Hardeep Rai Podcast TranscriptListen to episode here
Hardeep Rai: [00:00:00] Ishin is my son. He is 17 years old. He was born in 2006 with a last minute birthing complication and that resulted in him having a severe brain injury. So in the UK now, one in four people are defined as having a disability. One in four. That's, that's nearly 16 million people, right? And this is why with Kaleidoscope now, these are some of the things I talk about really openly, because we have to face these situations in life and not feel awkward.
Hardeep Rai: My ambition, and this is, this is morphed into my vision, really, is, is for us to be able to change the way that the world sees disabled people. That's what I really want to achieve.
Amardeep Parmar: Today on the podcast, we have Hardeep Rai. who is the CEO and co founder of the Kaleidoscope Group. They help people with disabilities define their purpose in life. This is an incredible story of how he grew up wanting to be a diplomat, after meeting somebody high up at the [00:01:00] UN, shifted career paths into the fund management industry, worked his way up from being a secretary to a COO, before his son's birth changed the course of his life, and then they dedicated his life to now helping people with disabilities in all different manners.
Amardeep Parmar: It's a story you're not going to miss out on. We're the BAE HQ. I'm Amar and we're sponsored by HSBC Innovation Banking. Hope you enjoy this episode. So Hardeep, you've got such an incredible story, but where did it all start? Like when you were a kid, what were your ambitions?
Hardeep Rai: So my grandfather, when, when I was really young, my grandfather was a diplomat and he was very focused on education.
Hardeep Rai: So life was all about O levels, A levels, getting a degree. And in those days it was doctor, lawyer, accountant, those are my options. But actually, um, I really loved the way that he was a diplomat and the kind of the power that came with it and the influence that came with it. So it seemed very exciting to me.
Hardeep Rai: And my personality was always, always one where I could kind of [00:02:00] negotiate between people or mediate. So, so yeah, I thought that was a good diplomatic skill. So diplomacy and the United Nations, that was kind of my dream when I was a child.
Amardeep Parmar: But obviously you didn't go down that path. So what?
Hardeep Rai: quite.
Amardeep Parmar: Not sure of that.
Hardeep Rai: Well, I, I actually, funnily enough, I studied at a university called SOAS, which is a school of Oriental and African studies, and I did law and economics. And I then did a master's there. And when I was doing my master's, I met a gentleman called Boutros Boutros Ghali, who was the UN secretary at the time.
Hardeep Rai: And funny enough, he advised me not to go into the UN until much later in life. So he said, go throughout your career, do different things and then come to the UN rather than start. So that actually is what changed my mind and that's how I started thinking about the world of banking instead. But if it hadn't been for him telling me that, I would have probably applied to the UN straight out of university.
Amardeep Parmar: But when he told you that, did that shift your whole childhood, right? Your whole childhood? I want to be a diplomat and then this guy's telling you No, don't do that.
Hardeep Rai: it [00:03:00] Yeah, did. It did. But because he was so influential at the time, I thought, you know, you're listening to somebody that's in a very sort of a commanding position and he's giving you that advice.
Hardeep Rai: So I had to take it very seriously. And that was a point at which I thought, what do I want to do? And back in the late, 80s, early 90s, becoming a fund manager was a very trendy thing in my day. So I thought, actually, why don't I think about getting into a career as a fund manager? So that was what I set my goals on at that point.
Amardeep Parmar: And what were you studying at SOAS?
Hardeep Rai: So I studied law and economics. And then my master's was an international business law, so I should have become a lawyer, took in my grandpa's box as a lawyer. But actually I worked for a law firm for about six months, six weeks. And you know what? I hated it. So much reading. It was just not interesting for me at all.
Hardeep Rai: And that's when I decided to change. And it's funny when I wanted to go into fund management, people said the same thing. You don't have the experience. You haven't done anything financial. So I joined a [00:04:00] recruitment agency called Hayes banking personnel, who gave me a role for 3 days as a word for windows secretary at Credit Lyonnais.
Hardeep Rai: And as far as I was concerned, I don't care what I was going to do. I needed to get into the banking industry because my mindset has always been, if there's a door and you can open it, get in and then figure it out once you get it. And that's how my career in the city started. So I started off as a secretary, um, for about six months in different companies, Credit Lyonnais, Rothschilds, Deutsche Bank, you know, so many different places.
Hardeep Rai: And then I became a filing clerk. And then I got a lucky opportunity, um, to become a performance analyst at a company called Newton. And really, that's when I would say my career started.
