Serial social entrepreneur Jeroo Billimoria says family, friends and her team keep her from burning out against the relentless challenge to change the world.
I do the work I do to create social change. Having grown up with a social worker mother, it’s a mission I’ve been on all my life.
I’ve learned there’s no magic formula for success. Tenacity and belief in yourself play a large role, but you’d have to be superhuman not to let the no’s get to you. Which is why the people around you matter.
I got my first opportunity to make a real difference at age 16. After setting up a remedial education programme for underprivileged children at the school where my mother worked, I was fortunate to find a mentor in an inspirational woman named Gloria De Souza.
A fellow of Ashoka, a global network of changemakers, Gloria helped me find my voice and build my idea into a project that eventually reached every School in Bombay’s Parsi community.
From then, I’ve gone on to do as much as I can to help people. There’s so much injustice and still relatively few who have the same quality of life we enjoy. Doing my bit to try and ensure everyone is happy, healthy and has a good life is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Believe me, it’s not easy. Income inequality is rising. It doesn’t make sense to me why such a small proportion of the world’s population has more than 90% of its wealth. All the while, politics seems to be going backwards, becoming more closed and narrow-minded.
There are glimmers of hope. Globally we are moving towards universal primary education, health care is improving and infant mortality rates are falling, meaning more children go on to live full lives.
It’s our duty to protect them and give them the tools they need to flourish.
We still have a long way to go. As long as there are still people who live on less than a dollar a day, I’m going to keep working.
The question I’m most often asked is what I find challenging. Lack of resources keeps me awake at night. Or more accurately, how to access them. Public and private organisations can be so generous, but often what you need and how you need it doesn’t fit with their requirements for giving.
Rejection is part of the game. Sadly it’s still true this can be more frequent as a woman – the glass ceiling is very real even today.
Throughout my career, I’ve faced what at times have felt like insurmountable obstacles. I’ve always found strength in my family and friends. Their encouragement is what keeps me going and stops me from burning out. The passion and dedication of the people I’ve been fortunate to work with have been a constant reminder of the value in what I’m trying to achieve.
When a close friend of mine, Homeless World Cup co-founder Mel Young, introduced me to Judy Wagner and Professor Susan Murphy’s Executive Women’s Leadership Programme, I was reminded that it’s in these communities you find shared purpose.
Last week I shared my learnings with 150 inspiring women who’ve been through this programme. It reminded me, once again, how important support networks can be. I would have loved to be part of something like that when I was starting out.
The big problems facing the world today can be difficult to wrap your head around, especially for someone starting their own journey. Goodness knows they still preoccupy me.
If you’re inspired to make a difference, my advice is simple. If you see inequality or injustice in your environment just start changing it. Change sometimes comes in small gestures or big steps; both are valid. What’s important is that change starts with you– don’t waste food or resources, shut off the lights and fans when you don’t need them. Remember to help others.
Be patient. Nothing happens in a day. Have faith in yourself. Actions become habits. With time, they can change things in ways you never imagined.
Jeroo Billimoria is a social entrepreneur and founder of Aflatoun International, Childline India Foundation, Child Helpline International and Child and Youth Finance International. She received a Royal Honor from the King of the Netherlands by being appointed Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau in 2018. Jeroo is considered among the world’s leading social entrepreneurs and is now working on her 9th entrepreneurial venture.