Leah Chowdhry Podcast Transcript

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Leah Chowdhry: [00:00:00] It's hard. I want to give up. Like, I cannot do this. A big philosophy I would live by is FAIL. And it stands for First Attempt in Learning. FAIL. Like, FAIL. Like, I've failed. I've failed so many times. I'm at a very beautiful time where I'm gonna do things differently. My main aim starting Pop Up Party and Play was, I didn't want anyone to feel hindered because they have a child in their career.

Leah Chowdhry: I want them to be able to exceed much or as little or however they want. Regardless if they've got children.

Amardeep Parmar: Welcome to the BAE HQ, where we inspire, connect, and guide the next generation of British Asians. If you watch something on YouTube, make sure you hit that subscribe button. And if you're listening on Apple or Spotify, make sure you give us a five star review. Today we have with us, Leah Chowdhury, who's the founder of Pop Up Party and Play, the first British Asian woman to swim the channel, and the author of Making a Splash.

Amardeep Parmar: How are you doing today? 

Leah Chowdhry: I'm good. I'm impressed. You got all of it in order and everything. I'm great. [00:01:00] 

Amardeep Parmar: In the editing, some of that will be fine. 

Leah Chowdhry: Sorry. I'll let you start going. Yes. I'm doing well today. Thank you. 

Amardeep Parmar: So we've obviously had your problem before. You have. So we can test your corporation here. So when you were growing up, did you believe you'd ever get to where you are today?

Leah Chowdhry: That's a great question. I think I was brought up in a household where anything was possible, regardless of gender, skin color. So anything I believed in, I was always supported and encouraged to achieve. So yeah, I think I, was blessed. 

Amardeep Parmar: And you  started by studying psychology, right? 

Leah Chowdhry Yes. 

Amardeep Parmar: What made you go down that path?

Leah Chowdhry: So my mum's actually a teacher and I was always at school. I had a lot of like challenging times. I wasn't the most studious person. I wasn't a person who went into a room and like would read books or like just naturally a good student. So I struggled quite a lot. And my mum's piece of advice to me was always like, do something you're passionate about, do something that you and [00:02:00] whatever happens in life, it's career or if it's studying,

Leah Chowdhry: it will make sense. You'll make money or you'll, it will be successful. Your definition of success can be very different. If that's making money or making an impact, it will come if you're doing what you're passionate about. So I just read through every single university course. And I found this course at Bristol university.

Leah Chowdhry: It's child psychology and it's all about child development, understanding like our upbringing and the importance of nature and nurture. And I was like, this is it. This is what I want to do. And I was like, I'll, I'll work out the rest later. So I applied, got in and that's where I started my journey. 

Amardeep Parmar: And if I'm correct in saying, right, you said earlier that you were dyslexic as well.

Leah Chowdhry: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: And did that have a part to play in that? 

Leah Chowdhry: Growing up I didn't quite understand why I was different. I didn't understand why I was set in an English class to read like two chapters and everybody the next day would happily come in. Like I just could, I would read the first couple of lines and [00:03:00] I, it just didn't make sense.

Leah Chowdhry: And I was like, I would think about something else. And then my mum was phenomenal in the sense that she like took loads of courses to understand dyslexia and special needs and all this kind of stuff. And in the end I ended up getting the Audible book. So I, I got into Audible books before it became like really popular and cool.

Leah Chowdhry: Now it is now. 

Amardeep Parmar:  Transletter. 

Leah Chowdhry:  No, cause I was like, otherwise I'm not going to get through the chapters. And I always ended up falling asleep anyway to them, but that wasn't the point. But I think I knew I was different. I just used it. To my strengths as much as I could, I just found ways around and I think that was actually probably the foundations of how I just became very different to my peers, because I was, it wasn't easy at school, I had to find a way around.

Leah Chowdhry: So like when things got tough for me, it wasn't let's give up. It was right. How are we going to find a way and obstacle, like over this obstacle. And that was just a practice I took throughout my life and I just adapt it in every single way. And I think that's why it's so important for us in our community [00:04:00] that we are going to get thrown like really, really tough, cut hard, like, like tough times.

Leah Chowdhry: It's inevitable. And it's about what do we do in that moment, which is to find you not where you've come from and how you do that. So I think that's the lesson I was kind of learned the most from school.

Amardeep Parmar: And then initially after school and after university, you went into like working and having a job, right?

Amardeep Parmar: And it took you a few years, then you decided to start up Pop Up Party and Play. What were those years like in the middle? Like what made you go down that path and eventually leave? 

Leah Chowdhry: I think the biggest learning I've ever had in my life, which I've struggled with in our community, is no, it's not a race.

