IT is an understatement of some magnitude to say that, for Efaz Ahmed, life could have turned out differently.
Being founder and chairman of his own business, NEBA Enterprise, looked light years away when he was kicked out of his first school aged 13 for committing a crime, before leaving his second with no qualifications and little prospect of achieving.
This is a man who not only got mixed up in street crime, drugs, weapons and trouble, a health scare meant that, four years ago, aged 22, he was forced to look death in the eye and was strong-willed enough to come through that and appreciate that life is definitely now for living.
A devout Muslim, his faith helped him – as did his devoted mum who has assisted him build his social enterprise for people aged 5-16, where involvement in sports helps aid personal development.
‘She’s the backbone of the organisation, we’d be all over the place without her,’ he smiles.
Efaz is such an engaging character, who was moved by David Taylor’s first book, The Naked Leader, and he has been guided by the ethos and the need to go out and make life happen.
It was at a Naked Leader workshop that he met David. ‘I really enjoyed it and it was very relatable to my lifestyle,’ he says.
‘It’s in line with my faith, how my mum views life and David is very interesting to listen to.
‘David’s a very unique character. Going on a leadership course I didn’t really know what to expect and during the day I got to understand him a lot more and how I could relate to him. He’s a very genuine guy and has a sense of humour.’
Efaz concedes his business (@nebafootball) hadn’t really taken off and now it is thriving thanks to his pro-activity.
‘I would call it a career-booster for people,’ he says. ‘Our enterprise is a place for youngsters to come and it allows them to feel confident, it gives them self-esteem, and a sense of belonging. Most are from single-parent families and have come through a lot of adversity.
‘I have had adversity too. I left my second school with no GCSEs. Not because I wasn’t capable, just because of my attitude. A business teacher told me I would be cleaning toilets all my life. That stayed with me and has become part of my success. It’s not that I took it personally. I wanted to make sure that wasn’t me.’
Is his business successful? Here’s his take on it. ‘How do you define successful?’ he says. ‘I would say I have turned my life around and seeing the people involved and how I have changed their lives, that is so satisfying. I have always been a person who likes to help others.’
The company’s third birthday saw Efaz experiencing a real sense of pride, through what he has given youngsters.
‘I do what David does, I am a speaker, and we have encouraged people aged as young as eight to speak about their experiences,’ he explains. ‘When you see an eight-year-old get up and tell people the journey they have been on, well, that one moment, in that one year, seeing how much we have done to help, it’s a very special feeling.’
Efaz discloses, his life was ‘on a negative path to self destruction’, and being diagnosed with Glaucoma aged 22 was a life-changer, quite literally, and has left him 90% blind in one eye.
‘Mine was a very rare and new case,’ he explains. ‘It was something I developed at a very young age. I had a near-death experience from the operation which was two years later identified to be a heart condition.
‘I actually faced death twice in the space of a week. The second time, my eye pressure went as high as 54. If it hit 60 the eye would have exploded. The agony and pain after another surgical procedure put me in a panic state and I shut down which also almost caused death. Nearly losing my life was a turning point. I saw the value of life having looked death in the eye. I was scared. I was depressed and lost confidence.
‘My religion saved me and I was grateful for life. And I made a promise to myself that I would go and get whatever it was I could with what I have.
‘I believe everything happens for a reason, setbacks and adversity. It makes or breaks you and I’m lucky that it made me. It helped shape who I am.
‘The Prince’s Trust has helped me and my business has given me a lot of wisdom. I realise that a service has been built to help others purely because of me overcoming my own issues.’
That’s a powerful medium and Efaz – a mentor at Leicester City FC – has accomplished much already. His company NEBA has become the first grassroots enterprise to feature on ITV news. He has attended Buckingham Palace, the House of Commons with MPs, Lords and celebrities as well as a private dinner with the Duke of Devonshire. He has also been invited by major corporate companies to share his story which has included becoming a regional ambassador of the year and now a top-five national finalist in the Pride of Britain Awards shortlisted from 60,000 people.
He has a final word about David: ‘David’s workshop inspired me,’ he adds. ‘It’s about being real with yourself.’
And David is so impressed with Efaz, saying: ‘Efaz brought the December Prince’s Trust day to life with his thoughts, encouragement of others and incredibly positive attitude – he is an inspiration to all who meet him.’