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My speech to graduating community leaders

On 16th July I gave a speech to graduates of the SOAS University Community Leadership Programme 2012 – a post-graduate diploma that empowers young people to become active leaders in their communities.

I was invited by the course director, Sham Qayyum, to speak along with other distinguished speakers including Ohid Ahmed (Deputy Mayor of Tower Hamlets). My speech focused on overcoming challenges. Firstly by sharing the challenges I’ve faced in my life, and how I overcame them. Secondly by highlighting the challenge of unemployment in our communities, and how community leaders have a key role to play in helping people get into work.

Afterwards Sham said, “Your speech was very inspiring and all my students told me that they were positively encouraged”, and Professor Menski commented that it was an inspirational speech and exactly the sort of message he wanted his graduates to hear. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Professor Menski, a European, speaks perfect Hindi!

This is what I told the graduates about overcoming challenges:


Thank you for your warm welcome. Distinguished guests, Ladies, Gentlemen and all graduating community leaders, I’m thrilled to be here with you tonight.

I feel deeply honoured and humbled to have been asked to speak at such a meaningful occasion. I’m proud of everyone who is graduating today and would like to congratulate each one of you. You should all be proud of what you have accomplished in your lives so far.  I’m looking forward to meeting with you later tonight.

Today I’d like to share three things with you, including the hurdles I have experienced since leaving India in 1986 for higher education, how I overcame them and one challenge I believe you must address as community leaders.

First, the major hurdles I have experienced and how I tackled them. As soon as I stepped off the plane in New York, I was a fish out of water for the first time in my life: different food, different language, different culture, different religion, very low socio-economic level, very restricted passport and the list goes on. For example, I was totally shocked to find that I was considered ‘weird’ by Americans because I was a vegetarian and a teetotaller! And didn’t know anything about American lifestyles.  Hence I couldn’t build relationships with locals easily.

I had to work hard to untangle this problem.  I did it by becoming an integral part of the community. For example, in 1988, to ingrain in my local community, I became a volunteer fire-fighter and paramedic, and I was even nominated for a life-saving award. Since then participating in my community has become a constant part of my life.  Currently, I serve as a magistrate at Stratford Court and as a governor at Tower Hamlets College. Participating in community activities has helped me overcome cultural challenges, developed my networking skills and my ability to connect with disadvantaged people.   It has become a secret of my success.

Within months after moving to New York, I concluded that the only way forward was to invest in my future and decided to save every dollar. While studying and working over the next six years, I saved at least 50% of my earnings.  I rarely ate out, but still had the most delicious food everyday… because I cooked it myself! After saving 50,000 dollars, I joined UCLA for an MBA and graduated with the Dean’s Outstanding Student award, the highest award given to any student.

But still no investment bank gave me a job. Eventually, after going through 31 interviews with Goldman Sachs, I got a trading position on wall street. Out of the 350 new associates hired that year by Goldman, I was one of just five non-white associates and the last one to be hired. 

I continued saving at least 50% of my earnings. With my savings, I started Global Markets Consultants in 2002 in London and have continued saving at least 50% of my earnings. My savings have played an instrumental role in supporting my company since the financial crisis. Investing in my future has become a cornerstone of my life and a second secret of my success.

When I started my own company, I faced the obstacles of having to work in different world cities and do business with people from all over the globe. In order to grow my business I needed a global profile. So I addressed this problem by living a global life in London and learning about different cultures, people and cuisines. I enjoy socializing with people from all backgrounds and different socio-economic levels to increase my range. I have travelled to more than 75 countries, including far flung places such as the South Pole and the North Pole. Most recently, I visited Ghana and learned a lot about the history of the slave trade.

Over the years, I’ve undertaken numerous challenges and raised more than 100,000 GBP for charities. I’ve run the London marathon, done the London triathlon, climbed to Mt. Everest Base Camp and Cycled 500 Km in Vietnam and Cambodia. These experiences have greatly boosted my emotional intelligence and warmth.

This third secret came in handy a couple of weeks ago when I had lunch with the Queen on the top table and visited a homeless shelter within 24 hours! I was able to communicate to both with equal ease.

So those were the main hurdles I faced after leaving India and how I got round them.

But as Nelson Mandela once said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” I’m still climbing hills! And I’ve never stopped living by the three secrets that transformed my life and made me a multi-millionaire in twelve years after moving to the US in 1986:  integrating in the community, investing in my future and acquiring a global profile.

Finally, I’d like to talk about what I believe is one of the biggest challenges facing our communities in the UK. At the same time, it is a great opportunity for you as community leaders can deliver change and make people’s lives better.

The challenge is that a huge number of people in Britain either have no jobs or have no confidence in their future prospects. Getting jobs has become extremely difficult, especially for our young people. You must tell people in your communities that the rules of the game have changed. Competition for jobs is like the Olympics.  If you want a medal, you have to be in the top three.  And you have to compete with people from all over the world.

Let me tell you, after the London Olympics are over, no one will talk about the 100 countries which fail to get a single medal. The same is unfortunately true of our people struggling to get a foothold in the job market. Our communities need leaders who will uplift disaffected people unable to compete and help them get back in the race by equipping them to be self-motivated and self-reliant.

You need to teach them how to win by the new rulebook. You can do this by encouraging people in your community to increase their skill sets and broaden their horizons – which will improve their motivation, confidence and self esteem. That’s one big challenge I see. But there are so many challenges you can tackle as community leaders.

I’m confident that you can put your training and passion towards making a positive impact on your communities. On this note, I’d like to conclude by congratulating, again, all the graduating students.  I’m proud of you.

I’ve overcome all sorts of challenges in my life, including language, cultural, socio-economic, immigration, educational and business. The secrets of integrating in the community, investing in my future and acquiring a global profile have helped me overcome all of them.

I’d like to close by telling you that “Leaders need support.  What they usually get is advice”.

I’ve given you enough advice, so now I will offer you my support. I’m here to support you as community leaders.  If you need me, you just have to ask.  My doors are open for you.

Thank you very much

Written by Prem Goyal