Leah Chowdhry: You don't have to get there yesterday. And I think if you look at our community, I will go to like, even now Asian, like weddings and the aunties and things will come up to me and be like, have you done this? Have you, have you, are you married? Have you had kids? So you did it. I remember actually going to one Asian wedding.

Leah Chowdhry: Like not long ago, this lady came [00:05:00] up to me and goes, like, Oh my God, you're the girl that swam the English channel. You're the author. You run your own company. Like, you've achieved so much. Why are you not married? And I jokingly turned around and said, because I yet to find the first British Asian man to swim the English channel.

Leah Chowdhry: And I don't think she found it very funny, but I think. In our community, we're..

 Amardeep Parmar:  Is to challenge for somebody out there?

Amardeep Parmar: If you want to marry you, you've got to join the channel.

But the, probably not single. But um, i think it’s where in our culture, in our community

Leah Chowdhry: where constantly in a space of scarcity and wanting to achieve the next thing. Have your children run your business. And I think that period between me leaving university, I knew I loved working with children. I knew one day I was going to run a successful children's business. But it's about divine timing.

Leah Chowdhry: It's about putting it out there to the universe and being like, I know I'm going to do it and be okay with the [00:06:00] journey. Like I learned so much whilst I was at EY. I was at EY for almost four years, became a chartered tax advisor, and I used those skills today in my business. And that was beautifully divine timing.

Leah Chowdhry: And it's, I had to be okay with the journey because if you're not okay with that journey, you'll get to becoming the CEO and it won't be enough for you. And then you'll look for the next thing and you'll be constantly looking for happiness, success in a space where it's at the next stop and you'll be miserable.

Leah Chowdhry: So I think that, that, that period for me was exactly the journey I was supposed to go on. And yeah, I think I learned skills that I've developed and used in my business on a day to day basis. There's lessons dealing with people, but there's also times where I was like just having fun and being a grad.

Leah Chowdhry: And celebrating life and making mistakes. So yeah, I think it was a great time in my life and I would, wouldn't change it for the world. 

Amardeep Parmar: So having a background in tax is [00:07:00] such a huge advantage when you start your own business. It is such a pain. I'm lucky that my dad was an accountant. So when I started the business, he was very helpful.

Amardeep Parmar: Now, obviously before it happened last year, I'm having to work all out and like negotiate with accountants myself. I don't know what I'm doing. Right. And it's been a very steep learning curve where I was kind of protected before because of my dad. So if people are listening right now and they're starting their own business, is there any, it's not financial advice, but you think a lot of people miss about tax and things like that.

Amardeep Parmar: That they should really be aware of before they get started. 

Leah Chowdhry: Let's go strip back to basics. Just go and take a really basic business like corporate tax, salary sack, all those kinds of like your Nick, just really basic, take a little basic course, have a basic understanding. I'm a big believer that you don't need to be a specialist in every single area.

Leah Chowdhry: But as a CEO of a company, you need to have an understanding of everything that's going on in your business. If it's the marketing side, if it's the finance side, you need to have an [00:08:00] understanding. Go into a basic course, understand, like, I think a big element that we miss at school is like, how, what, what is like, how's our tax bans work?

Leah Chowdhry: Like, what is a personal allowance? Like, how do people like, why, when do we pay Nick? When do we not pay me? What is the concept of salary sacrifice? Like you, a big element of my business is that we work with employees where we have our childcare running through salary sack. So they take it pre tax. So employees are saving money.

Leah Chowdhry: Employers are saving money. But that concept for someone who has never been down the tax route is like, what, what? Like what's going on? And you'll realize that there may be even that basic tax course or understanding of financing, like will make you look at your own businesses in a very different way.

Leah Chowdhry: So that would be my advice. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. And then like those years you had there as well, obviously you said you learned a lot from like communications, all different kinds of skills there. What made it the right moment, you said, like, when did you notice that moment that this is when I want to launch [00:09:00] Pop Up Party and Play?

Leah Chowdhry: I knew when I wanted to leave. It was like, I'm, I think I'm very blessed that I don't always listen to my intuition, but I have a good intuition. Like, I know it will be like this, like all of a sudden, like same when I made a decision to Swim Swimming's channel, it was a, I've made the decision and this is going to happen.

Leah Chowdhry: And I bless my parents because they know when that's happening and when that's coming, like when I've made that decision, they're like, okay, let's just get out of the way. Like it's going to happen. So. I knew I wanted to leave. I knew I wanted to do something in the child space. I just didn't know what at that time.

Leah Chowdhry: And I initially wanted to set up children's nurseries. I did the numbers and for me it just didn't make sense. I think when I left it was like, it was a time where working from home had just started being introduced. And I just wanted to do something that I, I just did a bit of research and I said, well, why is childcare not as flexible?