Amardeep Parmar: How was the attitude at that time? Because if you're coming in at that level, and obviously this is the heyday of banking when it was maybe, it's kind of moderated since the financial crisis, let's say, were you treated well at that stage?
Amardeep Parmar: Or do you feel like people are open to helping you and listening to your ambitions?
Hardeep Rai: That's a really good [00:05:00] question. Do you know, I think that I was treated well. But there was a reason for it. I had and have a, an engaging personality and I'm social, right? So whenever I went into a company, I made sure people would get to know me because I enjoyed interacting with people.
Hardeep Rai: So I ran the softball team at my company called Gartmore while we're up for 13 years, I ran the social. Uh, committee for a very long time. So I was a social person. And actually, when you become social and you get to know people, and the irony is I, I didn't drink alcohol, right? So it wasn't going for a drink social.
Hardeep Rai: It was a different type of social, but that really helped me because I got to know the right people and I was genuine and I was authentic. And if I wanted to move into a different role, I would sort of know who to speak to. And that's how I lasted 13 years and got more. You know, I had six. different jobs there. And, you know, I survived, you know, [00:06:00] five or six different buyouts.
Hardeep Rai: So, so it was, it was a lot to do with that. So there was a, a welcome attitude, but you had to perform, you had to perform. So even in my time working with James as a dragon, you know, I'd still say working at Gartmore, there were moments there where I was more scared, you know, than I've ever been before in my life to perform.
Hardeep Rai: But, you know, you work hard and you play hard.
Amardeep Parmar: So it was interesting that I think so many people today, they go straight for the jugular, right? Like, Oh, I need to talk to this person. So I need to ask about this. But I feel like the way you did it is by building that social relationship. I think it made such a difference of if you can engage with somebody on a human level, then if in the future they can help you, they're more likely to do that off their own back.
Amardeep Parmar: Whereas if you're trying to bug them or pester them in the persistence element, that's often not as good of a path as some people might think.
Hardeep Rai: You know, it's really funny you say that because you reminded me of a story. So when I was at Newton, I knew the assistant to somebody that was very senior, but I knew her in a very genuine way, not because she was assistant to [00:07:00] someone senior, but just because we became very friendly.
Hardeep Rai: I think her name was Barbara. And when my contract came to an end, I bought her and the floor, a tray of Leonidas chocolates, right? And it was a tray and it was wrapped up in clean cellophane. And on the Friday afternoon, I gave it to her and she shared it out with everybody. And my contract was finishing within a week.
Hardeep Rai: I was back at the company and I know that tray of chocolates helped. Right. And I'm not, I'm not just kidding. It was that, that mindset that you kind of become a part of the furniture almost. And when people see that way, then they want you to be with them and they'll look for a reason to keep you.
Amardeep Parmar: And throughout that journey.
Amardeep Parmar: Right. So you said you started First Secretary. What were some of the other roles you took on there before you went onto your own journey?
Hardeep Rai: So I, I was a performance analyst, so when you have a fund and you have the fund, um, however the fund is returned and you have a benchmark, I was calculating the benchmarks and the returns.
Hardeep Rai: Um, I became a project manager. So I was sort of the, in the go-between, between the fund managers and the [00:08:00] IT department and I was helping to make sure projects were delivered. I became the operations manager. And then I became a C. O. O. That was my last role within within the organization. And that was a an amazing position around negotiating.
Hardeep Rai: So it was buying in Bloomberg's, buying and Reuters negotiating trading rates with the brokers and making sure the fund managers had everything they needed to do their jobs properly. That was, that was my role. You know, they were often said it was like a glue type role within the business. So those are my, those are my different jobs there.
Amardeep Parmar: What kind of time are we on now? Right. So at the end of that..
Hardeep Rai: We're coming up to the financial crisis. So actually it was 2008. Unfortunately, like most companies, Gartmore was going through redundancies and you're either going to have, uh, involuntary redundancy and this was your package or voluntary redundancy and that was your package and it was more attractive and Eshan had been born for a couple of years by then.
Hardeep Rai: So I took the voluntary redundancy package because it made sense for me to leave at that time [00:09:00] and start taking care of Eshan as well.
Amardeep Parmar: So if I'll see people who don't know that's Eshan's been such a huge part of your life and your philosophy and your outlook on life now, can you tell us about that, about why that's affected you in the way it has?
