Naima, Founder-CEO of Fearless Futures
What is Fearless Futures?
Fearless Futures is an educational organisation that works with young people and adults and supports them to understand and challenge the root causes of inequities. The secondary piece is to support them to grow new ways of leading transformative change so there’s a focus on how we re-imagine power relations in everything that we’re doing for the better. We work with young women in schools and with all adults in the workplaces through equality and leadership workshops.
You were previously an investment banker, what made you decide to start up Fearless Futures?
So I was previously an investment banker but before that I worked in international development and then before that I was a student – so I guess all of it is quite inconsistent with what I’m doing now. I ended up getting involved in diversity and inclusion initiatives when I was working as an investment banker because I just remember looking around and thinking there are only white men around and then only white people around and this doesn’t feel like the way it should be. That was about a decade ago now. And basically I’m like a curious cat, I just did loads of Googling and stuff and I ended up reading a bunch of black feminist thought, bell hooks… it’s a blessing that she’s on the planet frankly. I just think everyone should read her work. I almost think if everyone read her work and paid attention and then did a five minute meditation on what she’s just written, actually Fearless Futures wouldn’t need to exist. So basically I was like we need a new way of doing this stuff – not new because it hadn’t existed but new in certain contexts. And I basically Googled to see if anyone else was doing this at scale and saw that there wasn’t (in the UK) because believe me I would’ve much preferred to join another organisation than start one. So I was like ok, the vision is to have an organisation that works with (and we started off with) young women in schools and knowing we wanted to work in corporate contexts as well because of the power dynamics and so on.
And then what did you do?
And so I then quit my job and I must say that I think that the fact that I was an investment banker provides that financial security that otherwise I think makes it absolutely impossible in this country, particularly in London to do anything enterprising. You can’t enterprise unless you have money, I mean that’s the bloody reality of it which often gets left out in the glamorous stories of entrepreneurship where everyone is just meant to magically start a company. You know how they always say ‘there’s like such low barriers to entry’, I’m like ‘what are you talking about?!?! You have to give up your job to do another job! That’s what we call a high barrier to entry, it’s called your salary. Helloooooo? What are you talking about?! Just because you’ve got the internet doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay a mortgage or rent or whatever it is’.
So think back to when you decided you were going to do this, what were those first days? What did they look like? Did you find teammates straight away? What were the first steps you took? What did those first days look like for you?
I was by myself for 18 months which is a really really long time and I think I worked every single day for 18 months – like a lot of work. I was really tired, I’m still quite tired to be honest, I’m kinda a recovering solo worker! So my number one tip in life is to just try it. That’s my mission, that’s the way I operate. You don’t need to have it perfectly, just try it. So before I had quit my old job I had found two people who could introduce me to people in secondary schools and I had just said “I’ve got this idea, this is how much it costs, it’s a programme, it’s 6 sessions, it’s 30 minutes a week, can I run it in your school? It’s going to be amazing – I’ve read all this stuff, there’s loads of research that says we should engage in this stuff, let’s do it.” And there were two people, one my old headteacher who said, ok great, I believe you, let’s do that. And then a head of a sixth form at another school in Northwest London who said I’ve observed what you are claiming you’ve observed, I see it too and I think the programme you’ve described would be amazing for the young women in our school. So I then was like ok I have to create this programme and it was very iterative to be honest, like iterative in the moment.There was a rough skeleton, there were ideas and activities, but it was also learning as I went.
And how did you go from there, from your early adopters to the wider market?
So I basically Googled a lot of people and emailed a lot of people and hoped that people would get back to me. I mean we have had, I have had more rejection emails, more people disappearing into the sunset than you can possibly imagine. Mondays were always the worst because I used to email people on the weekends and then they’d all get back on Monday between like 9-11 and say like…’no, we’re not interested, no we don’t want to meet, no whatever, thanks so much, good luck, see you later!’ So I think for me, just try it, just do it, keep experimenting, know that it’s likely that people won’t like what you’re doing or they won’t like you and you just kinda have to have a real commitment to the thing at the end and a belief that there’s a way through, I think you just have to sort of have a deep gut belief that something is possible. And it might not look like exactly what you thought but if you have those really solid seeds, keep refining, keep pushing, I mean you have to be resilient as fuck, that’s the bottom line, you have to be super persistent, be like a dog with a bone.
You know people might say all sorts of things in a meeting and I’ve found that you have to not let what they’re saying determine who you are, like you know how we all have a recurring narrative in our head that we might not be good enough or that we’re not smart enough and all of that deficiency chat that occurs… it’s like I’ve learnt and I’m not perfect but I’ve learnt how to like zoom that down and how to not make someone else’s story about my story otherwise you wouldn’t get, well I wouldn’t get up in the morning frankly. So it’s like ‘ok you might not like me or what we’re doing but I’m just gonna zoom that down because I think what we’re doing is important and it’s ok if you can’t see it.