Leah Chowdhry: People are now working from home. A lot more women are in work. [00:10:00] So the childcare is shared between two individuals, male and female, two men, two women, whoever it is, it's two people taking responsibility now. But childcare is still very traditional. It's eight to six. It's on one location. You have to go drop off.

Leah Chowdhry: Okay. There's wraparounds on schools, but I don't understand why it's so structured. So I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make, my main aim starting pop up party and play was I didn't want anyone to feel hindered because they have a child in their career. I want them to be able to exceed to the much or as little or however they want, regardless of they've got children.

Leah Chowdhry: And I found that my parents and my friends and. We're like, well, I had to take a career break or I had to go do this. And I wanted to stop that from happening, which is why I set up Pop Up Party and Play. And then 

Amardeep Parmar: what were the actual, like bringing the business together, right? Did that start, like, as soon as you left your job?

Amardeep Parmar: Did you start on the side? 

Leah Chowdhry: No,  I stopped my job. I think, okay, this is a very [00:11:00] controversial point, but I think that the moment you have plan B, plan A, becomes less direct. I think taking, cutting off options makes you work harder at plan A because you have no other choice. So I left my job, which I'm in a very fortunate situation.

Leah Chowdhry: Like some people can't do that and that's fine. Like I appreciate that, but I had to make it succeed because I had no other source of income. So I quit, I researched for a couple of months and then I was living like hand to mouth for a good three or like good six months till I won my first contract. So I had to make it happen.

Leah Chowdhry: I remember them times being like, I want to give up. Like, I cannot do this. Like no one's going to, this is so, I was dealing with white middle class men who just didn't have to worry about childcare and they were the ones that were making the decisions and they were the ones that were like, well, no one needs a service.

Leah Chowdhry: But I would go to their colleagues or [00:12:00] their, and they'll be like, this is such a great idea. Why has no one else thought about this? So it's just about getting a right run of, in front of the right people. And eventually I did. And I won one contract with a very big name and the doors all started opening.

Amardeep Parmar: It's interesting because I listened to something recently about how when the Spanish went to South America, right? What the general did there, he burnt all the boats. So there's no way they could go back home again. And In some ways, I give the opposite advice, right? And for the balance of, but the point is, even if you quit your job, you can always go and get another job again, right?

Amardeep Parmar: If you wanted to, if it wasn't working out, there is always that emergency plan B. And I think there's some, always people got to remember, because sometimes it makes people more scared to leave in some ways and think, if it doesn't work out that I'm like, I'm homeless, but you can always usually get a job.

Amardeep Parmar: If you've got the skills and you've done well, obviously not everybody does, and it's, you've got to know yourself pretty well, right? Have you got the skills? Have you got the ability to make it happen? And if you do, then it's likely you're going to be very employable as well in the future. Anyway, you mentioned there [00:13:00] about the decision makers, how does it work with your business?

Amardeep Parmar: Like who are the main customers or is it you getting individuals or is it more you're pitching to the companies and how do you go through that?

Leah Chowdhry: I think a big thing to learn when you're, when you're setting up a business is change. Be open to change. Your business isn't going to be what it was when it first started.

Leah Chowdhry: I went in doing B2C. So I targeted weddings. I targeted, like, kind of everything that needed childcare in on a customer side and it worked and it was very, it did very well. But I also realized after a period of time that I needed contracts, I needed annual contracts. So I switched to B2B and I still have B2Cs.

Leah Chowdhry: I still do like the VIP clients, but I tend to not do it as much because for me, it just didn't make financial sense. So when I switched to B2B, my clients range from members clubs, so like head of events at members clubs, I'll kind of have conversations with like the likes of WeWork, The Office [00:14:00] Group, and the community managers that put on events for their members, but then also we had conversations with Cannes Film Festival to have like a pop up childcare

Leah Chowdhry: on site at these kinds of festivals to make it more accessible to parents, to women, to men. So it really, really depends on the industry, but it tends to be more kind of the event side of things, but also small businesses like I speak to CEOs and they'll be like, I need to attract great talent and this is like a way to get people in and be like, we care about our employees and we care, we want to hire parents and we want people to stay and feel like they can have children and it's okay and they can still make career progressions in our company.

Leah Chowdhry: We want to support them. I think a big element. Of when I do it in the corporate space, businesses and companies is when parents don't want to take annual leave over half term. So we will come in and pop up in their office over school holidays. So they'll drop off their children with us. They'll work in the office and they'll pick them up at lunch, [00:15:00] then pick them up at the end of the day.

Leah Chowdhry: But which, which will result in them not having to take annual leave over school holidays. They'll take annual leave then later in the year and then they can maybe take them on holiday because they can afford it or whatever they decide to do. But instead of having all the parents taking annual leave at the same time, we can provide that service now.

