A bit about Manasa and why she interviewed Monica:
I am interviewing Asian women enterpreneurs as part of my thesis for my MA in english studies at the University of Copenhagen – My thesis explores female entrepreneurship, with a special focus on women from India and the South Asian women from the diaspora in Britain. It is a comparative framework of their respective developments within entrepreneurship, with regard to the difference in their external environments and access to resources. It has more of a socio-cultural aspect to it, rather than a business focus.
Without further ado, i’ll fire away with my questions!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, education, work experience?
I was born in the UK to Indian parents who migrated to the UK in the early 1970’s after they got married (although my mother had already spent her teenage and early adult life in the UK studying). I studied LLB Law at UCL, London and graduated in 2002. I am now a full time Property Lawyer and partner in a London based law firm. I undertook my 2 year training contract at the same firm I currently practice in. My passion has always been netball which I have played since I was 10 years old. I have played the game at club and county/regional level. Our biggest achievement has been playing in Division 1. In 2010, I started running netball tours and since then our programme has grown at an incredible rate, really taking off in the last 12 months.
What was the motivation for starting your own venture?
I have played netball all my life. I was on tour in Uganda in 2009 with a charity teaching Tag Rugby when I came across the school netball team in the Army Boarding School in Jinja, Uganda. They were playing with a patched up ball and hand made bibs. I was of course instantly attracted to them. For the rest of the week that I was in Jinja, I spent an hour after my Tag Rugby coaching session working with the Army Boarding School netball team. It was so inspiring to work with the girls because they were so hungry to learn more skills from me. Upon my return to the UK I spoke with the chairman of the Tag Rugby Trust charity and asked if I could come back next year and teach netball. He said “yes” and that’s how it all started in 2010. I went back with 2 netball volunteers and we kick-started netball in 2 primary schools. Since then we have completed 3 tours to Uganda and 2 to India and coached over 3500 primary school girls and boys. We have also conducted coaching programmes outside of these tours in other states in India over the last 6 months. We now have 41 schools in Uganda and India enrolled in our programme. These children lack access to basic sport facilities and equipment. My inspiration/motivation is letting children “play!” I strongly believe every child has the “right to play” and we can give them the opportunities to do this, therefore we are “Making a difference through netball.”
What were some of the main challenges you faced while setting up the firm?
Money – lack of funding so it was difficult to buy equipment such as balls, bibs, nets etc and cover costs to run pilot projects.
Time – Initially I was doing it all alone.
Volunteers – recruiting people to come on tours.
Exposure & publicity – Nobody knew us at the beginning. So it was difficult to get things done and get people to donate/contribute and even listen!
How did you respond to these challenges?
Money – At the moment we run on our own internal funding. All tours are self-funded by the volunteers who come with us. We are making grant applications and people are now kindly making donations as they see the fruits of our labour. We also now have people helping us fundraise.
Time – I work with a truly wonderful (and small!) team now who are all passionate about netball. We all work voluntarily for NDT, no one is paid. They are all volunteers who have been on tour and have continued to help us post tour.
Volunteers – We contacted leagues, regional areas, anyone involved in netball and voluntary sports organisations putting ourselves out there offering people to come on tour to have a once in a lifetime experience. This has led to good size tour groups compromising of UK and in-country volunteers.
Exposure & Publicity – Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have exposed us. We became a registered charity in 2012. Gaining charity status has shown we are “serious” as an organisation and therefore we have been able to get more exposure at International and super league netball games, in magazines, and at events.
Was gathering finances a problem? If yes, why do you think it was so?
Yes, as a charity it is difficult to get people to donate in the current financial climate and the charity market has become so saturated. We operate on very tight budgets and rely heavily on volunteers self-funding their trips, the generosity of donations, fundraising at events (e.g. cake sales) and the selling of merchandise (e.g. wristbands). We never have any surplus cash! We are always making grant applications but as of yet we have not been successful in gaining any grant funding. However I hope winning the AWA in Sports will give us the exposure and get us some financial backing/support.
