Saleema Vellani, Multilingual Social Entrepreneur On Grit and Empathy


Hilary got to chat with Saleema Villani, a social entrepreneur and polyglot. She was really struck by Saleema’s unique perspective on entrepreneurship. Hilary had a few lightbulb moments in this interview—mainly on the importance of empathy and grit in entrepreneurship. Saleema speaks five languages and has lived all over the world. Listen to her interesting and unique perspective she brings to her work.

Saleema Vellani is an expert in inclusive leadership and a recognized authority on the Future of Work. She has been a social entrepreneur since the age of 21, when she launched Brazil's largest and top-rated Portuguese school to finance an orphanage and education programs. Saleema has won numerous awards for her work in social innovation, including her most recent groundbreaking study on how to improve refugee livelihoods through climate-smart food systems technologies in the Middle East and Africa. She holds degrees from McGill University and Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. 

Currently, Saleema is CEO at Innovazing, an education firm that helps leaders learn 21st-century leadership and communication skills. She is also Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins University and an advisor to several purpose-driven organizations, such as Wonder Women Tech Foundation and the World Bank Group Youth-2-Youth Community. Saleema is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian. 

Hustle Hack: Saleema said in entrepreneurship “You have to be really comfortable with being uncomfortable.” It’s all part of the process. Wow, how true is that. It’s such a reminder that when pursuing creative projects, innovation, and entrepreneurship, it will be uncomfortable. Failure will happen. But it’s what we do in the face of that adversity that really counts. Get comfortable with it. I like to advise creatives to make failure your new best friend. Because the more familiar you get with it, the more you’ll realize that it’s not the end all be all. The more you fail the more you realize that failing won’t break you. It’s an opportunity to build resilience and learn.

Moment of Grace: Saleema mentioned that for her traveling speeds up her personal growth. When she goes new places she experiences new things, meets new people and gets to take a pause from business as usual. Maybe you can’t skip town this weekend and jet set to a foreign country—but you can go to a bookstore in your city you’ve never been to. You can go hear a band play that you’ve not heard before. You could go on a hike on a trail that you’ve never explored before. Give it a try. Do something out of the norm for you. Go somewhere new. Power down your phone. Try to resist taking photos for Instagram stories—I know that’s so tempting. Just be present where you are and experience it. Who knows what ideas and thoughts may come to your mind. 

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This episode is sponsored by Get Your Dream Off the Ground.