Amardeep Parmar: I think it's a common thing for many people to think about business, always think about B2C and going straight to the customer. Because that's what we tend to see as consumers, right? Because that's who's targeting us, that's where the marketing is coming. But obviously when you go to the business side, that's where you can impact so many more people.

Amardeep Parmar: Do you have a conversation with one person in charge of a, let's say, a membership space? You're then impacting hundreds of people that work in that membership space with one conversation. 

Leah Chowdhry: Mm, a hundred percent. 

Amardeep Parmar: And that's the thing which I think more people need to sometimes think about when they start their business, like you said, about how you can impact people much quicker if you go through some of these large organizations.

Leah Chowdhry: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: And sometimes people have that, like they don't want to do it 'cause they want to be like scrappy and they get each individual person, but it's actually a lot of hard work. And like you said, that stability can come with. having those bigger contracts. [00:16:00]

Leah Chowdhry: Hundred percent. 

Amardeep Parmar: And if you did want to go B2C later on, you've still got that foundation, which makes it a lot easier.

Amardeep Parmar: You can, you don't need to worry about where's the next check coming from. ‘Cause you're like, okay, we've got this money here, but we can now also use that foundation to reach out to more people. 

Leah Chowdhry: Absolutely. 

Amardeep Parmar: Was that pivot hard for you though, when you were actually going through it? Did you, it's always difficult.

Amardeep Parmar: I think people when they've had this first idea that they really love. And then actually this one's better, but then sometimes they can make, sometimes you can be very quick about it and sometimes people let it go a little too long.

Leah Chowdhry:  It was  really tough. It was my baby and I was like, I'm going to go in and I'm going to help parents.

Leah Chowdhry: So it was, it was a challenging time and I debated it for a while and I think my advice to people who have, are going through that change is before you do anything, set your values of the company. I think if you have values within your company and you are like, I'm gonna do X, Y, and Z, um, mine was like, I want to make an impact to parents.

Leah Chowdhry: I want to make, I know I wanna do that. So the moment I needed to make that decision, I looked [00:17:00] back at the values of the company and I said, actually, making that switch to B2B is actually going to help me achieve kind of my mission as Pop up Party and Play. And that made the decision easier. So I think rather than focusing on your product and like, if it's tech software or if it's a service business or whatever it is, if you've got your values of like, your mission of what you've, why you've decided to set up that company.

Leah Chowdhry: Decision making becomes a lot quicker because you're just like, well, I know. I don't need to, I don't need to debate whether this is good for the company. It's, I know my values. I know my mission and therefore decision making becomes quicker. And what in turn is that when you hire people and they understand your mission and your values, they start making the decisions that are aligned to you too, because we're on the same journey.

Leah Chowdhry: So that for me. It was a big learning experience because it was important and I had done it, but I didn't [00:18:00] realize how important it was until I started making very crucial and big decisions. 

Amardeep Parmar: And obviously Pop Up Party and Play was growing amazingly well, but then you hit the pandemic and it was a big disruption to so many businesses.

Amardeep Parmar: And if your business is helping people when they're trying to work and their kids are like going to nursery and stuff like that. But then nobody's doing it anymore. It must have been a big shock to you. And how did you deal with that? And it must have been a very difficult time as well.

Leah Chowdhry: Oh, it was super, super challenging.

Leah Chowdhry: I tried a lot of different things initially. And I, I came from a place of pure scarcity. Really. I was like, let's go online. Let's do this. Let's do this. And I was, and I felt like after a while I ended up like diluting my brand a bit. Cause I was like, I just need to do so many things and I need something to come in.

Leah Chowdhry: And then I switched to as, I actually stepped into my spirituality a lot more. I've never, I was never overly religious, but I then had to be like, okay, let's do some, let me just do something a little bit different. And I think that's when I [00:19:00] went back into that kind of spirituality side and realizing actually.

Leah Chowdhry: Maybe God, whatever you believe in, if you believe in anything has a plan for me and I need to learn something else because to take my business to the next level, God thinks I need a different skill. And the moment I kind of switched to that, the opportunity started coming in. So then I got approached by companies to come in as their operations person, their COO.

Leah Chowdhry: And then I had that kind of two years during the pandemic where I was helping tech startup companies go through their fundraising, their series, the seed round their series a. So I got them to the next level. And once I had done that, I was like, now I'm ready. I've got so many more skills under my belt to take back to Pop up Party and Play to take it to the next level, which is where I am now.

Amardeep Parmar: And how did you find that adjustment going back to work with another organization? And it's obviously because at Pop up Party and Play, you could all of the shots, right? And then to work of a team where obviously there's different people who've got different, like you've got the hierarchy and the people who've got different stakeholders.

Amardeep Parmar: How did you find that environment? And how did being an [00:20:00] entrepreneur also help you go back into that environment to?