Hardeep Rai: Sure. So Eshan is my son. He is 17 years old. He was born. In 2006, with a last minute birthing complication, and that resulted in him having a severe brain injury, and just before he was born, my world was all about status, progression, title, money, cause, cufflinks, shirts that had my emblem on is really kind of, you know, it was very ostentatious, right?
Hardeep Rai: And when he was born and we found out there was a, there was a problem, it was just a very last minute thing. My ex wife went through a crash caesarean for about 17 minutes, and we were then [00:10:00] told that he is, he's had a severe brain injury. His APGAR score was 10, which is very low when you have a baby, and the next sort of 24 hours would be critical to see if he was going to survive.
Hardeep Rai: And in my mind, I kept thinking. It's okay. Money will fix this. Somehow we'll get the best doctor. We'll get the best this, we'll get the best that. Um, but what we realized very quickly was we already had the best people working on us. We already had him back into UCLA. He was already randomized on a sort of a program.
Hardeep Rai: It's called a trial, the Toby trial. Everything that could be done was being done. And I think it took a few days to sink in that actually all my dreams and all my hopes and all of everything we had planned, almost down to his marriage, you know, as you do as an Indian parent, sometimes, um, was not going to be, you know, it wasn't going to be that way.
Hardeep Rai: And, and it was very, very, very difficult to adjust to that, you know, and I went through my own mental health journey, my ex wife went through her own sort of depression. I did, you know, coming to [00:11:00] terms with that kind of thing, especially when you're an Asian is, is, is really challenging because we live in a society that is judgmental.
Hardeep Rai: It's judgmental across the board, right? But Asians, whether we like to admit it or not, we are probably the most judgmental people. And what made it hard, harder for me was actually realizing that there were a lot of people that were around me that were my friends, that were my, not my close family, but the extended family, colleagues, that suddenly started judging me
Hardeep Rai: because of what happened as well. And, and that was very difficult. So on the one hand, I was coming to terms with his baby that actually looks like a regular baby. When you saw, when you see Eshan and when he was young, you wouldn't know there was a problem, right? It was only from three or four months. You could start seeing something different.
Hardeep Rai: So we had a regular looking baby and then we had all these other sort of external factors that were beginning to influence us that were beginning to cause some real real sort of mental challenges. So, so there were two [00:12:00] issues of dealing with Eshan and coming to terms with that. And then there was dealing with, um, you know, families and friends.
Hardeep Rai: And then of course the workplace, you know, I'll never forget the day I walked back into work and, you know, when you have a baby, you walk into the office, what are you going to expect, right? I'm a, you're going to cake balloons, go out for drinks. I walked into the trading floor, you know. 200 odd people, deathly silence as I walked through, deathly, you know, and, and, and people didn't know what to say.
Hardeep Rai: And it was really awkward because it wasn't that they didn't want to congratulate me, but they were thinking, do I congratulate Hardeep? Do we commiserate him? Do we ask him how he is? And so what most people did as a result of that is they backed off. They didn't talk to me. And that made me feel more isolated.
Hardeep Rai: You know what I mean? So it's really, some of these situations are really difficult. And this is why with Kaleidoscope now, these are some of the things I talk about really openly, because we have to face these situations in life and not feel awkward and not feel embarrassed, [00:13:00] because that's actually worse than sort of ignoring somebody.
Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. So anybody who doesn't know as well, if they follow you online, we can see that journey and it's, you're so open about it, which is great because like I said, there's nothing to be ashamed of. Right. It's nothing that you've done wrong or anything like that. It's just a case of different things happen in life.
Amardeep Parmar: And it's how you respond to it and how you choose to present yourself in the world that matters and how you choose to treat people. And it's a huge shame that, that you've had that experience where your extended family and some of your friends didn't support you. And we hope that, that actually is a changing over time.
Amardeep Parmar: There's still so much more work to be done, right?
Hardeep Rai: There is, there is. And I think, and I think one of the other things that was difficult is, you know, when you say you hadn't done anything wrong, there were a lot of people that actually think I did do something wrong. There were some people that would say to me, serves you right.
Hardeep Rai: There are some people that said. Well, you got bad karma now, so whatever you did previously, you're being punished, whatever Eshan did previously, he's been punished. He must have been a really bad [00:14:00] person to have been disabled, right? Because how could you know, there were so many things like that. And actually, about eight, nine years ago, I became a Christian, right?
