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  • Zareen Ahmed

The Gift Wellness Story

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

To celebrate International Women's Day this year, I decided to share my story about how I transformed my life from tribulation to triple-bottom-line





I’m probably best known for my company Gift Wellness which is an award-winning social enterprise and the Gift Wellness Foundation, the charity behind periodpoverty.uk


One of my all-time heroes, the late, great Anita Roddick said “Let’s measure the success of corporations by how much they enhance human well-being.”

Now… WHO LIKES A GIFT? Say yes! Well our brand name is Gift because it is all about Gifts. In fact, at the end of this speech I have a Gift for each of you.


So what is Gift Wellness? Well from our non-toxic, hypoallergenic sanitary pads to our new range of vegan cleansing and shampoo bars we make and sell natural, healthy lifestyle products that give our customers a feeling of well-being and the knowledge they're supporting a brand that cares about their individual needs as well as the environment and needs of those less fortunate. Because for every pack we sell we donate period pads to homeless and refugee women, foodbanks and schools. It’s called Buy 1 Gift 1, which is what makes it a social enterprise.


The inspiration behind all this was my daughter Halimah. You could say that this is a mother and daughter story…

Like many girls nowadays, from a young age Halimah was passionate about charity work. And she made me promise that when she grew up, that we would do charity work together. So she was over the moon when she got her place at Nottingham Trent University to study International Relations and Third World Development. She’d just turned 19 and had just been going to University for 6 weeks, when she was tragically abducted and murdered by a mental health patient.

Now it is not my intention to make you sad, not at all. Indeed, this is a story of love and hope and resilience and faith in the power of the positive energy that comes from focussing on doing good.


Halimah had always wanted to do third world development, from a young age, she would fundraise at school whenever there was a disaster or when she felt strongly about a particular cause. She would bake cakes and sell them at school, and she had a number of certificates from various charities and subscribed to Unicef’s newsletter. When she applied to sixth form at the age of 16 she wrote a personal statement which said;


"I aim to go to university to study Third World Development and International Relations. This will enable me to find a job that will give me the opportunity to travel to different countries and help improve the environment and minimise poverty. In this way, I will fulfil my ambition to improve people's lives and make a difference in the world." Halimah Ahmed 20th January 2005

The Halimah Trust

So almost immediately after the tragedy, me, my husband and son, along with family and friends set up a charity called The Halimah Trust to do Halimah’s work.


At the time it happened I was the CEO of a national organisation, but that all stopped. And for the next 3 years I focussed on our first project to build a school for 400 orphaned and needy girls in Pakistan. And in April 2019 we also finished building a college for them. Because if we didn’t then their eduction would have stopped after school - and we weren’t going to let that happen.


The Gift Wellness Vision

It was when I was on the way back from Pakistan having just opened the Halimah School of Excellence in April 2011, that I was sitting in the airport lounge in Lahore, thinking about what I should do next. I knew I would never work for anyone again and whatever I did, it needed to link with the charity. So sitting in this airport lounge, I picked up a magazine, Time mag I think… and it opened at an article about Syrian women in refugee camps who had to tear strips off their clothes to use as sanitary pads… in addition to all the other horrific abuse they had to suffer.

Period Poverty

At that moment, I visualised myself giving sanitary pads to these women. And that’s when the Gift Wellness journey began… After 18 months of research & development I launched my brand Gift. And the first thing I did when the first container of stock arrived, before selling a single pack was to send a truckload of pads to women in the Zatari refugee camp on the Syrian border. Since then, the brand has become a best seller in Holland & Barrett, won loads of awards as a social enterprise and we’ve given over 4 million packs to women in crisis who cannot afford or access sanitary pads. But it wasn’t when I got the H&B deal or won an award that I felt like I was succeeding, it was when I saw the first images of women in Syrian refugee camps actually holding my product standing outside their tents, that I thought… There you go Halimah, now we’re getting somewhere!

I’ve now established the Gift Wellness Foundation and the main project of it is to eliminate Period Poverty #periodpoverty in every deprived community in Britain by 2025!


Go Plastic Free in 2020!

Now Halimah was also passionate about the environment and in her 2nd year of uni would have been spent in Gambia building wells and sanitation projects. And this is another issue close to my heart. According to Greenpeace, Every Minute of Every Day, a truckload of plastic enters the sea. 40% of discarded plastic is single use plastic. And much of that comes from our bathrooms, because people tend not to recycle the plastic from bathrooms. And even if they do, the chances are that it will end up in a river in Malaysia anyway!


