In conversation with Serial Entrepreneur – Adeem Younis
The below interview was originally posted by asiansuk.com
“I’ve witnessed him bring about lasting change for countless individuals & families”
James Caan CBE
Adeem Younis is the founder of one of the UK’s most effervescent and diverse charities, Penny Appeal. Adeem, who once relied on school meals, has now served over 49 million meals to those in need.
So, let’s hear more from Adeem himself and try to gain an understanding of how he grew Penny Appeal into £20million foundation within 8 years.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Adeem: Three words? You’re not making it easy for me. I think I’d say: ambitious, open-minded, nostalgic.
Ambitious, because I’m exceptionally driven. Anyone will tell you this. I push myself to be the best I can, and I expect excellence from the teams around me. I’m a big believer in grafting. Putting in the hours, pulling all-nighters, doing whatever it takes to get the job done! That’s what it means to be ambitious to me.
Secondly, I’d saopen-minded. I love it when I’m proven wrong, and it happens a lot! I think it’s great to have your ideas tested, to be challenged, to put yourself up to scrutiny. If you pass the test, great, if you don’t, that’s fine – use it as an opportunity to learn. In all my work, I’ve always embraced innovation and I’m always open to trying new things.
And finally, nostalgic. I was going to say traditional, but that’s sort of at odds with being open-minded. What I’m trying to say is that there’s no school like the old school. I still live in the same town that I was born and raised in, I like to keep things simple, and I like anything that reminds me of the olden days, when life was much simpler!
Long before you even anticipated Penny Appeal, we had some very well-established Muslim charities. How did you manage to surpass these and become one of the UK’s most recognised in 8 years?
Adeem: When I established SingleMuslim.com, we were doing something that no one had tried before in our community. I mean this was in the dial-up age. We were at the cutting edge of understanding marketing and communication in the Asian community. When Facebook and YouTube first became platforms that people used, we were on there, reaching untold numbers of people.
I hear you asking - what led me to establish the first British Muslim dating site? It’s simple: mum felt it was time I settled down, and dating was a no-no! So how else was I to search for Mrs Right?
In my business I learnt some hard-earned lessons on marketing and growth, but then I was able to take all that insight and bring it into the charity sector. So, very quickly Penny Appeal became a household name. We then translated our online presence offline, with comedy tours, theatre productions, concerts and a fresh identity; a charity that was celebrating Muslim diversity and making charity affordable and rewardable. We were upbeat, positive, and fun, and appealed to a newer generation. I think that’s a big reason as to why we’ve seen such a groundswell of support.
That being said: as you rightly pointed out, things can so easily be twisted and taken out of context, with the most ridiculous and hurtful things being said. Fake news spreads like wildfire. Ultimately, it hurts our beneficiaries, because we must waste time and resources responding to false allegations or attacks on our work or staff. The sad truth is, that if ever we are contacted directly about any issue, we usually get to the bottom of it very quickly. It’s when people start hearing things second or third hand, that we end up in the fake news world. Undoubtedly this sort of the thing is all normal these days, but I would hope our communities would be a little more discerning when it comes to WhatsApp forwards or angry Facebook rants!
Personally, my vision is my focus, my inspiration for Penny Appeal will always remain close to my heart and ultimately my passion for making a difference and helping others will always remain my driving force. So, whilst making every effort to address all concerns, I always look ahead and remain steadfast so as to limit the implications on those whom we need to support.
With success comes scrutiny; you are no stranger to this. Matters raised can easy be taken out of context and spiral into unrecognisable and illogical monsters. However, the way you handle this level of analysis is most admirable. You listen and are very forthcoming. How do you remain comfortable and find the resilience to address concerns?
Adeem: Scrutiny comes with the territory and rightly so. People donate to Penny Appeal because they trust us, and that trust is hard-earned, and people are right to know what happens with their hard-earned donations. Our organisation belongs to our donors and we welcome critique and feedback from anyone and everyone. At the end of the day, we want to be the best we can be in every regard.
From the countless projects undertaken by Penny appeal, which is your most memorable?
Adeem: I mean, we’ve raised over £100 million for good causes; there’rtoo many stories to even think about! In fact, I breakdown some memorable case studies in my book, Small Change, Big Difference: The Penny Appeal Story – I talk about the secrets and struggles of what it took to build this humanitarian movement. Cheeky plug there - you can get the book on Amazon or your local bookshop!
What was your question again? Right, memorable projects. I think one of the stories that stands out the most, is the inspiration behind me founding Penny Appeal in the first place. My business had been doing well and I wanted to visit the village where my father was born. I lost him when I was just six years old, and I wanted to go back and explore my roots. This was when I first saw the reality of extreme global poverty.
This is what gave birth to our vision - it’s all about small change, using our small change to make a big difference in the lives of those who need us most.
Every charity is dependent on its team members. Your team members ‘Team Orange’ live and breathe the ethos of Penny Appeal. They have so much enthusiasm and love for what they do that it radiates right through them. How do you achieve this level of commitment?
Adeem: That’s very kind of you to say. Look, there’s no secret, there’s nothing like Team Orange. From our board and our staff, through to our donors and volunteers, Penny Appeal has become more than a charity. It’s a movement. When we founded Penny Appeal, I would often see charities asking for inordinate amounts of money; it just felt inaccessible. At Penny Appeal, we believe a pocketful of pennies can really change the world. We wanted to make charitable giving affordable and accessible - everyone wants to do their bit and that’s what we do, we empower everyone to make whatever contribution they can: little or large, everyone’s welcome. It’s only through working together that we can go on to achieve big things.
With regards to our Team Orange staff, our ethos is simple: we want people to be themselves with no judgement; we celebrate diversity and empowerment. Team Orange members are encouraged to innovate and implement their ideas, and given full ownership of their approach. I firmly believe an organisation is only as good as its team and so we should provide an environment to allow them to be the best that they can be.
"Penny Appeal has become more than a charity. It’s a movement."
Who is your inspirational role model?
It might sound a little cliche or cheesy, but I have to say my mother. Now, my mum’s not like other mums. Look, as I mentioned, I lost my dad when I was just 6 years old. My two sisters and I had become orphans. In the 80s, my mum would have been written off, a single mum, born in Pakistan, without a job, who’d lost her husband – what chance would she have had? But she refused to become a statistic. She grafted. Worked hard. Learned to drive. Got a job. Started a market stall. Did whatever she could to give me and my sisters a better shot at life. Everything I am today, everything we’ve been able to achieve, £100 million and more, is all because of her. We can never replace our elder generation. I wish I knew my dad. I wish I could just sit down with him for a cup of tea and talk about his life and all the things he did, thank him for giving us what he did when we were kids. I’ll never have that chance, not in this life anyway. So many of us are blessed to have our elders with us; we should all take the opportunity to spend a little bit more time with them, learn from them and thank them for all they have done for us.
Tea or coffee?
Adeem: If I’m staying on brand, I should really say a cup of Orange Juice! But nah, nothing like a proper Yorkshire brew or if I’m in the mood for it, some traditional desi chai. Untouchable!
If you would like to learn more about Adeem Younis, then click the book or one of the links below and grab your copy of his autobiography:
Small Change, Big Difference: The Penny Appeal Story
Order your copy via: Amazon
Order your copy via: Penny Appeal
THURSDAY 10 MAR 2022