Hardeep Rai: And one of the reasons I did is because I couldn't take all of this kind of rhetoric from very many people that were quite naive, I recognize that being naive, but they were using these things in a very negative way. And, you know, that can really affect your confidence and self esteem. And it can make you question yourself if you're not, if you don't find a way to be comfortable with it.
Amardeep Parmar: So when you took that voluntary redundancy in 2008. What did you then do? Like, how did you think about the future?
Hardeep Rai: Yeah, that's a great question. So I had enough money to not worry for about a year and a half to two years. And so for six months, I was just at home, really looked after Eshan, trying to get to know him better and put everything in place for him.
Hardeep Rai: Because when you have a disabled child in the UK, there are some phenomenal support networks around. And to be fair, the government really did go out of their way to support them. But I had to learn about all of those things. So I [00:15:00] really educated myself to understand that better. Um, and then I started my own business, you know, so I became a bit of an entrepreneur because I always had an entrepreneurial streak.
Hardeep Rai: I worked for, um, a small private equity company at that time, did a bit of networking as I was beginning to think about my next move as well, because I needed to figure out what I wanted to do next. So, so, so I played around a little bit and it was a really valuable time because I think at that time, that's the time to make mistakes almost, you know, when you can afford to lose.
Hardeep Rai: That was my, that was my phase. But it was clouded over with this, with this feeling of depression still because with Eshan and everything and unknowing what the future was going to be like, it was, was a difficult time.
Amardeep Parmar:In that period, what do you think some of the biggest learnings you had were?
Hardeep Rai: Not to judge other people.
Hardeep Rai: You know, every and I go back to judgment, you know, and I'm going to use a phrase called unconscious bias, which is sure most of you people know what that is, but it but it means that you think in a certain way without realizing you're thinking in a certain way. And I think there was a real period [00:16:00] of self reflection for me during that time.
Hardeep Rai: You know, who am I? What do I actually want to do in my life? So all those things I thought before Eshan was born that meant something to me purposefully, actually they didn't, right? But the reality is we all chase those things because we don't know anything different. And are we wrong to chase those things?
Hardeep Rai: I often ask myself, was I wrong to be ambitious? No, I wasn't. But could I have done more good at that time? Yes, I could. Right. And should I be more aware of it? I should say, I think, I think I went through a real period of self reflection and self purpose and what is my life about and what is my legacy about?
Hardeep Rai: Those were the things I started to think about, but not in a way I think about it now, but in, but it was very embryonic, but that started to be my thought process.
Amardeep Parmar: We hope you're enjoying the episode so far. We just want to give this quick shout out. So headline partners, HSBC Innovation Banking. One of the biggest challenges for so many startups is finding the right bank to support them because you might start off and try to [00:17:00] use a traditional bank, but they don't understand what you're doing.
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Amardeep Parmar:I think what's really interesting is the word ambition because people get taken so many different ways, right? For some people, ambition is having the latest car or having the latest clothes, whereas for some people, the ambition is I want to impact a million lives.
Amardeep Parmar: And I think it's really, it's quite difficult sometimes when people talk about ambition, about what they actually mean. Same thing with success, right? What does that actually mean? I think every listener should define that for themselves in what way of like, you say you're ambitious, what does that mean?
Amardeep Parmar: What does ambitious really mean? And it's interesting to see like how that journey has changed for you of what your ambition has then led on to?
Hardeep Rai: Obviously, my original ambition was the, the UN ambition. I think when I was working for [00:18:00] Gartmore in those days, it was all about money and status. So that was my goal.
Hardeep Rai: I think now where I am today, my ambition, and this is, this is morphed into my vision really, is, is for us to be able to change the way that the world sees disabled people. That's what I really want to achieve, and the way I want to achieve that is by showcasing successful people with disabilities, because the world we live in requires that.
Hardeep Rai: We're in a role model world. We're in a world where success talks, and it's very sad, but that's reality. Now, I don't just mean success in monetary success. It can be success in social impact or impacting other people's lives, right? So, so that's important to define. It doesn't have to be financial success.
Hardeep Rai: But that's what I want to be able to achieve. You know, showing people that this person with a different disability is actually smarter than you and me and everyone else put together, yet they have a disability label and we don't, how is that fair in life? Right. You know, questioning the world [00:19:00] disability, the word, should it be disability?
Hardeep Rai: Why isn't it differently abled or why couldn't it be something else? So, so I think it, the, the ambition is really to change the way that people see. And the next mission really is to then create opportunities, because the problem with people with disabilities is that they don't get the opportunities that they deserve.