In fact did you hear about how Malaysia were sending 152 containers of plastic rubbish back to the countries that had illegally sent them over there? France was the largest contributor to this crime, and guess who was in 2nd place? Yes ‘Great’ Britain! 42 containers were returned here, to the 5th richest economy in the world! We make up only 1% of the global population, but we were the runner up in this shameful act, behind France which is a massive country in comparison.


What gives us the right to ride roughshod over developing countries in this way? Countries that need for us to invest in them and support them to build their own economies, not to treat them as a dumping ground for our waste! Waste that is killing stifling their rivers, making their land toxic and their children sick. Well, things are gonna have to change now aren’t they, because the poor countries are sending all our rubbish back to us!

Enough ranting. What I wanted to tell you was that last month we launched a beautiful new range of products. Gift cleansing bars. They are vegan and organic shampoos, conditioners, body wash, face wash, hand wash and intimate wash bars all in the form of bars packaged in paper boxes with no plastic. We’ve also just done a deal with a company that makes a beautiful organic olive oil soap-on-a-rope from olive tree farmers in Syria.

My vision is that by 2025 it will be frowned upon to have bathrooms that are cluttered with plastic bottles!


So now you know why it is called Gift. Because it is a gift for girls and women who use the products because it doesn’t contain any toxins, so you feel better. It is a gift for women and girls who receive a pack as part of our Buy1 Gift1 donations. Our cleansing bar range is a Gift to the planet.

And most of all… It is a Gift to my Halimah who’s dreams are being realised.

Serendipity

I don’t believe in coincidences. Nothing in the universe happens by chance. When you are as passionate about a vision as Halimah was, then it had to happen somehow. The energy and love that she put out there as a young girl connected in all the right places to create the reality that we see today.

There are so many signs of this, so let me give you one profound example. 5 years before Halimah passed away, when she was about 14, I had to go with my dad to Pakistan to see my aunt, his sister in Karachi. While we were there, her eldest son and me decided that we would do some charity work together. He had an empty property and we would establish a school for the local poor children. When I returned to England and told Halimah, she said, mum, you know that that’s the sort of work that I want to do when I grow up, so can you name the charity after me? So we went to the bank together and opened an account called The Halimah Trust. Now the project did not come to fruition at the time, because of political red tape in Pakistan, but we had the bank account. And after Halimah passed away, I remembered that we’d got the bank account.

I live by this belief that if there is a focus of love and passion for something, to the point where you can see it and can virtually touch it. Then you will attract all the right people and partners and nothing on this earth can stop it from becoming a reality. In terms of Gift Wellness, I think in the beginning it was a survival strategy for me, at least at a conscious level. But then I began to realise that I was doing exactly what me and Halimah had talked about, and I found myself sort of passing every decision I made through her filter first.


I find that this kind of business, is infectious. More and more people are choosing to buy socially ethical products, rather than the usual supermarket brands. Evidence is showing that more and more women are setting up social enterprises, because they seem to care more about wanting to earn money from doing ethical business. I think because women are instinctively the carers and nurturers of the world. It’s easier for us to think in this way.

And when you have faith that your good work will lead to good - then even if some ideas don’t work, there is no such thing as failure in business. You make your intention to do something for the good of humanity and if your business doesn’t succeed, it is just seen as another test that will make you improve and grow. You just take what you need to learn from it and start again. This removes the fear and anxiety that people who have no faith experience. It means that we actually have more fun with our wild and wacky ventures!

Tests

Let me ask you this…. Have you been tested in life?

How do you know how good you really are, unless you’ve been tested?

You’ve all heard the saying…This life is a test.

But think about this. The harder you’re tested the better you can become. You just have to embrace the test and acknowledge it as a test and not just accept it but actually be grateful for it. I thank God every day for my test. Because it has given me the opportunity to be my authentic true self. It feels like me and Halimah have kind of merged in to one, because she is more a part of my life now than ever, she is the voice in my head and joy in my heart. I miss her physically being here, of course, but I know that it’s just a temporary separation. And that gives me a sense of urgency, to get as much good work done as possible before I see her again.


One final thought

It’s true that throughout history - most great changes or projects have happened after a great tragedy or injustice or traumatic event - that has triggered the change. When someone has said, enough is enough and done something great.

My question to you is this… Why does there have to be a major upheaval or event in our lives before we do something great in our lives? Don’t wait for the tragedy or big event to happen first before you change your life.

Do it first. Do it now!

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