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“To develop resilience keep on growing; Let every challenge be the beginning and not an ending” with Fotis Geogiadis & Ashish Prashar

Self Renewal: Keep on growing. Let every challenge be the beginning and not an ending. As we move along our journey of life we naturally narrow the scope and variety of our lives and develop a set way of doing things. The process of self discovery must never end. Do not leave this to the chances […]

Self Renewal: Keep on growing. Let every challenge be the beginning and not an ending. As we move along our journey of life we naturally narrow the scope and variety of our lives and develop a set way of doing things. The process of self discovery must never end. Do not leave this to the chances of life because society isn’t set up to encourage it.


I had the pleasure to interview Ashish Prashar FRSA (Ash), Sr. Director of Communications at Publicis Sapient. Ash has led media relations and developed government affairs programs for a number of global startups and was named on Business Insider’s 51 best PR people in techin 2017. Ashish advises on a variety of political and issue based campaigns across the United States, most recently restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated and working on several 2018 midterm campaigns. He is also advocating for changing the narrative around the formerly incarcerated. Ashish had a lengthy career in UK politics where handled communications for the Conservative Party and was a Press Secretary to the former Mayor of London: Boris Johnson during his 2008 and 2012 election campaigns. He also worked at the Royal Society of Arts, Ipsos MORI, for former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and on Barack Obama’s 2008 US Presidential Campaign. He Chaired the former Mayor London’s Mentoring Initiative and currently sits on the boards of Exodus Transitional CommunityGetting Out and Staying Out (GOSO NYC) and regularly holds discussions on criminal justice reform and life after incarceration and gives keynote addresses on how we can better support our young people. He graduated from the University of Westminster in London and happily resides in New York City.


Thank you so much for joining us Ash! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Igrew up in a middle class family in London and at the age of 16 experienced conflict for the first time. A single event that forever changed my life and ended up resulting in me being arrested and incarcerated.

I was lucky. After my release I had a supportive family, an aunt who lobbied tirelessly for me and mentors, but this isn’t the norm. That support allowed me to go on to have a career in British politics where I worked as a press secretary to David Cameron and Boris Johnson, communications for Tony Blair and I was blessed to work on Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign in the United States. More recently I worked to restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated and supported on several 2018 midterm campaigns.

When folks ask me what I do now, they expect me to say I’m the Global Director of communications for Publicis Sapient. But that’s not my purpose. I sit on the board of two organizations in NYC, dedicated to dealing with conflict and supporting returning citizens and I’m committed to using the platform that my second chance has given me to make sure they have a first chance.

My purpose is to use my privilege to change the narrative around formerly incarcerated individuals. My purpose is to use my privilege to support them and provide them real opportunities. My purpose is to use my privilege to make sure returning citizens have the right to vote and don’t have to tick that box anymore when applying for a job but be given the opportunity to talk about how they got there.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Always stay true to who you are. After a successful stint working in the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, where I was on track to be a special advisor for a Government Minister in an incoming Conservative regime, I decided to quit.

At the time, then Conservative Leader David Cameron positioned himself as a ‘Liberal Conservative’ a narrative he leaned into with a significant rebrand of the political party from the logo to policy announcements aimed at softening punishment for young people who commit crimes and even trips to the edge of the Arctic for a photoshoot to discuss climate change. At the time the Conservatives jumped on the rebrand, publicly supporting social mobility and opportunity for all.

But as their public star rose, their private decisions around policy and government action reflected the opposite. I began to realise the narrative that I was pushing on behalf of the Party wasn’t anchored in anything real. I wish I had realised this sooner.

I already knew I was leaving, going across the pond to work on the Obama campaign but I felt people needed to know why.

You’re often told when leaving, even when you leave for principled reason, to leave cordially and quietly but if you firmly believe in something that advice can feel like a betrayal of your own values. People also advise you not to burn bridges and spend more of your time worrying about what others think. That’s not your fault, it’s how capitalism was set up.

However, I knew I had acquired enough privilege and had the tools at my disposal to define my own narrative. I timed the announcement of my departure to the Conservative Party Conference, a time where the British media would have the Party under a microscope. I placed a thoughtful article in a respectable news outlet, lined up other interviews and did it all while already in my new role, working for an aspirational candidate. I had taken control of the narrative away from the Conservative Party machinery and told my truth.

Did I burn bridges, yes. Did have any doubts, of course. But I believed that if I stood firmly in my truth I would be okay.

Always use the tools at your disposal to define your own voice if you don’t want anyone to do it for you.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I have the honour and privilege to sitting on the board of both Exodus Transitional Community and Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO), two organisations dedicated to supporting returning citizens and helping our young people deal with conflict. What makes these organisations stand out is their commitment to take one of the worst moments in an individual’s life and give that person a real first chance at life. They personally understand the difficulties and trauma of re-entering the community.

Both organisations have success stories dating back twenty years.

