This week I interviewed Yasmin Choudhury, winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year at the British Muslim Awards for her social entrepreneurship business, Lovedesh. Waking up early to talk to me on a Saturday morning, Yasmin was full of energy, despite the time. She jumped straight in with the background on how Lovedesh started. During a visit back to her father’s homeland in Bangladesh, Yasmin felt that she wasn’t experiencing the true Bangladesh; she wanted to know more about the journeys and lives of the locals there. She took action and decided to get out into the community to talk to them. Understanding how it felt to be ostracized from a community, she began to build friendships with the women around her. Yasmin says, ‘What do women do when they get together? They talk and cook!’ Being involved in the grassroots of the society gave Yasmin a new perspective and introduced her to the arts of her heritage that she hadn’t experienced before.
On returning home, she began thinking of a way to empower those women and ‘put pennies in their pockets’. Yasmin believes economic empowerment can help to change the lives of these women which is why Lovedesh is an entrepreneurship and not a charity. The Bangladesh she had experienced was not always represented in the West. This led to her developing Lovedesh and its sister charity, Amcariza. Yasmin’s aim for Lovedesh is to help the West see the Third World in a different way, to ‘To smash the stigma that surrounds these nations.’
One example Yasmin now incorporates into Lovedesh is a ‘Lovedesh Dawat.’ (Dawat in Bengali means an invitation to eat food prepared in your honour.) This is a dining club with the mantra that ‘if a great dining experience of a ‘Third World’ nation starts from within your home turf in the UK, you are more likely to be open minded in visiting it.’ The hope is to introduce people to a side of Bangladeshi culture that isn’t often promoted. Another taste experience is Lovedesh’s Wood Fire Curry, cooked ‘using spices smashed on a granite slab and then roasted in hot oil over a live wood fire’, replicating how the food is made in Bangladesh.
If tasting isn’t for you, Lovedesh also provides a fashion and design rangeYasmin has worked with ‘remote Bangladesh weavers and artisans’ to create product ranges which include bracelets, bags & purses. This has the added benefit of allowing neglected techniques and handicrafts to form part of a business venture for the locals in unique designs aimed at the Western audience.
If you would rather jump straight in and experience Yasmin’s cultural hotspots first hand, Lovedesh Voyage provides boutique trips including a ‘unique 13 day escorted tour on the trail of the Royal Bengal Tiger’.
To say Yasmin is hands on is an understatement; from live curry trials around the UK where she shows you how to cook, to hand-cutting leather bracelets, Yasmin is out and about, displaying her passion and representing the ‘Third World’ in a new light through Lovedesh.
Lovedesh has featured widely in the media and now, with the accolade of The Entrepreneur of the Year award, Yasmin’s mission is being noticed and commended. She was visibly emotional as she received her award. On collecting it, she revealed to the audience that her role model was (and is) Khadija (RA). When I asked her what advice she would give to other would-be entrepreneurs, she said to ‘be honest and authentic’ in what you do. Yasmin is inspiring but she still isn’t used to being described as such; she explains, ‘I may look glamourous on social media, but it hides the hard work and barriers that I have to face on a daily basis. Especially being a single mother.’ One of Yasmin’s own personal challenges is that she raises her daughter and her ventures without a husband or partner. She left behind the security of a corporate city job to create Lovesdesh and self-funds the project. She recalls how when she asked other entrepreneurs for advice, that they would share the joys but not the hard work behind making their ambitions come true. Yasmin wants others to know that, if you want to achieve your dreams and break the status quo, it is a struggle.
But ‘It is our duty to support each other,’ she says. What struck me about Yasmin’s response to my question on how she achieved Lovedesh’s success so far was that it wasn’t the super-rich or famous that have made the difference. It was the ordinary people who believed in her. And that is why the British Muslim Awards meant so much to her, because people voted to support her.
It was uplifting to find out about Yasmin and her work. It resonated with me because I have had my own personal experience of visiting a country that is so often accompanied with negative connotations. Yet by showcasing the countries in a different way and the personal contributions its people make to it, we can help to eradicate the narrow negative views of these culturally rich and diverse places. Yasmin plans to add more and more countries to the Lovedesh community and I look forward to seeing how Lovedesh grows.