Hardeep Rai: And everybody knows that. So it's really important to be able to create that. So for me, I often think, you know, my legacy, you know, when, when the day comes for me to leave this earth, somebody's talking about Hardeep, you know, what do I, what, what would I be happy for them to say is that he made a difference in some way to the world of disability and created a more level playing field.
Hardeep Rai: That would make me very happy, right? We all, we all want to be good fathers and brothers and sisters and things like that. Um, hopefully I've achieved that and I'll do my best to continue to achieve that. But ambition wise, that's what I'd like to be able to do, but also live it and make it happen whilst I'm still around.
Hardeep Rai: So it [00:20:00] should be achievable. You know, you don't want it to be something up in the sky that you can't hold. You want it to be something that you can make happen.
Amardeep Parmar: So it's obviously you're well on that path of kaleidoscope group. What were the steps to create in that, in the first place? Right. Because it's been around since 2015. So there's a gap there still.
Hardeep Rai: Yeah. So I had to, um, weirdly, I think we all go through business failures, right? After I, I worked with James Kahn for a couple of years and that was the. best, honestly, the best experience of my life. And I had two years of working very closely with them and really understanding what, what business is all about.
Hardeep Rai: So when I eventually left him, I thought I was on the top of the world. I'm going to set up my own mini VC and, and I did, but it failed. Typical, you have to have a fail failure story, but you know, so, so actually towards the end of that business failing, I was approached by Shane Bratby, who's my current business partner, who's disabled, and he said, you know, um, people with disabilities, they just find it really difficult to raise money for their business [00:21:00] ideas.
Hardeep Rai: And I suddenly thought I've always wanted to do something with disability, but I've never actually known what. And the minute he told me that I suddenly thought my investment background, his disability experience. That's a match made in heaven. And that was how Kaleidoscope Investments was actually born.
Hardeep Rai: And we were very lucky because we got Nat West on board as our, as our supporter, which, which was born out of a complaint. I made a complaint to Nat West, to the CEO about something, and I became, and I became known to him. And then all of a sudden, when I wanted to launch and look for a sponsor, I approached him.
Hardeep Rai: So it's an irony how something really bad can turn into something really positive. That was a way that actually helped me to launch Kaleidoscope. So we had Nat West, I had Shane, we had the concept, and then we did one event where there was a great amount of PR, right? And we had, we had a blind journalist that worked for the BBC.
Hardeep Rai: That was what launched us because he then said, XVC becomes a sort of VC for disability, and that got [00:22:00] into the press and that's how we got launched.
Amardeep Parmar: So obviously you said that the first VC try didn't work out and the new VCs, potentially an even more difficult market, right? Oh, it's hugely difficult. To try to change perceptions.
Amardeep Parmar: You're changing so much more than just looking at pitch decks, right?
Hardeep Rai: Yeah, absolutely.
Amardeep Parmar: Why do you think that the first VC failed, but the second one with Kaleidoscope Group has worked out? What's some of the changes you made?
Hardeep Rai: The first VC failed for very simple. I allocated the shareholdings incorrectly.
Hardeep Rai: So what happened was I, I was the founder, fundamental founder, and I got three other people on board and I made it 25 percent to everybody, right? Instead of saying sort of 51, 60 percent and then splitting. So, so what ended up happening was we didn't quite have the alignment. You know, a couple, one or two that didn't have the same alignment as I did, or they weren't doing as much as I did.
Hardeep Rai: And, you know, there were, there were complexities like that. And I sort of figured out that if you don't fix that [00:23:00] now, it's going to get a lot worse in the end. And one lesson I've learned is that when you've allocated equity, don't think you're going to get it back, right? It's very, very difficult. So actually, and I met Shane towards the end of that.
Hardeep Rai: So fortunately we were able to utilize a lot of thinking that we'd done in that company, but then transition that thought process into Kaleidoscope. And as far as Kaleidoscope is concerned, it's taken me nearly nine years to get to the point where I'm beginning to raise a fund now of the magnitude that I want.
Hardeep Rai: So previously I put a lot of my own money in Shane did. My chairman did. And then over the last few years, we've worked with other investors that have been around us. But now we're setting up our own fund finally. And we've got some amazing partners around us now that will that will make it happen. I'm very confident.
Hardeep Rai: But it took something like COVID to make that happen as well. Because all of a sudden people realize what disability means. We were all disabled for a period of time when we were at home. Right. You can go for a walk. You can spend your money. There was, there was [00:24:00] difficult things to do. So I think the world now in the last two, three years has become much more open to disability.
