B.Listening: Celebrating Kindness and Community with Pinky Lilani CBE DL

Podcast episodes
In this episode, we speak to Pinky Lilani CBE DL, Founder of the Women of The Future Programme, about her incredible work as an advocate for women and the power of kindness in business success. 

The community we build is different, it’s full of people from all backgrounds, all ages, from all professions. We have 14 categories of awards from entrepreneurship to professional to science to media. And I love that. The community is so inherent to people that are very different and who can be with us on that journey.”

About the guest: 

Pinky Lilani CBE DL is is an author, motivational speaker, food expert and women’s advocate. She is the founder and chair of several awards recognising influential women and leaders, including the annual Women of the Future Awards and the Asian Women of Achievement Awards.

About the host 

Broadsword is a multi award-winning event communications agency specialising in live event experiences including working on the Women of The Future Awards and The Asian Women of Achievement Awards. 

Read the transcript below: 

Christine (host):

Hello and welcome to our podcast series created by us here at Broadsword called B.Listening.

Today we have an incredible episode with an amazing individual, a food guru, author, motivational speaker, and internationally acclaimed champion for women, the founder of the Women of the Future programme, Pinky Lalani. Welcome to the podcast, Pinky. 

Pinky: Thank you so much. It’s such an honour to have you here. I’m really excited. 

Christine: For those who don’t know, the Women of the Future programme and all its events. Could you tell us what the program is all about? 

Pinky: Well, Women of the Future actually began really a long time ago when I set up the Asian Women of Achievement Awards in 1999. And that was something I wanted to do because I felt Asian women got no recognition in the country. They were seen as frying onions at the house, but they were doing some amazing things. So I set up the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, which was quite successful. 

So in 2006 I decided I want to do something for other women and for young women, for women of all backgrounds. So I set up the Women of the Future Awards and following from that came the Women of the Future Network, the Master’s Program, the Summit and we kept adding more brands to it. So that’s where it all began. 

Christine: What is the inspiration behind the start of the Women of the Future Program? 

Pinky: I think the inspiration must have been because I love meeting people, that’s part of my life. I love talking to new people who I don’t know. So I actually talk every single day to people on trains and buses by asking them what they do. And very often people tell me nobody ever asked them about themselves. And that’s where it all began. I wanted to meet different, interesting people.

The Women of The Future is for women under 35 from all backgrounds. So really a little bit of a distance from the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, which had no age limit. And I just wanted to meet these people and help them on their journey because, by then I was that much older and I saw how life had been with me. So I wanted to help other people. 

Christine: Did you face any challenges along the way? 

Pinky: Yeah, you always have challenges. Sometimes it’s the way you look at it. And I think, for me, what’s been really interesting is how to be innovative and creative — I always try to think of ways that are different to what everyone else does. 

So one of the ways when, you know, just to give you a little story, is when somebody asked me to give my first lecture. And by then I’d begun cooking. I didn’t know how to cook when I came to the country because we had one of the best chefs in Calcutta. And I had to learn to cook because I love having people over. So anybody who hears this podcast, and then says I want to come and meet you, I will make some spicy Bombay potatoes for you. So I began to learn how to cook. And every time I was invited to speak, I’d say, can I bring my electric wok and make spicy Bombay potatoes? And I think those are the things that really helped me on my journey, doing things differently. So really, it’s for women being the best version of yourself. 

And also asking. They say the only thing you get for in life without asking is an infectious disease.
Everything you have to ask for. 

So I remember in the first year when I did the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, everyone said you should invite the Prime Minister’s wife and Tony Blair was Prime Minister. So I got in touch with Downing Street and said, will Mrs Blair come to my awards? The first year we’re doing it. And then they came back and said, yes! So I was so excited. So I asked them the next question. I said, will she wear an Indian outfit? And they said, well, she doesn’t have any. So I said I can bring some to Downing Street. So I got some outfits from India and took them down the street and she wore one of them. And she has now become our patron, a great friend and just so inspirational. 

Christine: It’s incredible what just asking something can bring to life in a sense. 

Pinky: Absolutely. I think we all have to ask and if people say no, don’t feel bad about it. Try something else. 

