Change Your Environment – Change Your Destiny

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Ryan Webb has an intense yet calm, commanding presence and in some ways reminds me of a young Will Smith. His story is one of resolute courage in face of overwhelming odds as he grew up in one of America’s most dangerous cities, the notorious Detroit, Michigan.

His dad left when Ryan was one and his mother took him to church faithfully and worked hard at any job she could; from pre-school teacher to stock-room employee. Because of her low pay, they were granted public housing and lived in eight homes in 21 years.

One of Ryan’s earliest memories of those days is of playing basketball in the basement when his mum was doing the laundry. He recalls that this led him to playing for his first team the Barton Bears when he was only 10. Fortunately most of his friends were from playing basket ball and church but of course some were from the neighbourhood as well.

Growing up in Detroit is a challenge for any young person though, because the endemic violence and poverty pollutes the mind and the ability to see any way out. Ryan experienced this violence first hand at the age of 13 when his 7th Grade friend was shot dead. He and his friends learned that “You always have to pay attention to your surroundings, and almost be paranoid to survive.”

Detroit is the 3rd most violent city in America and seven out of ten murders go unsolved. Young people living there have a greater chance of going to prison than graduating from High School and there are over 95,000 abandoned homes and 85,000 abandoned businesses.

Ten basketball teams later, Ryan was offered a scholarship at Tiffin University Ohio. He worked really hard at his studies despite working at one point, seven part-time jobs. Being removed from his normal environment, Ryan managed some real achievements: he managed to get an Internship at a Fortune 50 Company. After this, Ryan managed to complete his two Bachelor degrees from Tiffin; one in Business Administration and the other in Criminal Justice but not before being whisked away to live for a while in a completely different world – Kensington one of London’s most affluent areas.

Ryan attributes his success to perseverance and that it was because he managed to maintain an optimistic perspective that his fortunes really changed for the better. He believes that there is no way to explain some things and felt that there was someone looking over his shoulder helping him. His faith in God has certainly sustained him but he was also influenced by Earl Nightingale’s thoughts on Conformity and chose to be one of the 5% who are prepared to change their environment.

“Continue to do the things you’ve never done – it gives you courage to continue. That’s the only way you can do the things you’ve dreamed off. Doing different things, gives you different results.” Ryan certainly lived up to his beliefs. He sold most of everything he had to fly to the other side of the world and experience other countries such as Greece, Italy, Thailand and India.

I met Ryan when he was studying International Business in Emerging Markets at Edinburgh University but he is now off to study Social Anthropology at Oxford University (World Ranking = 2), to gain understanding in how society works and how he can best help others – because he wants to change the world. He wants to shed light for others and to give something back. Because his bad experiences have given him invaluable lessons, he believes that if you start off at the top, then it is hard to see how it really is – someone needs to bridge the gap and Ryan sees himself as a bridge builder.

Unfortunately knee problems mean Ryan probably won’t be playing basket ball at Oxford but he might try rowing, now that’s something really different…


From a Refugee Raft to a Job in Congress…

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Finding it hard to get a job? Consider Jessie’s story – During some of Cuba’s darkest days 17 years ago, Jessie Calzado-Esponda was tragically separated from her parents and put on a refugee raft with her Aunt and Grandmother when she was only seven. After losing all of their food and water in the storm, Jessie along with 16 other people and a dog drifted on their raft for five days before they were rescued just in time by the US Coastguard. (more…)

Successful entrepreneur wins RBS Scottish Asian Mother of the Year 2013 Award

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Stringent cards of tradition were being dealt to Ms Saj Sharif from an early age, the most significant of which was an arranged marriage. Yet despite this, Saj was striving towards her family and career goals and after having her first child was working in 1994 as a successful stockbroker in Edinburgh, Scotland. A year later though, a black card was dealt and her young son needed to have open heart surgery.

After his successful recovery, Saj found the courage to brake away from her Asian community and managed to extricate herself from her arranged marriage. In 2000 though, pressures of trying to juggle work and be a single parent led to her developing ME and eventually this closed the door on her six year career as a Stockbroker.


Scottish Space Entrepreneur wins Edge Funding

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With both of her parents serving in the British Navy base at Rosyth Scotland, Victoria Arnold was raised with the military attitude of ‘no-nonsense’. Being the eldest of three children this helped when her father was away for six-months at a time on submarine patrol. Perhaps this also contributed to her becoming impatient for things to happen…

Change came soon enough with her parents divorcing whilst Victoria pursued a marketing degree at Stirling University. After graduating in 2006 her desire to see some more of the world led to an internship in Chicago. On her return to Scotland, she quickly completed a Masters in Fashion Marketing at Glasgow Caledonia, worked for a number of SME’s and then as a Marketing Officer for the University of Strathclyde.

Space Entrepreneur

Space Entrepreneur

It was when Victoria was working full time in 2011 that she started her first part-time business – Homestayfriend, which offers short-term accommodation for international students throughout the UK. Still impatient to make things happen, in May 2012 she started her second business – Desk Union which connects micro-businesses with companies that have extra space to share. Running two worthwhile part-time businesses whilst working full-time was of course a real challenge and something had to give.

It was one of those critical moments in life when circumstances align and things are never the same again. Victoria was already feeling overwhelmed with the breakup of a long term relationship and having to give up the care of her dog because of time constraints, when her two uncles came up to Edinburgh from Devon for a Madonna concert. Having this safe place enabled her to open up to what was going on and she had an emotional breakdown.

Victoria says that instead of being hospitalised, she was ‘Uncle-ised’ and they took her back to Devon with them for a week to get away from things and to recover.  It was during this time that she realised that she had to take a risk with her career or watch her life waste away. She knew she had to just… do it.

The following day after returning to work, she handed in her notice. Amazingly, the very next day after that, she won the Association of Scottish Businesswomen’s award for the Best Young Business. She took this as a sign that she had made the right decision to commit full-time to being an entrepreneur.  Since then Victoria’s businesses have enjoyed significant success:

Homestayfriend has received a commendation from the TSB Young Enterprise Award, now has two full-time employees and is serving 18 language schools over 18 campuses.

Desk union hired its first full-time member of staff and out of 217 applicants recently won £48,775 from the Scottish Edge fund. It has gained a business angel investor, been shortlisted for the Association of Scottish Businesswomen’s Most Innovative Business award.

Victoria has been listed as an Entrepreneur to watch, has spoken in New York about shared work-space in the UK and has created her own collaborative work-space with the other Scottish Edge fund winners – “You have to surround yourself with the right people.” she says.

Victoria would like to advise anyone thinking about setting up their own business that “You have to take action. No one is going to do it for you. The only person that can stop you is yourself.”

Future actions for Desk Union include rolling out software so that companies can upload information themselves about the office accommodation they want to share. Her next target for Desk Union is Manchester because it has a vibrant entrepreneurial community and she is also organising a UK tour for a US co-working expert in November. To top all of this, she is flying to Atlanta to attend a global work space conference in the next few months.

Sometimes making a commitment to starting up in business is hard but then I’m reminded of an old British Navy recruiting slogan – ‘The Team Works’. When we have the right people around us, we can find the confidence and courage to take action and make things happen.

Ultimately though.

We either steer our own ship or get carried along by the currents of life.

To follow Victoria on her journey, see:

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