After 20 years in finance, Lena Chauhan founded and developed Rise IQ, an independent ‘Corporate Medical Concierge’ service, helping employees and their families obtain the best health outcomes. In parallel, she has worked on the development of diversity and health initiatives, and her humanitarian work has impacted many vulnerable demographics. In particular, people requiring medical attention, factory workers, people affected by domestic abuse and families affected by dementia. This evolution resulted in Rise IQ providing ESG strategy for companies which draws all the elements in from her experiences. In this exclusive interview, Lena discusses her background and its impact on her career, diversity initiatives which she has developed, and the need for change in educational curricula.
Do you think that your ethnicity and your background has been a determinant factor for your work in humanitarian causes?
Yes, absolutely. As a Londoner with an Indian background, I dealt with substantial racism as a child. I was fine with that because it wasn’t really spoken about at the time… but when I saw my son experiencing similar verbal abuse, that really enraged me. It made me feel like I had to do something. I don’t believe people have the right to exclude someone because they don’t identify with the same religion. That’s been a huge driving force for me in terms of diversity and inclusion within the workplace, specifically with schools. It came about around the same time as the “Black Lives Matter” movement, so I feel that anger and their cause really resonated with me, giving me the courage to actually jump and do something that could make a difference.
I also think it’s really important to come from a place of compassion because prior to me viewing life through that lens, I was extremely angry at the events unfolding around me. I soon realised that being angry was not an effective tool to create understanding within myself or to foster any true change. I’ve had to really adjust the way I react to situations and train myself to be more empathetic – to replace my anger with compassion. We will always be surrounded by people who are different from us, and I feel like that idea has been a huge driving force for me over the last three years particularly.
On that note, can you speak about any of the diversity initiatives that you have developed or ones you are actively working on?
Absolutely. Starting simple, you look at images of great leaders and figures which school boards have chosen to display and realise you’re looking at the same kind of person from the same ethnic background. As a result, I started sending pictures of successful people from my world, who have done very different things, who look, feel and sound different. I think that’s a good starting point since, you can’t be what you can’t see, and you can’t understand something that you don’t think exists. I want children in schools to understand the diversities of leadership, problem solving, and that difference is not a negative but positive thing. This is an important lesson for young children and one that needs to be introduced at an early stage, because I can’t control the narrative that occurs outside of school and I don’t wish to either. So, this is one of our initiatives – bringing speakers from different backgrounds into school settings who can influence the narrative in a positive way.
Often, we bring speakers in to talk about ongoing issues and adapt it to different parts of the educational program. For example, despite being absent in the national curriculum, digital currencies/crypto, Blockchain and Web 3 are becoming increasingly relevant for the younger generation. As a result, schools must weave these topics into short assemblies and wellbeing classes which seems ridiculous!
Again, I’m not here to change the system. As much as I’d like to, you need unity and power and a lot of people to see that change come to fruition. Unfortunately, what I’ve seen is that people are comfortable. When they’re comfortable, even if they think it might be a good idea, they’d rather stick to what they know, which in my view represents a wasted opportunity. So for the moment, I am working within the realms of an existing system and nudging it by illustrating how positive change can be.
Do you feel like, on some level, these small changes are only being actualized to placate the public? Aren’t bigger changes necessary to mitigate inequality?
I think bigger systemic changes are necessary…everywhere. However, what I have learnt is that if you charge like a bull, you just come across people who will blockade you, scuppering any type of lasting, positive change you could have made.
Personally, I think you must start somewhere and evidence it, allowing people the time to understand your ideas and once they do, more can come. Regarding diversity, I do think there’s been some really great changes recently in terms of hiring within schools. The fact that people with different backgrounds and races are teaching kids and being regarded as authority figures is a step in the right direction. Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but when dealing with an archaic educational system, you must give it time.
It’s a gradual change, consisting of finding other people that want to see a similar result. I can’t do it as a lone ranger, it’s a collective effort. That’s why by increasing the support for diversity, slowly yet surely, a stronger influence can come about.
You make a great point about educational curricula and who they are being taught by, how they are developed… It makes me think a lot about how children adhere to a very specific understanding of the world based on what they are taught and who they are taught by. I’m curious about your thoughts on that.
I feel that people know the curriculum is outdated but don’t want it to change because that would mean they might have to adjust with it. Or people put their hands up as they wish to see change but then don’t want to be part of its execution because it takes a lot of time, effort and work.
A great example is Black Lives Matter. This movement forced schools to integrate these topics into the curriculum – it’s phenomenal. Nevertheless, it took an immense amount of effort from millions of people to create that social change. And we cannot ignore the effect of the political landscape.
My own ancestors were part of a colony and a lot of conversations have recently surfaced about these issues, particularly after the Queen’s death. I have complicated feelings after the death of QEII. On the one hand, a huge amount of respect and compassion for a female monarch who ruled for 70 years. This is coupled with deep discomfort for the monarch heading a family that colonised my grandparent’s homeland (India) and many others for centuries. It’s warmth towards the person she was and indignation at the institution she represented. People in the UK really don’t want to hear that side of the story and neither have they been taught it, so they only see what has been reflected to them.
I don’t really post on social media, although I do post stories of different articles that I think are thought-provoking, regarding topics that could encourage people to see things differently.
Recently, there was an article I shared from an Indian newspaper saying, “Look, we understand The Queen’s importance, but at the end of the day, if she represents an ancestral pattern of criminal behaviour that affected our nation and hundreds of others, how are we meant to feel a deep sense of sorrow for her passing?”
I had a message from someone who was insulted by me sharing that opinion, so then I think… Well, hold on, what’s the point of democracy if you’re not allowed to express these opinions, especially if they acknowledge those who have been oppressed?