Leah Chowdhry: Set your intention, set your intention before you get into any of those situations. Have those conversations with people. Like I had multiple conversations with quite a few startups before I decided to pick the ones I did.

Leah Chowdhry: And I was just very clear with, I need to be aligned with you. I need to understand what you're doing sits well with me and vice versa. And I think it's the COO and the operations person in a company is very, very key in the sense of their values and missions. Because I found with the tech startups I was in, the CEO was very much the face and like doing the fundraising side, which meant the day to day running of the company fell on me, which meant that they had to trust me in

Leah Chowdhry: the filter, like my kind of views and my understanding of the company and my values would filter down to the rest of the team. So we had to be clear about that. And I think the moment [00:21:00] I stepped into those companies that the CEOs and everything trusted me. So I didn't feel like they were hovering over me or being like, you can't make this decision.

Leah Chowdhry: They were like I've hired you and put you in this position for a reason, do your thing, which I was very blessed about. So I never had that struggle of, Oh, why did you make that decision? Why did you hire that person? My last company, we were at eight people. We went to 45 within the space that I was there.

Leah Chowdhry: And I was kind of overseeing that and we hired the right people. So it's that trust element. So set your intention and make sure that you're aligned and trusting and it will kind of, I'm not going to, I'm not going to paint it as like a perfect picture. It's hard. Like you are ultimately no longer the person that's like, this is what I want and I'm going to do it.

Leah Chowdhry: You have to kind of understand, but now I've come back. It's made me a bit more open minded when people suggest things to me. Cause I've been on the other side and be like, actually, I think I'm now a better CEO [00:22:00] because of it. I'm like, I've been on the other side and I've been a COO and I can understand why you're saying that because you probably have more interaction with my team than I do on a day to day basis.

Leah Chowdhry: So I think it's worked in both ways. 

Amardeep Parmar: I think it's funny what you just said there. Cause I remember. When I had a job, then you get frustrated. Everything's, Oh, why are they doing that? Why didn't doing this for? And you, especially from the employee's perspective, you think that all the decisions above you can be wrong sometimes that when you go into the entrepreneurial role, yourself for the leader or yourself as, Oh, that's why they do this.

Amardeep Parmar: So that's why they do that. And you suddenly, I felt a bit bad as a car. I used to complain about this, this and this, because actually they were really just doing the best they could. And I think sometimes it needs to be better understanding between like staff and the leaders, because what's happened, I think historically is that the leaders or the CEOs, whoever always want to show themselves as strong and know what they're doing.

Amardeep Parmar: But we're all just people, right? It doesn't matter how big a business you're running. You're going to have doubts. You're going to things where, Oh, you're not quite sure about. And by being open about that or saying, I've got this going on my personal life. So I'm a bit stressed [00:23:00] out. You can really humanize yourself.

Amardeep Parmar: And I think that really helps. And I guess you've had that flip twice now. So you had from being an employee to then become your own boss and hiring people, then to going back to being an employee, but still having, it's an interesting role as I said, instead of COO because you're simultaneously, it's not your company, but you're making big hiring decisions.

Amardeep Parmar: So you're in that weird limbo zone, right? Which is obviously very difficult to manage and it takes a lot of skill to do that. And as like you're growing, growing company now and you're back full time again, what's the things that you're excited about for the future with it?

Leah Chowdhry: I'm at a very beautiful time I'm going to do things differently this time, like I'm going to make a lot of changes.

Leah Chowdhry: I think I'm going to do things a little bit differently. I think that was a beautiful point you made where there needs to be a better relationship between kind of the leadership team and everyone, like everyone in the company. A big philosophy I would live by is Fail, right? And it stands for first attempt in learning.

Leah Chowdhry: Fail. Like, fail. Like, I failed. I failed so many times. And [00:24:00] you need to show those vulnerable moments. And I don't really want to call them weaknesses, but like difficult times to your team. 

Amardeep Parmar: It's imperfections, right? You don't have to be perfect. You've got imperfections. We all do. 

Leah Chowdhry: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar:  But then when people know that they can really humanize you, it's just this big evil boss who's whatever, it's harder.

Leah Chowdhry: Absolutely. And I've realized since I've kind of taken that philosophy on that my team have like gone to the next level because they're telling me things and they're thinking outside the box more than they did previously, because they're like. Well, if I get it wrong, it doesn't really matter. My lines, my job's not really on the line.

Leah Chowdhry: It's kind of like an idea that I'm going to throw out there. And those are the moments where I'll sit in a meeting with my team and they'll be like, what about this Lee? And I'm like, holy crap. Where, where? And they're like, actually I was in the bar and I was like, what? And that's when I'm like, do you know what?