What were the reactions of people around you, i.e. Family, Friends?
Family – My mum has always considered my playing netball “as a waste of time” as it was not allowing me to achieve academically. But over the years she has started to change her perception and winning the RBS Asian Achievement Award in Sports was really a proud moment because I think she finally saw 3 years of hard graft being recognised. She now does take interest in what I do netball wise and always ask about how the charity is running. I hope one day I will take my mother on a tour with me! Friends – they have always been supportive of what I do.
Has your journey so far been influenced because of your background, i.e. your South Asian heritage?
In a way yes – Coming from an Indian background where my parents pushed me academically to achieve I wanted to show them that I could study and play netball and do well at both at the same time. It also makes me more determined to show sport is good for you and can enhance other aspects of your life. Studying is not everything and an “Indian woman” can be good at playing a sport. I am the only Asian girl in my netball region/league and have been for many years.
Has your whole journey been in any way influenced because of your gender?
Partly – Netball is considered a female sport in the western world. But in many eastern countries both men and women play. I wanted to do something different (rather than just teach girls how to play netball) and make us (i.e. the Trust) stand out. As netball is a non-contact sport it was the perfect opportunity to allow boys and girls to play together which has been naturally successful and our model has worked. We have coached over 3500 primary school girls and boys since 2010. We are the only netball charity that is gender inclusive.
Do you identify yourself as a female entrepreneur?
Yes as a sports entrepreneur, although I have yet to make any money from it!
Do you think there are any special attributes to such a category?
Determination, self belief and sheer hard work!
How would you define success?
Success is having dreams and setting yourself targets/goals and then trying your utmost to achieve those dreams and targets through hard work and determination.
Would you call your venture a success?
Yes, definitely. We have coached over 3500 girls and boys in 41 schools over 3 years. We have completed 5 tours with 30+ UK volunteers and equally plus more in country volunteers. We have 20+ in country Young Leaders who have been trained to run the programme. We are expanding every year and getting into new states and partnering more organisations to diversify and introduce the teaching of life skills through netball by working with our local partners and NGO’s in both countries.
In Uganda our coaches and young leaders are training more children all year round and the netball committee we have help set up in Mbale is regularly organising inter-school tournaments and getting the local netball club we resurrected (Mbale Tigers) more involved with delivering netball coaching in schools on a regular basis.
In India we have just introduced netball to an organisation called SAMPARC which sets up schools and orphanages in South Western India for orphans, children of sex workers and other underprivileged children. . In February 2013 we organised a 4 day training camp in Malvali, Pune, Maharashtra at their Medical Centre. Children from four SAMPARC schools and 8 other schools located in the district joined the camp. We delivered an intensive coaching camp to 235 girls and boys and on the last day they all participated in a netball tournament. This school then recently (May 2013) travelled to Delhi to participate in the One Nation Netball Cup (the first ever of its kind in India).
What are the future expectations you have from your enterprise?
Set up netball academies.
Expand our footprint in Uganda and India – more schools and children.
Expand in to new countries & expose netball more across the world.
Train more young leaders and teachers.
Set up infrastructures in Uganda and India for grassroots development, netball clubs, leagues and trial selection processes.
Have one of our young children who has been through the programme playing internationally for Uganda or India;
Expanding our partnerships – so we can introduce the teaching of life skills through netball.
Working with the Federations to develop netball;
Create job opportunities for our in country volunteers as paid coaches, teachers etc.
Take in-country volunteers abroad. For example a Ugandan volunteer to India and vice versa;
More tournaments – The One Nation Netball Cup in India was the first of a kind held in May 2013.
Recruit more volunteers.
Work with universities and youth organisations in the UK.
Acquire more funding.
Do this full time!
Manasa: Thanks for sharing your story with me! I wish you and your team all the best for your Uganda tour and the programme!