A story that comes to mind is that of Hector who enrolled in GOSO while on Rikers Island and maintained contact with us throughout his entire 5-year prison sentence. During his incarceration, Hector regularly corresponded with GOSO, received study materials, educational and career counseling, and vital support and reentry planning, and built a relationship with the organisation that has continued into the community. While incarcerated, Hector earned his High School Equivalency diploma, obtained a Masonry certification, and even facilitated the prison’s Alternative to Violence curriculum. Since his release, Hector completed a successful internship at a Brooklyn-based bakery and subsequently hired by them. Hector also earned a position at Drive Change, the social justice food truck and is currently working on developing his own non-profit focused on criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been lucky in my life to have several high profile mentors from the news industry and politics, individuals who fully embraced my story, however, the most impactful person helped me survive prison and turn my life around. She began that work while I was incarcerated.

My aunt, Bandhana, was a one person program. She fought for me. She fought the Justice Department so I could do AS and A Levels in prison, at the same time my classmates were doing it on the outside. She fought the facility to make sure I had all the materials I needed for that. She fought to make sure I was out in four months. She knew everyday I was in prison there was more opportunity for bad things to happen.

On my release my aunt and my grandparents gave me a real sense of agency that all started with a safe space to go home to where I was loved and supported. Something that far too many former inmates don’t have access to.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience begins with taking responsibility, deconstructing the successes and failures and distilling them into potential guidelines for the future. When we refuse to embrace potential obstacles we can never find a way around them. Worse, we accept their inevitability, believing we deserve what we get.

Thus, use your personal pain, embrace it and direct into action. It will serve as a reminder that the battle will be hard, marked with difficult decisions and you may never be the direct beneficiary of success.

I fully recognize the rules of society and how they fail some people. But resilience is learning how to hack things; figuring out society’s flaws, identifying back doors, and overwhelming the system.

Resilience is building a life of purpose, which requires expanding when you want to contract. Sometimes you’ll get hurt, but if you continue to remember your value, reconnect with what you want to accomplish and ask for help when you need it, a really beautiful, fulfilling life will unfold.

It’s often said that resilient people have it in their DNA. I believe people show resilience in their own way. Some show it in more visible ways than others. I can only offer this advice. When they say you’re not good enough. You’re more than good enough. You’re better. When they say you don’t belong in the room. You damn sure belong. If they won’t let you in, create your own. You are powerful beyond measure. So define your own voice if you don’t want anyone to do it for you. Now is not the time to be silent. Pursue your purpose passionately. Pursue your purpose loudly. And stand firmly in your truth.

“Finally, hope. This isn’t a wish, or a passing desire. Hope is an intention — that you will see beyond the setbacks, beyond the tough moments, to the way things really are — abundant, full and for you. Tupac Shakur wrote a poem, “The Rose that Grew From Concrete” that says it better than I can.

Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?

Proving nature’s laws wrong it learned to walk without feet.

Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.

Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Around 20 years ago I experienced conflict for the first time. I grew up in a middle class family in London and at 16 my parents divorced. That single event which didn’t seem that significant at the time, nevertheless led to the collapse in all I knew to be true at the time.

My mum left. A week later took my sister. My dad wasn’t in the best place. And although I had others family members around me I was looking for something to replace the hole they left behind. I found that kinship in a group of friends. Friends who shared conflict, who had lost people in their lives too, and together bonded and took risks, went on adventures. But often these adventures verged on the illegal. One day, we got caught, and at the age of 17 I was convicted for the crime of conspiracy to steal.

Prison is worse than you can imagine. I saw humiliation; beatings; older prisoners set younger ones on each other; so-called correctional officers take food away; handcuffing young people; making racist remarks’ and verbally assaulting us, trying to goad a reaction.

I was put in solitary confinement for a short stint for my own protection. The same solitary confinement referred to as the ‘hot box’, the same solitary confinement where more young people hang themselves and others lose themselves.

Prison wasn’t created to rehabilitate. It’s created to make people suffer. Their goal is to make you remain a prisoner inside even when you’re out.

How did I survive and turn my life around? I had begun to plant the seeds of resilience. I witnessed inhumanity in prison and I was determined to build up myself, to remember my humanity always. I leaned on my support system — my aunt who fought for me, my grandparents who were waiting for me at home, and that was the start of a purposeful life. So many things came into focus for me during that time, and while I would never wish the experience on anyone, the depth of self-knowledge, learning to accept unconditional love and feeling the responsibility of that gift started there, and so I’m grateful for it.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

After incarceration there were still obstacles for me because of the stigma of a record — I didn’t know if employers would even talk to me after I checked that box.

For those who don’t know what box I’m referring to , it’s that box with the words “Yes” or “No” next to it after the question “Do you have a criminal record?” It can be found on job applications, rental and housing applications and immigration forms. Most of you tick “No” and don’t give it a second thought. The formerly incarcerated have to tick “Yes.”

