Pursue Your Purpose, Make Your Mark.
Careers4Change has started this series of changemaker profiles to inspire and encourage those who are considering a career change to explore the options in the social impact sector and find their purpose. We are keen to reinforce the message from social and impact investor leaders that impact entrepreneurs are at the forefront of rebuilding the economy post-pandemic and purpose-driven businesses are the future.
Naila has 20 years of experience centred around sustainable business, corporate social responsibility, employee engagement, partnerships, and strategic communications. Her purpose in life is to make a difference to people’s lives, and support, empower and enable young leaders to reach their potential. Beyond her business life, she has contributed to mentorship programmes, advisory roles for sustainable projects, and connects like-minded, purposeful individuals around the world. This inspired her to create P3 Collective, a not-for-profit network geared towards helping young people achieve their purpose and collectively make a social impact.
What inspired you to change careers and move from Unilever?
I was with Unilever for more than 15 years, I joined when I was 25, in Pakistan. The objective of my career at Unilever was to get to a certain point where I could run my own business. My time there was up. I’d had a great journey and achieved everything I could, from running big campaigns across 100 countries to business partnering on communications and sustainability. I left Unilever to pursue my own purpose which coincidentally meant helping other people discover their purpose, assisting them on their journey, and helping companies become more like Unilever.
I was lucky to be at Unilever because that is where I started my sustainability journey. I realised that the three things that I loved doing when I was younger are what I ended up doing as an adult; being a business woman (my Dad always created businesses), teaching (I had an imaginary classroom), and helping people (I used to help a lady who was visually impaired). Those things have lived with me and I have always followed my heart, and what makes me happy.
What steps did you take to move sectors and grow your network? Did you reach out to anyone in particular?
My ambition was to focus on making a business of my own – sorting a plan, structure, name, and the correct environment. However, I did a makeup course first, it was something I had always wanted to do and never had the time to. My plans for the future involve ethical makeup too. Afterwards, I started reaching out to my network, looking at hybrid business models, and searching for consultancy platforms that I would want to work with. Most of the projects I have worked on have come through networking. I believe strongly in building and maintaining relationships, networks, and collaboration.
What did you find really difficult about your career change?
It was the fear factor. What am I going to do? What if I don’t get a job? What if I don’t get paid as much? I’d left Unilever without a job but, I knew I had enough to survive three to six months. I had to shift my mindset to: I’m stable, I have three months’ salary, I have six sisters, so six houses, and if worst comes to worst, I’ll rent out my house, be a bartender, and wait on tables. It would pay my bills and I love meeting people. My mindset had to change. And it did. I knew I’d have six months to explore the opportunities that I couldn’t when I was working nine to five.
What differences are there between your previous job and your current job?
The biggest difference was my own change in mindset. The advice I give to students is: If you are going to be happy and follow your purpose, and be successful while doing that, you need to change the way you look at things. Tell yourself: I’m not going to fit myself into a job, I’m going to look for jobs, projects, and roles that fit into my purpose. This is my mantra. It means you are pursuing your own happiness and defining what success means to you. I didn’t make money my driving factor, I made purpose my driving factor and because of that, I get the jobs I want and get paid for the value I give.
What part of your role is the most rewarding?
When I know people are coming to me for my expertise and something that I love doing. That means I’ve created value. What excites me is when my projects get scaled or my idea is picked up and it goes global or company-wide. The current organisation I’m working with value my business partnering style and agile approach, and it’s great when it is adopted. I’m not interested in being a millionaire, I’m interested in executing great projects, creating an impact, and bringing others with me in the process.
What part of your role is most challenging?
I was the challenge. I had to build confidence in myself and my value. I had the experience, know-how, and portfolio of projects to prove the impact I’d made. I am confident in the right environment – put me in front of 1000 young leaders, or people who are purpose-driven, I can talk for days. With an older generation of senior leaders who think differently, I won’t express myself as well.
Also, we have the tendency to be envious of each other. We can go on LinkedIn and see a 20-year-old involved in an innovative project and think: Why am I not doing that? Why am I doing things slowly? Why am I not getting noticed? Remember, you are as great as anyone else but we need to learn to reach out and collaborate. Share your ideas. I stuck with my values and purpose, and I am now influencing others to collaborate, be better human beings, and respect inclusion and diversity.
What top tips would you give to someone thinking about a career transition?
Discover your purpose and what makes you happy. Define your journey and idea of success. Then, look for a role that fits you. What do you want? Be clearer about what is in it for you. Nobody can define your success but yourself. Purpose is not only about sustainability. You may be a graduate looking for a role that’s purpose driven but, you also have other pressures and expenses, so you want a job that pays well. There’s nothing wrong with that. Try and find projects that are going to be your success rather than just a company’s success. What is the company going to do for you?
I believe that everyone can be a Malala Yousafzai & Greta Thunberg. If empowered and guided, every individual has the potential to do good, make the world a better place, and make a positive impact in whatever they do, or wherever they work.
If you have a career transition story you would like to share, get in touch!