Hardeep Rai: And that's why I think from an investment point of view, from an employer point of view. It's a better time than it's ever been.
Amardeep Parmar: Could you share one of the stories of one of those investments to highlight, like, the kind of people you invested in and their amazing ability?
Hardeep Rai: Sure. So one, one lady, um, we didn't actually get to invest in this lady, but one lady, um, who's been a brilliant friend of mine was a lady called Keeley, Keeley Cat Walsh, and she had multiple disabilities and she was an ex actress as well, funnily enough.
Hardeep Rai: And she set up an agency that gets talented people, um, with disabilities into, into sort of advertising roles or marketing roles, um, and actually helps them almost to become actors and actresses. And she did extremely well. She ended up exiting her company to an advertising company who then set her up or set themselves up as a company that have a more inclusive [00:25:00] advertising arm.
Hardeep Rai: So that's a really simple example. I mean, the obvious example that everyone talks about nowadays is good old Elon Musk, right? Um, but but one other person that we've worked with really closely is a company called travel for all, and the lady's got multiple sclerosis, and she is a lady that's a wheelchair traveler, and she's been trying to get her business off the ground for many, many years and actually working with her trying to help her
Hardeep Rai: built her network has been really, has been really positive. And that's the thing I see. I see so much opportunity in this disability world to actually, crudely speaking, to make money for investors to make money, but most importantly, to make money for the entrepreneur first and their team, and then the investor second, rather than the other way around.
Hardeep Rai: But, but this is the knowledge, you know, we've met over 1700 Disabled people, right? So you imagine 1, 700 pitches, you know, over that period of time. So we've got to see a lot about where the market trends are and also what [00:26:00] types of disabilities have advantages to become CEOs. Right. You know, so a lot of very successful people are dyslexic because they can be super focused, right?
Hardeep Rai: And they can cut out all the kind of the emotion. And not everybody obviously is emotionless, of course, naturally, but, but they can, they can have that ability to be relentlessly, you know, relentlessly focused.
Amardeep Parmar: Just even remember this podcast. So Reece Chowdhury, Leah Chowdhury, Jatin Narayan have all said dyslexia has helped them in their career because
Amardeep Parmar: I think a lot of them were treated differently at school because, oh, you can't read and they're made fun of, but that's then given them strength and resilience and made them also look at things in different ways. And it's a shame that they had that experience at school, but now in their careers, it's a superpower for them as opposed to something holding them back.
Amardeep Parmar: You mentioned there about all the different opportunities as well, and I know the kaleidoscope group, it's not just one monolith, right? You've got different divisions that are all looking at [00:27:00] different things. Can you share a bit about what the different elements of Kaleidoscope Group did?
Hardeep Rai: Sure. So we have the investment business and that will help any person with a disability, irrespective to start their own business.
Hardeep Rai: And we have an incubator programme that will help them to become investment ready, and then we can help them to raise money afterwards. And then we can mentor them to success because I think the biggest thing I've learned is that don't give a per, I'd say this about most entrepreneurs actually, but especially in my experience with disability is make sure there's a mentor
Hardeep Rai: that's working with the business that you've invested in. And then we have a recruitment business that will help people with disabilities to find employment. But again, the way that we've structured it now, rather than just a conventional recruitment agency, is that we've got a training program that trains these people with disabilities.
Hardeep Rai: And then we give them to the employer, right? So that the employer feels that they've, you know, they don't feel they're taking as much of a risk with just recruiting somebody. And then we have a diversity and inclusion consultancy. I hate the word consultancy [00:28:00] actually. Right. But it's really an advisory business and DNI is conventionally gender BAME, LGBTQ plus and the conventional ones.
Hardeep Rai: Right. But disability is, is beginning to build up. So we have a, an organization that really specializes in helping companies, um, with disability, you know, that want to become more DNI friendly and create a more disability focused culture to become that way. And then we have a mentoring business to help startups, you know, to grow with disabled founders.
Hardeep Rai: And then we have a charity. So the charity is for those individuals that don't want to do anything for profit, and they just want to maybe train, study, do something voluntary. But I wanted to set up where any kind of person with a disability could approach us and we could try and help. And I have to be realistic, going back to ambition.
Hardeep Rai: We can't help everybody, you know, but I wanted to create an infrastructure that, that at least had the potential to help everybody, you know, one day.