Earlier in my career in the United Kingdom and in the absence of legislation I worked with companies to change their hiring practices. Initially I was scoffed at and heard again and again,

“That’s impossible,”

“Only legislation will push that change, companies won’t do it on their own.”

I worked with one company at a time, telling them my story, showing them how one person using his privilege helped me build a meaningful career, and they could do so much for so many young, talented people with a record. The ask was simple: “We should look beyond someone’s conviction. See what they’ve got to offer. Hear their stories. See them. They’re often left out of traditional ladders of success. So build one for them.”

This can be a deep conversation, often uncomfortable but how else can you truly understand where an individual has come from and the journey they’ve taken to be in front of you to talk about a job opportunity.

You don’t get that information from simply having a tick box.

I still to this day continue this work. While the box has been banned in New York City, I work with companies to change the narrative about the formerly incarcerated. Change their hiring practices. Change their individual views from Execs to HR departments. Often it’s one conversation at a time.

In my experience, some of the most talented individuals I’ve ever met have convictions. The friends I went to prison with could have launched startups, or worked at cutting-edge tech companies — with the right opportunities and support they could have achieved their dreams.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Take a step back for a moment, why do people never escape the stigma or having a record, why do they reoffend, it’s often a lack of opportunity but more often than not it is out of desperation, not having anywhere to go, nowhere to sleep and no support. I had that support.

That love and support setup the foundation for me to meet my first pivotal mentor, but more importantly it allowed me to embrace the setback and talk about it openly.

Thanks to that mentor I had a career in British politics where I served as the Press Secretary to the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, led campaign communications for the Leader of the Opposition David Cameron and worked for former Prime Minister Tony Blair and as mentioned before I also had the opportunity to work on Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign.

Some folks ask how could I work for some of those people, especially the Conservatives. It goes back to opportunity. You don’t get many and I also saw it as an opportunity to acquire privilege. I embraced the journey I was on and the individuals who supported me through it.

The setback also gave me something else. Purpose. My personal pain gave me a platform. And while balancing everyday obligations I pursued meaningful work.

My purpose is to use my privilege to change the narrative around formerly incarcerated individuals. My purpose is to use my privilege to support them and provide them real opportunities. My purpose is to use my privilege to make sure returning citizens have the right to vote and don’t have to tick that box anymore when applying for a job but be given the opportunity to talk about how they got there.

That’s how decided to use my privilege.

I believe every setback is a great opportunity for a comeback but that comeback wouldn’t have been possible without embracing all the support and counsel that I had the privilege of receiving right after incarceration.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Nelson Mandela. Sentenced to life in prison at the age of 46 only to emerge after 27 years of incarceration in 1990 and pick up where he left off, fighting for real, positive change. He demonstrated that grace — and his ability to forgive — by befriending several of his former Robben Island guards.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

His calls for reconciliation drowned out the clamoring for revenge after decades of brutal racial segregation and brought about change by knitting a country together after aparthied.

Mandela survived incarceration with his passion and integrity intact and eschewed self pity and regret about his plight, for love in action. It is upon us to use whatever privilege we have to work for a better and more just world.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Self Knowledge: More often than not we don’t know ourselves, don‘t want to depend on ourselves and don’t want to live with ourselves. But if you don’t take the time to understand oneself you’ll never understand your value and worth. Often this means delving into personal pain but embracing that is an inevitable consequence of true self knowledge.

Self Renewal: Keep on growing. Let every challenge be the beginning and not an ending. As we move along our journey of life we naturally narrow the scope and variety of our lives and develop a set way of doing things. The process of self discovery must never end. Do not leave this to the chances of life because society isn’t set up to encourage it.

Support and Love: You have to be capable of accepting love, support, help and advice from your community. This dissolves the rigities of the isolated self, gives you new perspectives, alters your thought process and at times is often the foundation you can go back to in times where you are set back.

Courage to Fail: Deconstructing the success and failures and distilling them into potential guidelines for the future. When we refuse to embrace potential obstacles we can never find a way around them. Worse, we accept their inevitability, believing we deserve what we get. There is no learning without difficulty, it’s as simple as that.

Purpose: People are always searching for meaning but it doesn’t have to be that existential, simply narrow this down to finding something you have great conviction for. Commit to it. Pursue it passionately. Pursue your purpose loudly. There is truth in that every calling is important when pursued with conviction.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We have a school to prison pipeline and we have to stop locking up our children now. The hate our institutions direct toward young people only come back and hurt our society — how is it not possible for us to have empathy? We need to take a different approach and support our youth, not punish them without seeing them and hearing their stories.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Ishmael Beah, the human rights activist and writer of ‘A Long Way Gone.’ His experiences of being a child soldier and returning to society are vital in understanding how we can bring back young people after committing acts of violence. We often think that those experiences don’t relate to what is happening in the United States or the United Kingdom but I would argue that the trauma that one experiences, that drives a person to commit an act of violence and what it takes to understand how to deliver successful reconciliation with the community after has similar origins.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes on Twitter @ash_Prashar

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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