Written by Kush Kanodia
Updated: 27 Sep 2021
Can you tell me about your background and your career prior to On Purpose?
I graduated from Kent University with a Management Science degree and started work as a contractor. I worked with organisations such as the BBC and HSBC and then moved into investment banking with Morgan Stanley.
I left banking to become a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Choice International. We are an NGO focused on helping disabled people around the world with a particular focus on India, Asia and Africa. I and the other two founding partners established the organisation because we all have lived experience of disability and first-hand knowledge of systemic inequality. I like to use Stephen Hawking as an example to explain why I do the work I do. Then, strangely enough, I actually had the honour of organising one of his last speaking events for the Jack Ashley memorial lector before he sadly passed away in 2018.
One of the only reasons we know of Stephen Hawking is because of the assistive technology solutions that enabled him to achieve the profound insights he did. Would we have known he was perhaps the cleverest person in the world if he did not have access to this support? How many geniuses like Stephen Hawking have been born around the world, who did not have access to this support and who the world did not get to directly benefit from their profound wisdom?
What are you doing now?
I would classify myself as a social entrepreneur. Over the years I have developed a portfolio career in four main areas: health and wellbeing, technology, sports and employment and entrepreneurship. Disability empowerment has remained the common thread in all of these portfolios.
For the last ten years, I have been a disability and BAME rights campaigner who has been successful in facilitating systems change, predominantly for disabled individuals, within three major systems: the Premier League, the NHS and currently, councils in London & England.
Earlier this year I joined The Kaleidoscope Group of Companies as their Chief Disability Officer. Their mission is to empower disabled entrepreneurs and individuals seeking employment, as well as to educate other organisations and equip them with the knowledge they need to give disabled individuals the fair opportunities they deserve.
However, I started my journey as a campaigner when I was a trustee with the Charity Level Playing Field where we advocated for proportional representation for disabled football supporters with our Accessible Stadia Guide and successfully transformed the Premier League and each of their Premier League football clubs. We managed this by raising awareness, working with media organisations and by passing a bill in the House of Lords.
I used this model of change in order to establish the #NoWheelchairTax NHS Campaign* which led to the abolishment of all disabled car parking charges at 206 NHS hospitals across England. Thanks to the campaign over 2.5 million disabled people can more easily access critical healthcare. By working with MPs from all the main political parties, the campaign was included in both the Labour and Conservative party manifestos and the day before the 2019 general election, I received formal support from the Liberal Democrat party.
Following on from this campaign, I’m now aiming to create a standardised and compassionate disabled parking policy throughout London and England. This involves increasing the currently allocated one-hour free stay for disabled drivers in inner London to a period of four hours and for it to be free for all other councils in London and England. Since the beginning of September the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have agreed to this change, enabling street access to three of the leading NHS hospitals in England; Chelsea Westminster, The Royal Brompton and The Royal Marsden. The success of these campaign has led to a shortlist nomination for the 2020 David and Goliath Awards presented by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make a change?
One of the things I used to contemplate at Morgan Stanley was ‘What is the social value I add by making a millionaire a billionaire?’ Am I actually creating social value or am I removing, through increasing inequality between everyone else around them? Whilst working there I specialised in risk analytics and tried to get involved in various social impact initiatives, but this only really utilised a minority of my time as I still had the day job.
At what moment did you decide to make the change?
When I was at Morgan Stanley, then Lehman Brothers collapsed, the largest corporate bankruptcy in the history of the world at the time. It was then that I started to realise that the business model of profit without purpose, was redundant going forward. There has been a gradual trend since then of organisations trying to rebrand themselves by placing a greater importance on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) but it was before this pivot that I realised I personally wanted to make a change. For me the point of no return was when my job moved to Hong Kong and I was offered opportunities there and in Mumbai and I rejected both of these opportunities. I travelled the world myself and experienced first hand the vast amounts of poverty and inequality. It was at this point, I knew I wanted to do something to address the issue of inequality in society.
Why did you join the On Purpose Associate Programme?
Before On Purpose I was a social entrepreneur but the only experience I had in the third sector was with the NGO I started. I hadn’t learnt about the wider social enterprise or the charity sector. I had completed an MBA previously but I didn’t want to go back into education. I liked that the program allowed me to work within two six-month placements and undertake learning and development with one half-day of training per week. Learning about what was happening in the sector was an essential addition to my skill set as an effective changemaker.
One of the other key advantages of On Purpose is the network you can develop through connecting with other Associates in overlapping cohorts. While your formal placements occur across two organisations, you can network with individuals in other partnered organisations, and all the other Associates. When you consider all these potential contacts the programme ends up being a phenomenal networking opportunity.
What was the most difficult thing about making this change?
It’s difficult to make this change when you’re pivoting from a career you know well. When I started working for corporates it was a respectable badge of honour. Just the mention of your organisation when networking gave you a tangible brand and some gravitas. When you work for small to medium enterprises you have to learn the intricacies of a whole new sector and you don’t know how it’s going to grow or change. It’s definitely a risk moving to something that’s unknown.