Amardeep Parmar: So for the people listening to us, so some of them, they might know people are disabled in their lives and [00:29:00] maybe they're looking at them differently now, right?
Amardeep Parmar: Because of hearing your stories. What do you think that you wish investors knew and also the founders knew about people with disabilities and how we can be more accepting and welcoming and help them to fulfill their potential?
Hardeep Rai:So the first thing that needs to happen is the individuals with the disabilities have to become comfortable and confident about their disability, right?
Hardeep Rai: And see it as a strength. They have to. And actually some of these programs we run help them to do that because the issue is, If you don't do that in the first place, then you're not going to present yourself confidently to the person that you're trying to convince. Right? So it's really important to see the disability as a strength to understand the talents that you probably don't think talents actually are talents and to identify what those are and really speak to people around you and let them tell you.
Hardeep Rai: What you're good at, right? Really get that confidence. So the first thing is to make sure that individual with a disability feels better about themselves, and then they must [00:30:00] know what they want, right? You have to think about, and it's not good enough to say, I want to have a general chat. You know, you've got to really study and identify what you want, because if someone wants to employ you or invest in you, they've got to believe in you.
Hardeep Rai: You could have a passion. So there's some work that needs to be done on that person first. What I would then say is if you're an employer, right? In today's world, the market is all about thinking differently, right? You want more money. Do you realize that disability community have 274 billion pounds a year to spend?
Hardeep Rai: That's billion, not million, right? Significant number, right? Is your shop accessible to a disabled person? Have you got a step so they can't get their wheelchair in? So you're cutting out some money. So it's making employers realize that that community are a community of people that can actually make you money, right?
Hardeep Rai: They can make you money and they can help you to be more, to be more inclusive if you were to recruit them into your business, right? And you'll suddenly find out the people that you work for. work with that you didn't [00:31:00] know had a disability might start revealing that they had a disability when there's another person with a disability there.
Hardeep Rai: Right? So, you know, they can influence culture, they can think differently by, by them within themselves. And their, their capability to be very natural is actually quite funny sometimes. And it makes people feel much more relaxed around them. So but of course, their capability to think differently and to do the jobs of three or four people is also something that many of them are capable of doing.
Hardeep Rai: And then if you're an investor, would you want to to do as an investor. You want to make returns, right? Look at the world we live in today. Just look at it. Disability is an untapped market. Okay. There's so many different products and services that, that market alone need. So in the UK now, one in four people are defined as having a disability.
Hardeep Rai: One in four, that's, that's nearly 16 million people, right? They need products and services. Why, why do you not think about providing something to them? The only caution I would give though, okay, because it all sounds like a bed of roses [00:32:00] is that when you actually do work with people with disabilities, you do have to make sure that you understand their disability.
Hardeep Rai: You understand boundary management. You understand when to put pressure on and when to take pressure off, right? So you do have to make sure you understand that individual to support them in the best possible way. And that's not the easiest thing in the world to do. Right. And I think that's one of the things that we've tried to learn as much as we can.
Hardeep Rai: And we still learn every single day. You know, it's not one of those things you ever learn fully, but, but those are things that are really important is to allow them the freedom to operate in an environment where they can perform to the best of their ability. And it's very important.
Amardeep Parmar: When you were doing this journey yourself, how did you learn that?
Amardeep Parmar: Like, what were your sources of information?
Hardeep Rai: Yeah, you know, I was, someone asked me to be the coach the other day and she used the word qualified. She said, are you a qualified coach? And I said, what do you define as qualification? Right. Um, if I'm qualified and certified, no, I'm not. But. If you call [00:33:00] meeting someone being in that world for nine years, meeting 1700 people from 65 different disabilities from 28 countries, then I'm probably one of the most qualified by experience and having met people.
Hardeep Rai: And that's more important than anything that people can teach you, because I can tell you the one thing I've learned about operating in this space, it's not about textbooks, right? I'm sorry to say this, but it's about doing the best you can in front of somebody, making authentic, genuine mistakes and apologizing and learning from those mistakes, right?
Hardeep Rai: Because whatever you think is right for one person with a disability, it's going to be different for the next one. It's not the same equation. Right. It's really different. And that's what I think I have learned is that every single person is different. Don't ever make an assumption. Don't ever make a judgment.
Hardeep Rai: Don't ever think you know it all. Right. But just be compassionate. Be kind. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Right. So you won't think of a networking event. You think about it right [00:34:00] now, if you went to a networking event, and you were in a room for the people, and you saw a person that was blind, and he had a white or she had a white walking cane, and you had a person, in a wheelchair, would you automatically go out of your way to go and talk to those two people?
