Sam Collins, founder of Aspire & the M.A.D. movement
The award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of Aspire talks women’s empowerment and how we can all Make A Difference
When award-winning social entrepreneur Sam Collins created Aspire more than a decade ago, she could not have anticipated the impact she would have on more than 25,000 female leaders all around the world. Aspire empowers trailblazing women leaders, giving them the practical tools, networks, and inspiration necessary to achieve their goals. Dr Sam Collins discusses women’s empowerment, social entrepreneurship, and why we should all go M.A.D. and Make A Difference.
What made you decide to dedicate your career to women’s empowerment?
Sam Collins: I have been a closet feminist since I was very young. Some of that comes from having strong values of fairness and equality. I was the kid that would always say: “That’s not fair!”. At school, I did metalwork and woodwork classes whilst all of my female friends were doing the cooking classes. My father made me do physics and sports as well and I was always the only girl in class so I learned about equality very early.
What inspired you to create Aspire?
Sam Collins: I was inspired by my mum. She was a stay-at-home mum and she went back to work when I was a teenager and had a very successful career. It was in the 1980s and she had those power suits and fabulous hair. I admired her a lot.
However, she found it very hard to climb up the ladder and balance her career and family life. When I was 21 and in my final year of university, my mum took her own life. It was very hard for me — she was my best friend, my mother, my everything.
So 9 years later, I realised I wanted to start an organisation that would support women and inspire them to be leaders, have a fulfilling life, and make a difference — all those things that my mum was trying really hard to do. So I started Aspire and here we are. 13 years on and still going strong.
How did you become a social entrepreneur?
Sam Collins: I spent a number of years trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help people but I wasn’t really sure how. Then I decided I want to start my own business. Most people were quite negative about it, saying that I was too young, I needed more experience, or that I didn’t have a good network. They were mostly people who loved me and who wanted me to have a nice, secure job. But I just knew that was not for me and that was not my destiny.
To this day, there are people who put my work into question. Some say it’s not needed anymore, or dislike the fact that I’m a feminist. I used to get upset by it but I don’t care anymore.
You are writing a book called Radio Heaven: Business as Unusual. What is it about?
Sam Collins: The book talks about the unique idea of the things that happen to you throughout your life. They can become your destiny if you chose to pay attention, trust your intuition, and take action on them. It’s about designing your life, your dreams, and your destiny, and making a difference. I’m so excited about that book — it’s my first one! I have never believed I would write a book. I look forward to the release next year.
What are your future plans for Aspire?
Sam Collins: We have some pretty big plans. The Aspire Foundation and Aspire will merge to become a socially conscious company as opposed to nonprofit organisation. For me it’s important that we are the company that has social values and makes difference to the world.
My role model is Anita Roddick and the early days of The Body Shop. I admire how she grew the company to be socially responsible and launched successful campaigns. This is where we want to go. We want more inspiring women to participate at our events, to motivate women and girls all around the world to make a difference.
You’ve worked with more than 25,000 female entrepreneurs. Can you pinpoint the core traits of a successful leader?
Sam Collins: The most successful women I know are really smart about their time. They are not running around whining about being busy and how hard everything is. They have learnt to be very smart about playing to their strengths and having a good team around them that they empower. They have also learned that the most important thing in their lives is that they are happy.
Many women are so fearful, they worry all the time. The best female leaders that I’ve met still have their worries but they move through them much faster. One of the reasons they are able to do that is because they have more time and they are happier, they get more sleep, they are less stressed. All that makes them able to make good decisions and not to be so fearful.
As I always say, if we were less busy and got more sleep, the world would change dramatically for the better.
What does success mean to you?
Sam Collins: It means that I can give my kids a kiss every day and I can put them to bed every night. I work no more that 30 hours every week and that’s plenty. For me, it’s always family first. My kids are pretty hard work but I love them and I try to be around them as much as I possibly can. I enjoy spending time with my husband and friends.
Then success for me is when I feel like I’m making a difference. It’s not about the car I drive, the house I live in, the office or the title I have. We need to change the way we measure success. So many women don’t want to be in FTSE or Fortune. Although I applaud the women leaders who are there and who made that change happen, I also want to see more recognition of small entrepreneurs, of stay-at-home mums, of female social entrepreneurs. I’d like to see more measures of success out there that recognise women with small businesses as opposed to women in large corporations.
What would your motto be?
Sam Collins: Go M.A.D. now! Realise what makes you sad, emotional, angry, frustrated, passionate—and then do something about it! No matter how small your action is, we can always contribute and make a difference.
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