As part of my local hero series I caught up with Amo Raju, CEO of one of the most successful disability social enterprises in the Midlands, he has certainly led a colourful life, including that of bhangra singer, sector leader and local politician.
Amo and I connected recently on LinkedIn, one of my biggest social media platforms and we’re working together on something very exciting, which will be revealed in the next few months.
But in the meantime, I thought I’d find out a little more about what makes Amo tick and some of his thoughts about the world we live and work in.
Tell me about yourself
I was born in Derby in 1968 with a condition called ‘Diplegia’, which is a form of cerebral palsy. It’s a condition that causes stiffness down the right side of my body. It stems from a deprivation of oxygen at some stage of my birth or shortly after which causes stroke-like episodes in babies. I’ve always been ambulant but like most people with similar conditions, I’m feeling wear and tear in my joints a little earlier than others.
From childhood, growing up with physical pain was something that I internalised whilst I watched everyone around me live life to the full. I knew my limitations but decided in my mid 20’s to grab the bull by the horns and start to shape my own destiny rather than wait for miracles to happen. Life wasn’t easy – I started in a council house with nothing to my name and after enrolling onto a training placement with Disability Direct, I learned ironically about disability and the wider effects by society. To cut a long story short, within 3 years I ended up running the place.
Prejudices, Disability, and the Asian Community – What’s your experience?
I’m from the Indian community which quite comfortably tends to pigeon-hole anybody who is different whilst almost scripting how their expected life should be lived. No matter what I did to impress my own community, I was never going to be treated as an equal. I know some will resonate with that experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of who I am and my heritage but in some aspects, the Asian community needs to be dragged out of a medieval mindset. I won’t say any more about that.
In terms of race, today there appears to be an awakening in society brought on by the horrific killing of George Floyd in the USA, which is long overdue. However, my blood pressure rises when I see posts from the Asian community on social media stand in solidarity with the black community across the world whilst simultaneously promoting their own higher castes in Punjabi songs.
You see, just like many white people who don’t fully understand and appreciate what a millennia of injustices against black people has done, the same applies within the caste system of India and Pakistan which I feel is even stronger outside the Asian sub-continent. The hypocrisy is something that really angers me and yes, as someone from a lower caste, I feel passionate about speaking out against such injustice.
With regard to my disability, there were a lot of people who didn’t have any faith that I would amount to anything as a child due to my impairment. I often overheard whispered conversations and watched stares, primarily from the Asian community because of my walk which was of course different. It’s something you never get used too throughout your life.
It used to bother me but now I feel sorry for their ignorance. If anything, it only spurred me on to further prove that I’m just as capable, if not more so, to become a success. This is often the case with many disabled people, we’re working at 150% just to stay on the same playing fields as mainstream society, often amounting to huge levels of success as we’re constantly in the zone.
A combination of all these ‘labels’ has shaped the person I am and with my own higher levels of determination to succeed to prove everyone wrong. I’ve not only become successful in my field of work but without realising it, I’ve become a voice and advocate for my peers locally in and around Derby.
Leadership & Consultancy Work
I have spent most of my adult life dedicated to speaking up on behalf of those without a voice, I have gained experience in welfare rights, social care, and community matters in general.
Recently, I decided on creating a vehicle to give something back in terms of my time and availability, having been approached for my advice on numerous occasions, hence I set up my own business Amo Raju & Associates Ltd.
Having become recognisable within the local community through regular articles in the newspaper to spots on local TV and radio for my continuous work for disabled people this instilled a reputation of trust and knowledge where my expertise and guidance is sought after.
Acting as a mentor to others and leading the way for change and social reform I set up my business to further guide offer workshops on all things including:
- Race, Culture & Faith
- Leading & Leadership
- Disability Equality
People say I’m a go-getter, maybe I am. All I know is if I want change, I make it happen, if I need funding for my charity I get it and help them become self-sufficient. Today, only 5% of Disability Direct’s income is grants and donations. 95% is through trading.
All aspects of charity and business management were self-taught. I made mistakes along the way. That’s natural. However, after gaining my knowledge and experience, my greatest quality in leadership is to have a circle of people around me who know more than I do.
Now into the autumn days of my career, I’m now more of a strategist. I know what I want but others do it and more importantly, they will probably do it better than me.
My motto is ‘Whilst you’re still thinking about it, I’ve finished it’. I hate meetings for the sake of meetings. I loathe those who procrastinate. If you want to talk about it, join a self-help group. I want action. When one of my managers come to me with an idea, nine times out of ten my response will be ‘don’t talk about it, do it’. If they fail, it’s good experience.
I’ve spent some time with Amo now. He’s definitely a character and I recommend you connect with him across his social media platforms including LinkedIn to get a small insight into his drive, energy, and general no-nonsense approach to work and life. With such a hectic busy life he says he’s only just started to stop and reflect on his achievements of which there are many but he only really lists them at a push. He says his career is in its autumn days. I’m not so sure. There’s a wealth of experience which needs to be passed on if not documented somewhere for future leaders who may have doubts in their own abilities.
He stated that all of the above has had an effect on his health, particularly his mental health which he’s agreed to chat about another day.
Watch this space.
To find out more about Amo’s work please connect with him on his socials below:
LinkedIn: Amo Raju
Website: Amo Raju & Associates