Hardeep Rai: If you had to really answer that honestly.
Amardeep Parmar: It's of those cases of you can, I could say yes, but would I? And that's, that's the challenge, isn't it? It's always the halo effect of what we think we would do versus what we'd actually do in real life. And it's good to keep self accountable.
Hardeep Rai: That's right.
Hardeep Rai: It's, it's one of those things we would, most of us unconsciously, biasly would probably steer away from them because you'd be thinking, how do I say hello? What do I do? Do I ask them how you got in a wheelchair? Do I ask them? You'd be thinking all of these questions was all you have to do is go over and say, Hi, my name's Hardeep.
Hardeep Rai: What's your name? What brings you here? You talk to them like you would talk to anybody else. But there's filters that we have that would prevent most of us from doing that. Right? So it's being conscious of that and trying to overcome that. And that is already doing something really good for society [00:35:00] in just doing that alone.
Amardeep Parmar: So your story is incredible, and I know there's things that we haven't mentioned in this episode as well. So we're going to have to get you back on in the future. But for time now, we're going to have to go to the quickfire questions. So the first one is, who are three British Asians you think are doing incredible work that you'd love to shout out for the audience to follow?
Hardeep Rai: So the first one is a lady. I haven't been in touch with her for a little bit, but she's somebody I met when I worked with James Kahn. Her name was Mandeep is, Mandeep Rai, and she's the author of a book called The Values Compass. And Mandeep is somebody that already stood out to me because she had ambition.
Hardeep Rai: She was really hungry to change the world. She was really hungry about values. And funnily enough, she wrote a book about it. And I have seen her in the last few years in the way that she's grown and where she's got to. And I have a huge amount of time and admiration for Mandy. So she's one. The second lady is somebody called Reena Ranger.
Hardeep Rai: Um, who is somebody that I, when I say I grew up with in the early years, her family, my [00:36:00] family, we were very close and in this sort of last few decades, her and I have had more of a relationship and actually, you know, when you've got somebody that's a father, that's quite prominent, it's really difficult to achieve by yourself because everyone will look at you and think, Oh, you're because your dad, you got somewhere.
Hardeep Rai: But actually, she's worked really hard, Amar. You know, she's somebody that I think is, is somebody that's worthy to mention because, you know, she, she works tirelessly for the community. You see her on LinkedIn and what she achieves. She does a lot. So, so I'm, I'm really proud of Reena. And the third person is somebody that I only met fairly recently.
Hardeep Rai: Um, his name is Cyrus Twadiwala. And he, I met him through a lovely lady called Zenobia Nadeshaw, and he is a chef that's extraordinary, you know, and you may have seen him on MasterChef sometimes, but I feel that his food, his place, Cafe Spice, is exceptional. So he's somebody that I'd like to give a shout out to as well.
Amardeep Parmar: And then the next question is. If people want to find out more about you, find out more about the Kaleidoscope Group. Where should they go to?
Hardeep Rai: So our website is quite simply [00:37:00] kaleidoscop.group. That's it. So kaleidoscope.group. And I'm Hardeep Rai. So you can find me on LinkedIn and I would love you to look me up by all means.
Hardeep Rai: We're just getting a new website done at the moment. So I won't say too much about the socials yet, but you can find us online.
Amardeep Parmar: And is there anything that you need help with right now that the audience could reach out to?
Hardeep Rai: That's a good question, actually. Um, do you know what, if you, yeah, yes, people with disabilities, I'd love to be approached by people with disabilities, especially in the Asian community that are uncertain about what it is they want to do in their lives and they need some help and guidance.
Hardeep Rai: Okay. That would be my number one shout out actually for those individuals to come and approach us. But of course, investors, employers that are interested in doing more with disability love to hear from them too.
Amardeep Parmar: Awesome. And then the final question. So thank you so much for coming on. Have you got any final words?
Hardeep Rai: Final words? Um, I hadn't realized our time has passed so quickly. I was just warming up. Um, no, I think, I think the thing I would say [00:38:00] about, um, as a final word is that life is unpredictable and you never know what's going to happen. Look at what happened to me. So I think it's good to just be kind, compassionate and loving to people that are around you, especially in the world we live in today.
Hardeep Rai: And don't charge a person with a disability when you see it.
Amardeep Parmar: Thank you for watching. Don't forget to subscribe. See you next time.