Anna Sheppard’s life experience was a huge factor in helping her develop a strong passion for equality. She grew up in a caravan park on the northeast coast of England and is one of five sisters, several of whom have physical and learning disabilities. As a child, she spent most of her childhood fighting prejudice and finally went into the care system for a short time before braving the world alone at the tender age of 16. The good news is Anna was lucky enough to have found and understood her WHY from a young age.
Today, Anna is one of the world’s go-to CSR specialists and has added value to thousands of companies and inspirational leaders by showing them how to ‘work kinder’. She is the founder of several other major initiatives including “The Corporate Kindness Project” and is also an inspirational keynote speaker and the founder and CEO of Bambuddha Group.
Bambuddha Group is a social enterprise providing an evidence-based leadership framework that offers coaching and social responsibility programs for businesses, big and small, where they select a cohort of executive leadership coaches representing all industries to coach our growing community of business leaders, owners and operators.
We recently spoke to Anna and here’s what she shared with us about continually striving to be a business that leads while also having a meaningful impact on others.
How did you come to start your Bambuddha?
Through my career spanning business, government and global charities, I have supported many businesses to develop their people, brand and community engagement. This helped me recognize that in fact, most of the time, what’s holding companies back is a lack of drive and a sense of purpose at the top in a way which empowers the humans at the heart of every organization.
What was missing was a place for leaders to really learn about how they can shift the dial and show up with more purpose, and how they can use their businesses to create positive change while making profit – a waterhole that everyone is comfortable to hang out at.
Why should charities and government be solely responsible for solving the issues we face as a global community when the majority of resources sits in business? This is when I set on my quest to build programs that make this agenda attractive again in a way which empowers leaders to work kinder for people, community, customers and environment through Bambuddha.
In addition to this, I believe that the lack of diversity in senior leadership and on boards blocks progress for sustainable change. This is where the concept for the social enterprise model came from, based on the theory of change, by empowering diverse leaders through development programs with complimentary inhouse support. At Bambuddha, we equip business owners and leaders with the skills, coaching and opportunity to accelerate their potential into senior leadership and onto boards.
When you initially started your business, what hurdles did you face?
One of the biggest hurdles was turning a vision into a viable business model and financially supporting that in the startup phase. I was working as a babysitter, food delivery driver and everything in between to get the money to support myself so I could focus on the business full time. It was nerve wrecking and at times, exhausting.
Nobody talks about the pressure setting up a business can put on our health and home life, both of which have been difficult to manage at times. Ironically, COVID helped with this on all parts.
With the power of collaboration, I was able to overcome these hurdles through a dream team of advisors and bighearted sponsorships from consultants, subject matter experts and businesses who believed in our vision. Not to mention a beautiful, patient and reassuring partner. They all helped to get Bambuddha off the ground and running.
Over the past few years, I have learnt to surround myself with those on a similar journey. Because of this, we actually developed a peer to peer advisory board program for business owners who need a team around them.
What makes your business unique?
What makes Bambuddha Group unique is how we are continually striving to not only be a business that leads but also a business that has a meaningful impact on others. This is how we came up with the name Bambuddha, bam – for impact and buddha – for kindness.
The sustainable development projects we support and endorse are the reason Bambuddha Group exists. Our aim is to enrich as many lives as possible as an outcome of our mutual business partnerships. We aim to inspire everyone we work with to get on board with the Bambuddha kindness journey and empower others to be the best they can be, here and around the globe.
All our programs for business and leaders work to directly or systemically create change that reduces inequality. You see, we believe that education and decent work and economic growth should be for all. All of our work aligns with the Bambuddha mission 2030, including working towards contributing to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals.
4 Quality Education
8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
10 Reduced Inequalities
11 Partnership for the Goals
This year alone, we have supported over 6,000 people through our COVID response efforts that assisted struggling businesses and health workers through “Opportunity International”. We have also given Leadership Development Scholarships worth $75,000 to empower business owners and leaders who may be facing inequality.
It takes more than a few companies to make a difference. At Bambuddha, we want to celebrate people and businesses who are fostering ethical change and suitability. To celebrate these businesses and leaders making positive impact, we host the annual Bambuddha Corporate Kindness Awards and Conference where we acknowledge and celebrate those working hard at working kind. This year they are on the 22nd October with tickets still available https://www.corporatekindnessawards.com/tickets
Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
Our big audacious goal is that eventually, we will have a network of influential leaders and board members in businesses worldwide committed to reducing inequality and using their sphere of influence to make better and kinder business decisions across people, customers, the community and the environment.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
The ability to build genuine relationships with people. Every single person you meet is important and my advice is to strive to ensure that they feel that way. Surround yourself with people who are really good at the things you are not.