Leah Chowdhry: Sometimes they do really like, like sit don't work and that's fine too. But then it's worth. [00:25:00] All those, like, really crazy ideas, when one's right. Like, when one's right, that's the one. Because I think, when I thought of Pop Up Party and Play, it was that one idea. Like, I had so many ideas that I wanted to think about childcare.

Leah Chowdhry: But it was that one crazy idea of Pop Up Party and Play, and mobile childcare. On site at different locations that suddenly became a thing. And like, I always think like I heard this, I was listening to a podcast the other day. I think it was actually like Will Smith said it like, he was like, one day someone crazily thought of putting people in a metal

Leah Chowdhry: cylinder and just like wrapping over and then just flying people over water like just one what? Like that is a crazy concept but some some person thought about it one day like let's put people in a metal cylinder and let's fly them over water and that's it. Like I want my team to think like that. I don't want them to think Oh my god, if I mention this I'm failing And therefore I'm not even going to [00:26:00] think of the idea.

Amardeep Parmar: So speaking of crazy ideas, I think most people listening will think the idea to swim the channel is pretty crazy. 

Leah Chowdhry: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar:  So where did that come from and how did all of that preparation go?

Leah Chowdhry: My journey was actually been quite a long one. I started, so I swam the English channel to raise money for charity, but my journey of giving back actually started when I was very young.

Leah Chowdhry: I'm from Indian heritage. I went back, my parents, my dad was born here. My mom was born in Ludhiana, but came over when she was about six months. So my first trip back to India was when I was seven. I went back and I remember the exact point when it like reality hit me was when I was in a car in Delhi traffic, it was really hot and we were sitting inside the car with my mom and dad and my brother, we were in air conditioned.

Leah Chowdhry: On the way to a five star hotel to have a beautiful lunch with our family. And this little girl came up to the window and the people that have probably been to India know exactly what I'm talking about. She was disheveled. She was unkempt. She had [00:27:00] a little, her baby sister on her hip and she was knocking on the window, like gesturing for food.

Leah Chowdhry: And that moment in my life profoundly changed me, even at seven years old. I just did not understand we had, why my life was so different. I was brown, she was brown, just because I was born into a different family. Why the hell, like, why did I deserve my lifestyle and she deserved that lifestyle? And that was a moment I realized I was put on this earth to do something about this.

Leah Chowdhry: Like, I don't know what it was. So then I was like, I don't know what to do. I'm only seven years old. So I was like, I want to do something that's big for me. And at the time. I decided to give up chocolate sweets and fizzy drinks because that was my love. That was my passion. Um, so I gave it up for an entire year.

Leah Chowdhry: I went home and I spoke about it and my teachers were like, okay, this is amazing. We're going to donate. And I didn't want to raise money. I just kind of wanted to do a personal sacrifice. I remember raising like a thousand pounds was [00:28:00] huge for a seven year old. And a few years later, I went back and visited a school for blind children and bought braille books for them.

Leah Chowdhry: And that's kind of where my journey started. And I, and I kind of wanted to carry on giving back and serve. It was always focused on children, as you probably understand my business, my whole life, my whole philosophies around children. 

Amardeep Parmar: Focusing on your theme, yeah. 

Leah Chowdhry: Here's my theme. So it's always been focusing on children.

Leah Chowdhry: I think the reason why I focus on children more than any other kind of demographic is I feel like children don't always have a choice. They are put in situations and they don't choose to be in. And I want to help give voice to individuals that can't always speak up. So always, it was always focused on that.

Leah Chowdhry: So I ran the London Marathon and I did a quite a few number of kind of charity events leading up to the channel. The reason why I decided to do the channel is I actually went back to Mumbai to find my next project. I was like, right. I'm ready for my next project.[00:29:00] 

Amardeep Parmar: Hi everyone. I hope you're enjoying all of the wonderful insights that leader's given us so far. Just a quick note that we're about to dive into some very serious topics regarding sexual assault and if that's a triggering topic for you. Please skip ahead to the latter parts of the podcast. Let's get back to the show.

Leah Chowdhry: And it was actually the British Asian Trust who I spoke to and they, they have a, a kind of project they support in the red light district in Mumbai. And they took me into one of the projects. So this project was where families had sadly sold, like sold their daughters to the better life. They thought the better life, but actually it was forced into sex, um, sex trafficking.

Leah Chowdhry: So these had been like sold into the industry. I actually went. into one of the brothels. So I went in and it was, it was awful. It was unkept. There was wires everywhere. It was rat infested. It was, it was absolutely awful conditions. I went into one of the rooms and there was... Three planks in [00:30:00] there that were slightly raised, three women were sitting on these planks of wood, all these pots and pans and, and their whole livelihood was under these, these benches and they were just malnourished, bruises on their arms.