Christine: Can you tell us about the community and the impact that’s been built from 25 years of creating these experiences? Any special moments or learnings that stand out? 

Pinky: Yeah, you know, I’ve developed a theory called the theory of the seven Q’s of success. That is your IQ, your EQ, your MQ, the meaning quotient, and what I used to call CQ being communication quotient. I’ve changed now to courage and curiosity. So for me, even though I’m that much older than most of the people I work with, I’m still very curious and I think we have to learn. And I think you have to do things that you’ve never done before.

So my whole journey has been about, I love the story because many years ago my younger son told me he wanted to do an MBA at Saeed Business School Oxford. And being an Indian mother, I said, oh God, yes, you must go to Oxford. 

So he said he was going around and I said, I’ll come with you. And so he kind of took me along with him. He was looking around Oxford and I went inside the office and said, what do you guys do for women? So they looked at this middle-aged Indian woman and said, what do you do? So I told them about the Women of The Future, the Asian women, and I was so grateful he got in. And then I got a call from them to say, would I be the keynote speaker on the first day of term for women? And so I told him, oh my God, I’m so excited. And I told him, I’m speaking on the first day of your term. Don’t tell any of the women who you meet because if I make a mess, nobody will date you.I must have hit it right because he actually married one of them who was there to hear me speak. 

So I think, you know, the whole journey and the community we build is different, it’s full of people from all backgrounds, all ages, from all professions. So we, you know, with our awards, everything we do is not just one category we have. We have 12, 14 categories of awards from entrepreneurship to professional to science to media. And I love that. The community is so inherent to people that are very different and who can be with us on that journey. 

Christine: Through the programme you supported so many women in business. What do you think are some common traits that you’ve seen that drive these women to be successful? 

Pinky: Yeah, there are a lot of traits that people have. Everybody comes with a different set of values, but I look at values all the time. So my own values that I look on when I’m interacting with people is do they have integrity? Do they have humility? Do they have kindness? Do they have compassion? Are they super clever? 

So I think when I look at all the people I meet, so many of them are so clever and they’re very good at what they do, but they have curiosity, they have integrity, and they have kindness. And they’re also very willing to listen to others and make them part of their journey. So they all like that interaction. So I think to be social and to love people is something that all the people I meet have that quality.

Christine: It’s something I feel so special is learning to listen and how to listen to people and their stories. You talk about kindness being the DNA of women of the future. Can you tell us why you think kindness is powerful in business, success and leadership? 

Pinky: Yeah, I have a mantra and my mantra is you have not lived a perfect day unless you’ve done something for someone who can never repay you.

So I think kindness lies at the heart of almost every community and culture and religion. You have to be a kind person. And I think really, in 2018, we set up Kindness and Leadership 50 Leading Lights because I felt kind leaders went a long way in helping everybody else, helping their own reputation too if you were kind. And I think it’s something that helps everyone on the journey and you can never be too kind. 

I always think of Aldous Huxley and he had this amazing life full of such phenomenal research and somebody out you know towards the end of his life asked him can you give us some advice and he said after all these years the one thing I’d say is be kinder than you have to and so for me kindness lies at the heart of everything we do. 

Christine: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and what is the key advice you often share with all the women around?

Pinky: I think the best advice which I got I guess when I was growing up, my parents was, be a kind person, be a good person, help others, and try to be the best version of yourself. So my advice to people is don’t try to be something that’s difficult, that’s not you. I have a hearing problem, and so I’m very careful that I let people know that. So when you are, you know, the advice I would give is let people know about yourself, be open about yourself and do the things you care about, you love. 

So I love cooking, so I will make that part of my life and bring something different into others. And I think also the advice I give people is the people in your life are very important. What’s helped me more, if I can see further, it’s because I stand on the shoulders of giants. So I think, you know, the people who you have, who are part of your life, is absolutely integral to your success. So my advice to them is meet the right people, be nice to them and be the best version of yourself, be authentic. 

Christine: Thank you so much for coming on our podcast today and sharing such incredible words of wisdom and how to be curious. I’m going to take that on board myself.