Mona Shah spent the first 18 years of her life in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then moved back to Pakistan, where she is originally from. Her husband, Shaz and she have two children, Mina, 27 and Ash, 20. Mona completed her Business degree just before Ash was born in 1998. They moved to England in 2006, as Ash was diagnosed with autism in 2001 and they needed a better future for him. Shaz is an engineer, so they came here on the Highly Skilled Migration Programme. Since moving here, Ash has been going to a special needs school and is now in college. Mona worked for four years in Corporate Governance in an NHS Mental Health Trust in Cambridgeshire, before starting a social enterprise, called Harry Specters in 2012 that offers awardwinning chocolates and employs young adults with autism. They felt they needed to give back to the community for all the help Ash has received, and this felt the best way to do it.
1 Which place, or city or country do you most feel at home in?
I have been living here for 12 years now, and when I go back to Pakistan, I feel homesick for England. This is the country
that made it possible for Ash to lead a normal life, so this will always be where my heart is.
2 What are your proudest achievements?
There are quite a few, not least taking the right steps to get a better future for our children. But the proudest and most fulfilling would be starting Harry Specters and being able to help so many people affected by autism. Getting numerous awards for both our chocolates and the social cause, considering we started from a tiny workshop at the back of our house.
3 What inspires you?
Creativity truly inspires me, whether through art, unique business models or beautifully crafted chocolates.
4 What has been biggest obstacle in your career?
Coming to terms with the power play in a workplace. Trying to deal with the politics while just wanting to get my work done. So even though leaving my job in corporate governance and becoming an entrepreneur was a massive challenge, it was one I welcomed.
5 Who has been the biggest influence on your career to date?
I haven’t really been influenced by anyone, I just strive to do the best that I possibly can. But I must add that without the love and support of my husband and kids, I would not have been able to achieve what I have done to date.
6 What is the best aspect about your current role?
Having a vision and the freedom and ability to realise that vision. I can get things done quickly and efficiently, without worrying about red tape.
7 And the worst?
There is no worst, but being a social entrepreneur is a huge responsibility and the challenge is to keep the balance between your business and social cause, so neither suffer.
8 What are your long term goals?
To expand Harry Specters all across the UK, creating hundreds of jobs for autistic people and benefitting local communities.
9 If you were Prime Minister, what one aspect would you change?
Invest in science and technology as that is the core strength for the UK. This includes making funding available to educational institutes to ensure they are equipped to do the research required.
10 If you were marooned on a desert island, which historical figure would you like to spend your time with and why.
Winston Churchill as he was a true leader and one that I can learn so much from. The leadership trait that truly inspires me from Churchill is: “Never Give In”. If you have clarity of purpose, passion and ability to act, nothing can get in your way even in the most difficult times such as war.