Leah Chowdhry: There was actually a tally on the wall that was like in carved, like, and I asked the social worker, like, what, what, what is this tally? And they said, well, actually the pimp will give them a number of clients they've got to serve. And the moment they've served those number of clients, they will then get released.

Leah Chowdhry: The tally changes every day. So they never hit that. So psychologically, they've been bruised like mentally. And as a psychologist, this just like tore my heartstrings. One of the women, they're tied to their beds when they're, when they're sold into the industry. They will not get to see light of day for years.

Leah Chowdhry: One of them was like, was tied to the bed for three years and I didn't leave there and they were bruised. And I was just so overwhelmed by emotion that they were forced into this and they were raped on a daily basis and they were, [00:31:00] and I was just, my whole, like just li, I remember the life just coming out of me and being like, I can't believe this happens.

Leah Chowdhry: And then all of a sudden, all these children started running in 3, 4, 5 year olds. And I was like, what? Who are the, who are these kids? Like, why are they in this like a brothel? Like, and the social worker came around to me and goes, these are the children of the women. They've had, like, they've been raped or they've had got clients and they've fallen pregnant.

Leah Chowdhry: They were like half Chinese, half black, half white, like and they've fallen pregnant and they've given birth and I said, but where do they sleep? Like, what, where's the, they sleep underneath a plank of wood with these with, with these pots and pans. And on a daily basis, they watch their own mothers being raped and have performed sexual activities.

Leah Chowdhry: And that was the moment as a child psychologist, I realized that I will not live in a world where children have to witness this. Like, I would, it just. I'm not, it's not happening. I was [00:32:00] in tears and I just didn't know what I needed to do, but I knew I needed to do something that would make sure that this will not happen.

Leah Chowdhry: So I flew back to the UK and I researched, um, and I was like, I want to do something so ridiculous. People ask me this question. You asked, why the hell did you side swim the English channel? Not only that, as a first British Asian woman, why? Like no one else has done it. Why do you want to do it? Because I can tell the story.

Leah Chowdhry: This is a reason. So I can tell the story. I. managed to raise 100, 000 for this charity. So the 100k went to build a shelter for the children next door. So they now go from the school to the shelter, so they don't have to go into that industry. So it's kind of like broken that cycle. Um, and the parents, the mothers will go into the shelter and visit them rather than the children having to go into that, be exposed to that lifestyle.

Leah Chowdhry: But that was the main reason why I decided to do it. 

Amardeep Parmar: And how was it? So it's difficult for me to even know what to say back in some ways, because that's obviously such a... difficult experience and it's so amazing what you've done there. How was that process of then [00:33:00] actually swimming the channel and getting yourself ready?

Amardeep Parmar: Because I guess in my head, it's like, because actual mission that will just drive you so strongly, right? Where it doesn't really matter how hard it is because you know, it's coming up on the other side. It's worth it. And I guess, do you have any other big plans in the future? Any new challenges you want to take on and potentially help people more?

Leah Chowdhry: Yeah,  I think on the first question in terms of like, Your mission and everything. I think I'm human. Like sometimes that story is a great story and it's like amazing and inspiring, but I'm a human being. And I remember when I was trained, it was an 18 month training process and it was intense. I was training like eight to 10 hours a week.

Leah Chowdhry: There were days where like my body hurt so much. I couldn't even sleep. I was up in the night crying all night. My body hurts. My, I got a really bad stomach infection. I was like being sick. I couldn't process food. My hair was falling out. I was gaining weight. Auntie's were being like, you're looking fat. So my confidence was being knocked.

Leah Chowdhry: Like I'm a human being, like this story is difficult, but like, I'm also human. And it [00:34:00] was a really, really tough time, but you're right. Like I had to focus at like, again, it comes back to that thing of like, I made a choice to do this. Those children weren't, they were never given that choice or that voice.

Leah Chowdhry: So I had to keep thinking about that. So that was kind of like my motivation. Um, but I failed a lot of times I had qualifying swims where I was pulled out and was told like, you can't do this, but it was all a mindset thing. I think something that was really key and learning for me over that period of like swimming the English channel was

Leah Chowdhry: 67 percent of that swim was a mental game. Like mentally you have to be in a good place. And I think that's what comes onto my next mission is that why I've decided to write my book, making a Splash was it's so much of a success or whatever you want to define a success is a mental game. It's a, it's, you need to mentally be in the right place when obstacle come in or things happen where that doesn't quite go your way.

Leah Chowdhry: Those are the pivotal moments of when [00:35:00] you will be successful or you will not. It, that is the moment. And that's what the importance of my book is, is that I can attitude in the moment where, like you just can't see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Amardeep Parmar: So it's so  incredible what you've done and I think we're gonna have to get you back on again to quote your book again in the future because we're running out of time.