When factoring in the pay differential of joining On Purpose I tried to equate the Associate Programme, along with the included mentoring, coaching and networks to a mini MBA. When you consider these factors as part of the equation there isn’t much of a financial loss - indeed you're actually gaining a few additional skill sets and it does help to de-risk the career transition with the guaranteed job placements.
Can you tell me more about your placements?
My first placement was with Internews Europe which is an international development organisation which aims to improve the health of information environments to realise the potential of a digitally connected world. Whilst there I focused on developing their corporate strategy and became involved with mergers & acquisitions, which I loved because I’m a strategist.
For the second six-month placement my role was focused on timebanking and helping to organise a strategic launch event. To be honest I didn't enjoy this as much as my first placement. Of course, placements can always be a little hit and miss. The truth is that even if a placement doesn’t have you working in the exact role you had imagined, this can help you figure out the kind of positions you don’t want to go into in the future, and allows you to compare and contrast different organisations and their cultures.
What’s the most important thing you learnt during your year as an Associate?
To focus on my values and purpose. Even if it may not necessarily be the most financially advantageous for my career, I learned to remain focused on my calling. If you take this attitude, then I believe that financial remuneration will eventually follow suit. If you can enjoy what you do every day, then it’s not work and On Purpose helped me to realise this. The placements helped me to get the experience I needed and gave me the time to align my values and purpose to my chosen career, which I am really grateful for.
What support did you get along the way?
The mentoring and coaching included within each placement was a real source of support. It added value to my experience of the program, and was really critical, because most of the training involved things I hadn’t done before. I was really grateful for the opportunity to discuss my personal development with my mentors. The coaching revolves around how you can add more value to your professional journey and it was actually my first time working with a coach. I found this to be a really beneficial part of the program.
I also had support from the wider network of Associates, which included people in my own cohorts and other cohorts. On Purpose is a really unique experience so I developed a very strong bond with the others taking part in the programme.
How did your year with On Purpose set you up for your new career?
After I graduated from the programme I joined NHS NEL Healthcare Consulting, which I was able to connect with through the On Purpose network. I became a management consultant in the NHS and learnt how the healthcare system works but soon discovered there were some structural inequalities and inefficiencies to tackle. It was working here that enabled me to begin challenging the healthcare system as a disability rights campaigner, augmented by the experience I gained on the Associate Programme. In my time at NEL, I realised that you can’t necessarily change the system as easily from within and so in later years I was elected as a Patient Governor by the public and continued my systems leadership work in the NHS.
What advice would you give to others in a similar situation?
The programme is a great opportunity to learn and develop because it’s so comprehensive in terms of the placements you’re given, and I’d liken the experience and value of the program to a mini MBA. When I’m watching SAS Who Dares Wins, they often say that sometimes you need to take a little risk in life, and that definitely applies here. If you know what you have done historically doesn’t really work then you need to try something new.
What do you miss about your old career, and what don’t you miss?
There were a lot of good fringe benefits in my old career that I miss, like complimentary membership to the best casino in London. In the private sector, I liked working hard and striving for excellence but what I realised was that even when having a 9-5 culture it doesn’t mean you have to stop striving for excellence. I carried on this striving for excellence in SMEs and the Public Sector, I optimise and maximise everything that I do and it’s helped me to succeed in whatever I was doing.
I don’t miss the single-minded focus on profit. Corporate culture can also be mean and petty and for me that’s unacceptable in this day and age, because it’s important to work with care and compassion. Unfortunately, the truth is you see this behaviour in all industries, fortunately I have always been confident in calling it out. Back then I tried to influence the culture, but mostly because old ways and patterns of working are often so embedded and top down in large corporate organisations, it did not seem to really have a lasting impact. Once you become a changemaker and systems leader you can create a caring culture which is key to any kind of transformation and with systems change there is always a future legacy.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
It is a real honour to be a champion for equality and inclusion, being a role model for billions and being a systems leader and changemaker for millions of BAME and disabled people.
Kush has won 2 awards related to disability and been a torch bearer for the paralympics in London 2012. In 2019 he was recognised as the 2nd most powerful and influential disabled person in the UK with the Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 at the UK House of Lords. He has won numerous awards and recognitions for his work on behalf of BAME rights including being recognised one of the Top 10 most influential BAME leaders in the UK tech sector by the Financial Times and Inclusive Boards at the UK House of Commons; BAME business leaders index with Green Park at Somerset House; Entrepreneur of the Year - Asian Achievers Award at the Governor House; Social Entrepreneur of the Year - with TiE London.
*Disabled people have been disproportionately impacted by Covid19, accounting for ⅗ of all the fatalities, the campaign was meant to be implemented in April 2020 but has been delayed to Jan 2021. To discover and read more about other campaigns supporting disability rights we recommend visiting the Disability Rights UK website.
Written by Kush Kanodia
Updated: 27 Sep 2021