From Accountant to Social Entrepreneur in India

“Working for myself is infinitely better than working for somebody else.”

From Accountant to Social Entrepreneur in India

Where does your morning commute take you? For Chris Way, it's often a trip into Mumbai's largest slum. His career as the founder of a tour company and non-profit is a far cry from his previous one as an accountant, but he's finally doing something he's truly passionate about.

What work were you doing previously?

I worked in a Chartered Accountancy firm in the UK.

What are you doing now?

I’m the founder of a socially responsible tour company in Mumbai, India. We are most well known for our tours of Dharavi, arguably the largest slum in Asia, with 80% of the profits going to our sister NGO to fund education, health and environment and livelihood programmes in the slum.

Why did you change?

I've always wanted to live outside the UK. I went to Spain for half a term when at school doing my A-levels and had a great experience. Since then, I've always wanted to do something a little different. Even when I started work post University, I always knew that I wouldn't stay for very long. University and training to be an accountant were simply a way of getting skills to be in a better position to find work abroad.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

After three years working in the UK, I travelled extensively through India, South East Asia and Latin America for a couple of years. The purpose of this, besides having some fun, was to figure out what I was going to do. When I was in Rio, I went on a slum tour, and found the concept fascinating. Having been in Mumbai previously for four months, three months of which I was volunteering at a government school, I decided to return to see if something similar could be done there.

Are you happy with the change?

I am extremely happy that I made the change, as I do something that I'm extremely passionate about and it's a privilege to see the change that we have made in the slum where we operate. It's great to see so many people come on our tour and be visibly moved.

I have loved the process of creating an organisation, putting systems and controls in place, creating a healthy work environment, and see it develop over the years

That said, India and Mumbai does have its challenges and after about four years, I didn’t have the same buzz when coming back after time away. I remember clearly how I used to arrive back in Mumbai,  get off the plane, and feel excited, but after four years, that disappeared.

That said, I still much preferred this to life in the UK, but the thought of living somewhere in Latin America has been with me since.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss family and friends, Sunday newspapers, watching rugby on TV (you can watch most sports out here but not rugby), and general British politeness.

More than anything I don't miss the weather. I always used to hate October as the evenings used to get shorter and colder.

I do and I don't miss the 9-to-5 lifestyle. I love the fact that I can choose when I do and don’t work, and that 100% of everything I do goes towards something that I believe passionately about. But it also means that work is never ending and there is always something to do.

How did you go about making the shift?

It was easy. I decided that I wanted to try this out, then went out and did it. I had no girlfriend to leave behind or debt to pay off. If it didn't work out, then no big deal.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

I'm very fortunate that I have property in the UK which allows me to comfortably live in India, so even when we were starting up, I was fine.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

There wasn't anything difficult about it at all. Yes, I was going to miss a few things as mentioned above, but overall this was something that I was very excited about.

What help did you get? 

I didn’t get any help when leaving the UK, but then I didn't need any. In India, there was very little information about setting up a small organisation as a foreigner, and I and my Indian business partner had very few contacts.  We figured it out eventually.

What have you learnt in the process?

That working for myself is infinitely better than working for somebody else, particularly as I’m very passionate about what I'm doing.

And also that you shouldn't conform to what other people expect of you. I knew deep down that I wanted to do this even though there was scepticism (well meant) from family and friends.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Do it! What's the worst that's going to happen? Do you want to lie on your death bed going "If only?"

That said, I do think that you should try and get as many relevant skills as possible before you make the big leap. In my case, the accountancy skills in particular were a big advantage. When we take on volunteers, we are interested in those people who have tangible skills to offer.

You can read more about the organisations Chris has founded at www.realitytoursandtravel.com and www.realitygives.org.

What lessons could you take from Chris' story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below. 

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org.