Amardeep Parmar: So we've got to move on to a quick five questions now. The first one, which is always the hardest, is who are three British Asians that you'd love to shout out that you think people listening right now should be paying attention to or following? 

Leah Chowdhry: I am a, I love Dr. Rangan Chatterjee. I think he has, he got me through the pandemic.

Leah Chowdhry: He got me through those times where I was doing like two hour walks. He has a long form podcast, but he also has his bite size on a Friday. I think he is just absolutely inspirational. He gives you quick tips and it's like his philosophy is that kind of you can help your wellbeing through kind of holistic approach.

Leah Chowdhry: It doesn't always have to be medicine. So he is someone like I, Yeah, listen to you regularly. I also think my [00:36:00] mum, she is phenomenal. She is an author and a coach. She's the one that's kind of driven me, inspired me. One that kind of makes me realize that anything is possible. Yeah, her company Savran has like an Instagram that does a lot of inspirational quotes, but she also is a coach as well and is a big person.

Leah Chowdhry: But I know that you've had him on, but my brother, I know it sounds crazy because I said two people in my family. But if you listen back to his kind of talk with you is that he's gone against the grain. He was dyslexic. He was literally told that he couldn't even pass exams. And he is now like the biggest pre seed investor in the UK, which is phenomenal.

Leah Chowdhry: But he does it with, I think with him is that he runs his company, but he's also very humble. And a value of his is that kind of like giving back. And I think that having that kind of between the two of like being able to be successful and make money, but also the importance of giving back and that. As a CEO, I think that's so unusual to see.

Leah Chowdhry: So I think they're probably the three people.

Amardeep Parmar: So with reasons why I can confirm, because obviously I [00:37:00] see people behind the scenes. 

Leah Chowdhry: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: So behind the scenes, like after our podcast and he's like offered to help us, he's put us in touch with people. So not everybody does obviously, right? And like he's been really helpful and really kind in that way too.

Amardeep Parmar: And I think he shouted out your mum as well. So he's got a double shout out now, so she's doing well. 

Leah Chowdhry: Oh no, she's doing really well, yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: And then the next one is, if people are listening right now and they're looking for guidance, What could you potentially help them with? 

Leah Chowdhry: I think for me, I think my main thing is that what I've realized over life is that it's okay to not know what you want from life.

Leah Chowdhry: Like I think people come on here on your podcast and they've, they've done things, they've achieved things. And I think sometimes as a listener, you may feel quite overwhelmed and being like, I don't know my purpose and I don't know what's going to happen. Like I was blessed that like seven years old, I found I want to work with children and I want to give back.

Leah Chowdhry: And this is my importance. I think for me, like, I think sometimes having that conversation, like reach out to me, like I'm on Instagram, like at Leah Chowdhry, like talk, like let's have that conversation. Let's talk about it. Let's like find your [00:38:00] passion, your purpose. I think a lot of my friends, my clients, my like students will come to me and be like, I don't know what I want.

Leah Chowdhry: And I think because I've been so blessed to find that so early, there's always like asking the right questions, and I think I feel like I can support people to find their purpose so that the moment they found their passion, they will be successful if it's business, giving back, whatever they want to do.

Amardeep Parmar: And then on the  flip side, what's something you need help with right now? What could somebody help you 

Leah Chowdhry: with? Well, as we kind of touched on a little bit is that I've got My book, Making a Splash, that's just come out. Um, the book is a children's book. So aged between like three year olds and nine year olds.

Leah Chowdhry: And it's a picture book. And the book is all about kind of the importance of giving back as well as having an I can attitude. It's got activities in the back to kind of help children do that. But all of the net proceeds are actually going to Cancer Research UK for young children and people. Um, so yeah, go out and buy the book.

Leah Chowdhry: I actually do talks about it. I go into schools. So if you would like me to come to your children's school, reach out. I would, I do [00:39:00] assemblies, but yeah, go and buy the book and spread the word because I want children to understand the importance of giving back and the importance of their mindset and they can achieve anything they want in life.

Amardeep Parmar: I love that. So really enjoyed this podcast and having you on today. Have you got any final words for the audience? 

Leah Chowdhry: Don't be scared. Just do it. Like take that step, take that leap of faith, like even if it's like a 10%, start that podcast, write that book. Just take one small action and the rest will follow.

Amardeep Parmar: Hello. Hello everyone. Thank you so much for listening. It makes a huge amount to us and we don't think you realize how important you are because if you subscribe to our YouTube channel, if you leave us a five star review, it makes a world of difference. And if you believe in what we're trying to do here, to inspire, connect and guide the next generation British Asians,

Amardeep Parmar: if you do those things, you can help us achieve that mission and you can help us make a bigger impact. And by doing that, it means we can get bigger guests. We can host more events. We can [00:40:00] do more for the community. So you can play a huge part. So thank you so much for supporting us.