A solid business plan. You can avoid it as long as you want, but without one, you will struggle to grow. As someone with dyslexia, this is one of the most challenging part for me. However, I try to make my work as visual and fun as possible and do it in bite size chunks rather than in one big project.
Resilience, things change all the time. In fact, it is the one thing in life that is certain. You need to get comfortable with getting in tune with change and continue to move forward even in times of uncertainty.
What has been the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
There are many occasions where I have learnt the hard way about what I needed to improve on as a leader both within the organization I run and in previous roles. We can all relate during periods of high output, when things are fast-paced and when personable interactions have fallen by the wayside, we have not had the time, bandwidth or energy to explain the method behind the madness. I have worked very hard with my team to empower them to communicate with me in times when I need to, as we would say, ‘stop and get a grip of myself’. This is a mutual agreement of respect because we have a foundation of always remembering that we are working with people, not machines. I feel immensely proud that we are able to do this as a team.
In my early management roles, my belief was that leadership was about structure, output and expertise. I have learnt through the hard lessons of disengagement of talent, direct feedback and a personal commitment to be a good communicator that it is important to take the time to listen to each and every person and engage them through their preferred method of communication. The difference between being a manager and being a leader is in ensuring you have a clear vision, communicated to and bought into by every single member of your team. Cutting corners or not involving your team on this journey is simply not an option.
I find that people work so much better when they understand their WHY, knowing how their values and purpose meet those of the leader they are working with and the mission of the business. Everyone needs to understand their individual and shared definition of success to gain job satisfaction. One of the biggest changes in my leadership style came when I worked for one of Australia’s most loved National Children’s Cancer Charities. This charity fostered a culture of laughter being the best medicine, positive psychology and human-centric success-focused performance frameworks enabling authenticity, input and flexibility for people to work in a way that pulled on their strengths. This was the moment I stopped being a systems manager and learnt the skills I would need to be a great leader.
Outsource the skill or learn the skill?
Depending on your size and resources, you have no choice but to do some tasks yourself until you have scaled. However, outsource the big things including websites, accounting, HR, legal and anything that takes more than 5 hours of your time each week, when you have the capacity to do so. Even better is to have a small team of generalists to start with who are good at lots of different things (website, social media etc.). Multi-talented humans has been key for us in the founding of our team.
Either way, some key programs built for small business that have kept me sane are:
- Xero for bookkeeping
- Trello for planning
- Slack for communicating with stakeholder and teams
- Active Campaign for email comms and CRM
- Canva for artwork and design
How do you generate new ideas?
Usually in the shower, bed or in some random place where I can take my eyes off the intensity of the workload. I have white boards everywhere I go where I brain dump ideas even when I don’t know how they fit in yet. If it ‘feels right’ usually it is, even when I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle yet. When I build a concept for an event, experience or program, I beta test with organizations and experts I know I will get feedback from. I would usually test any program for 12 months, evolving as we go, rather than trying to get something perfect first!
How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
If it does not resonate well in the immediate concept, it needs to evolve until it does and the involvement of trusted and experienced advisors is so important for this. Everything takes time to build, overnight success is very rare. You have to back yourself, even when others don’t get it yet (sometimes you might not either). This can feel lonely sometimes but when you finally get it to the best prototype and people get it, my goodness, that’s a wonderful feeling.
Remember, everyone is crazy until your concept is accepted. Crazy is what got you here along with that beautiful mind of your fellow entrepreneur.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
There’s a lot, but these are a just a few to mention.
Canva is up there – I would love to meet Founder Melanie Perkins one day.
Love what Adidas are doing with eco conscious sneakers. I used to love the Respect Me Missy Elliott range and would have done anything for a pair of signed sneakers growing up.
Cisco have done some amazing things around creating the best place to work and we are very proud to have them as sponsors.
We have worked with Blooms the Chemist over the past 12 months, they are changing the game in reducing health inequality.
Atlassian are doing some awesome stuff and Co-Founder Mike Cannon-Brooks is really leading by example.