Dr Sam Collins <br/>Aspire & Aspire Foundation Dr Sam Collins
Aspire & Aspire Foundation

“I’m a normal person who aims to do extraordinary things and I don’t let much get in my way, I keep challenging my belief systems, I don’t let people or situations stand in the way, I see them as opportunities even if they are scary”

Where did your personal inspiration, entrepreneurial/leadership purpose come from – what shaped your views?

A reality check…….well here I am a mother with the flu sitting in my pyjamas and its 9.30am and yet, I was up at 4am this morning because I wanted to see how our Afghanistan initiative is going – Sam is talking about an initiative that Aspire launched 2 days ago where anybody can share words of comfort with woman in Afghanistan, in 2 days they have had over 600 messages.

Sam continues, sharing an insight into her refreshingly down to earth perspective. I sit here in California, stunning views of the mountains, safe in the knowledge that my 2 boys and family are safe, I’m not depressed, facing any form of threats. My life is comfortable, we are in no danger this gives me a massive perspective kick.

Talking about herself, she explains that as an entrepreneur trying to make a difference whilst at the same time as managing life as a mother, partner etc she reflects it’s important to have a bigger view of your own little world and feel like you are doing something.

She believes that as a purposeful entrepreneur even when it looks big and scary (her vision), she has learnt that every day you can take action towards this, she has an inner voice that is constantly reminding her that she and we can do something to make this world better.

How my past positively shaped my future

I’ve recently attended a leadership programme that gave me the chance to explore this question in greater depth. What I know is that the tougher times in my life have made me very resilient and driven. I am driven to stand up for peoples’ rights and to advance the rights of women.

My dad was equality focused, he got me to work in metal work as I was the only girl, he wanted me do an A level in science as all of the boys were doing this, there were a lot of good things that came out of this and we have a great relationship.

What’s the purpose of Aspire and the Aspire Foundation?

My sister and I were laughing recently when we were thinking back to when Aspire started in a little flat in Essex, in a little make shift office in my home. I live in California now and I am working out of our garage, this keeps it real for me. It’s a virtual organisation bound by its values and vision, which is to make a positive difference in the lives of women and all of the things that came from that.

The official start of Aspire Companies was November 2001 and the Aspire Foundation was registered in February 2010. Even though they are 2 separate organisations in different countries Aspire UK ltd and Aspire Foundation US charity, it feels like they are becoming closer entities as time goes on. If you like, they are becoming Siamese twins. At its origins I wanted to make the foundation very separate as I didn’t want it to be seen as a gimmick or tax thing.

The moment Aspire Foundation was born….

“1 in 8 women in Afghanistan die in child birth. I sat there and told myself that it was now time to do something, even thought I was 8.5 months pregnant”

I was pregnant with Charlie in 2009 and he was born on November the 1st 2009, I was feeling sorry for myself, Robert my husband was looking after my other son. I sat down to rest feeling heavily pregnant. On TV there was a report about pregnant women in Afghanistan; the irony of my complaining suddenly hit me! Here I was in California with a great husband, beautiful son and chocolate, watching an Afghanistan pregnant woman on a donkey going to a birthing centre who was about as pregnant as me, I found it really hard to watch.

The woman eventually makes it to the birthing centre, has the child and dies. 1 in 8 women in Afghanistan die in child birth. I sat there and told myself that it was now time to do something, even thought I was 8.5 months pregnant.

I found out about the charity and I decided to send them an email and so I did so immediately. The president emailed me back instantly everything was aligning. We spoke the next day, she was really frank and down to earth , she asked me what Aspire and I could do, we explored options and immediately identified that I could do help with some coaching for her team.

Making A Difference - aligning commercial and social purposeful ambitions

It feels good to be making money in Aspire companies and then sharing that with the foundation, like all people I want a good life, I want good education for my children. It is really important to have a good relationship with money and then make social good.

I don’t agree that it’s enough to become successful and then start a foundation, I like the model of NIKE and BODY SHOP for profit and non-profit aligned. I don’t think you have to wait until you are earning 100k to make a difference, you can start immediately today. Since we have the foundation people see Aspire in a different way, people see you in a different way. You start to attract a new type of people, people who have similar values like HSBC and KPMG, we are working with their heads of diversity and sustainability to make a difference.

What have been your critical lessons learnt along your entrepreneurial journey?

  • Being driven by my passion not controlled by it. 
  • To not take it so seriously, Robert my husband shares that business is an illusion. 
  • Having kids and getting married has taught me that living life is the most important thing, having fun wrestling with the kids. 
  • I’ve learnt that I am really not good at a lot of things. 
  • I’ve learnt what my limitations are and I am at peace with them.
  • I’ve learnt that I keep making the same mistakes and after about the 5th I realise this and then choose not to blame others. 
  • The power of advocates, having people who are not just supporters but are able to stand up for you when you aren’t around. It’s also important that I’m able to advocate for others to. 
  • At the start of Aspire we ran the organisation on a shoestring, I thought it wouldn’t have to be about being creative, keeping the costs down, being agile and yet 10 years on, it’s still the same. 
  • The importance of environment, I never really fitted in within England and yet I fit in here in California, the people here are creative and thought provoking. California is really rubbing off on me, it’s very outdoors, we are close to nature, it helps me with my work, I’ve realised that environment and the people who are around you that are encouraging you are really important. Ultimately, the people here are entrepreneurial and this makes a big difference.

What are the characteristics that in your experience entrepreneurs require now and in the future?

  • One of the things that I have and don’t see in a lot of young entrepreneurs is this feeling that other people aren’t better, it’s about having confidence in yourself and realising no matter your age or experience you have it’s all a plus. I started Aspire at 30 with no money and network and I turned it all around when other people were saying that I don’t have money etc , I turned this into a positive message. 
  • Stop holding yourself back, a lot of people are scared of talking to people, we all have something to offer and if you have that belief it’s the foundation for having the courage to be honest about your nerves. Irrespective I’ve learnt that I’m going to do it anyway, having self-confidence helps you to come across with presence and authority, this isn’t about passion alone.

DR Samantha Collins

CEO and Founder
Aspire Coaching & Training Ltd, Blackwell House, Guildhall Yard, London EC2V 5AE
US: (001) 310 437 8018 & UK: 44 (0) 20 7556 1018