When I founded my first business, aged 17, never did I imagine that journey would take me to where I am now. Every year we grow a little more, fail a little more and hopefully learn a little more too. And the more I’ve learned and the more I’ve seen and done, the more I’ve realised how little I know and how there’s more to see and more to do than can ever be seen or ever be done.
At some point, early on in my career, I realised chasing outcomes was never going to be enough. I was brought up with the idea that money doesn’t make you happy, but I didn’t really believe it until, well, until started to make money. Of course, it was nice to have things that I couldn’t have before but it didn’t bring me the contentment I thought it would. It’s no surprise the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, taught us that if we were to have a mountain of gold, all we’d desire is another one.
The big shift happened for me when I founded Penny Appeal. The charity began for me as a healthy, spiritual counter-balance to my worldly-entrepreneurial endeavours; a reminder of the blessings I had and responsibility that came with success in my business-life. However, as the charity began to grow and I began living the life of dedicated humanitarian that’s when my journey really began.
From the inception of Penny Appeal, we were moved by a vision. It was more than fancy slogans and mission statements, it was an aspiration that brought together the faith in my heart, the ideas in my head and the resources in my hands. Even though it was a small effort, especially in the first few years, it brought me a sense of contentment that my business endeavours never could.
It’s no surprise the success of Penny Appeal has, in many ways, outstripped the success of my businesses. From humble beginnings, the charity has evolved into an institution serving millions of people across the world as well as right here in the UK too. For me, 2017 has been the year of Penny Appeal. After years of diligent groundwork, so many different elements have come together to take the charity to soaring heights I could never have imagined.
From meeting Prime Ministers and Presidents to the countless features across renown international, national and local media outlets, reaching literally millions of people with our vision. Penny Appeal has become more than a charity, it’s become a movement. Beyond the record-breaking amount of funds raised, people served and events run, this year saw new partnerships with an array of institutions as well as a whole host of incredibly accomplished role models including Yusuf ‘Cat’ Stevens, James Caan, Baroness Warsi and even the Mayor of London. We’ve set up new offices in the UK and around the world, while nurturing our relationships with international partners too. Our trophy cabinet is bursting at the seams with more accolades and recognition than we’ve ever had and our numbers of staff and volunteers have almost doubled.
What I’m most poignantly proud of this year is our commitment to investing in the poor and vulnerable right here in the UK. Each of our international programmes are now matched with a domestic sister-project under our re-branded “Penny Appeal at Home.” The effort now commands an annual 7-figure budget and growing. Note, it’s not parachuting money into the big gaping wounds of our society, rather, our team diligently and strategically addresses the root causes of poverty and work to tackle them in all their ugly forms. Having this work recognised at the highest of levels and finishing the year with our nationally-trending Winter campaign, was more than I could ever ask for.
As I reflect on all of this momentum (and what I’ve described is really just the tip of the iceberg,) I can’t help but feel indebted to the unsung heroes behind the scenes who have made all of this possible: my wife, my mum, my kids, all of whom have been the backbone of all that I’ve been able to do. Our leadership teams and executive office who keep the ships running on full steam, all of our staff and volunteers, from the top to the bottom who each contribute their skills and gifts and help shape the work we do. I say it all the time and I’ll say it again: it’s team work that makes the dream work, and when the dream is thriving, all praises due to God, it’s because the team is striving!
One of the seemingly oxymoronic teachings in Islam, oft-repeated by our fundraisers, is the Prophetic tradition that states charity does not decrease one’s wealth. Some interpret this metaphorically, that while your finances may deplete, your character and spiritual vitality, bloom. Others insist on a more literal interpretation, that by giving to those in need, God will ensure much more will find its way to you. Personally, and by personally, I mean experientially, I’ve found both to be true.
The first beneficiary of any donation is the donor themselves, and the first beneficiary of Penny Appeal, has indeed been myself. Just as I took my fledgling resources, burgeoning businesses experience and digital savviness to help incubate and nurture Penny Appeal, I see the dividends of chairing this award-winning humanitarian movement ooze into every sphere of my life.
Fuelled by our vision to embody the highest ideals of our faith through serving those in need, Penny Appeal has allowed me to see and do, that which I never thought I’ll be able to see or do. I’ve met people, I never thought I’d be blessed enough to meet, let alone work with or call my colleagues and friends. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve been honoured to be able to serve my fellow sisters and brothers in need across the world, in ways I never dreamed I could.
This is the power of a vision that is laced with light and love. We never chased big numbers or ran after celebrity endorsements. They came to us. We believed in something greater, even when Penny Appeal was a small idea, a pocketful of pennies to help transform the world, we were content with what we aspired to. Just as back then, we continue today to look beyond ourselves and envision a sustainable world with empowered people and strong communities. This past year we have reaped the fruits of the hard labour we had seen in the many years prior. I close the chapter of 2017 comforted with the knowledge that much more has been planted for the months and years to come. I have no doubt next year’s harvest will be more bewildering than ever before and I can’t wait to get stuck in.