Nafeesa Arshad on sharing her voice & creating a community

Nafeesa Arshad is getting more people talking about what’s important through Goodness Gracious Grief and What the Funk?
Common Exception Nafeesa Arshad

Nafeesa Arshad is on a mission to share her voice and to get more people talking about what’s important. I’m incredibly inspired by Nafeesa, and connected with her through Goodness Gracious Grief which she started after her sister Saima died from cancer last year at the very young age of 31. Sharing her own journey with sibling loss, Nafeesa has been helping other young people share their stories, creating a community for anyone experiencing grief. Passionate about community and providing a voice for her generation, Nafeesa recently launched her podcast What the Funk? with her friend Abbie Brett, discussing issues such as inclusivity, authenticity, mental health, self awareness and care. I chatted to Nafeesa about where her passion for community comes from, how she manages her time and energy with so many projects, and her advice for anyone wanting to start.


Can you tell me about you and your background? 

I’m 24 and I am the Digital Project Manager for a web design agency, co-director of Masala Wala Cafe based in Brockley, London and the Founder of Goodness Gracious Grief. I studied Management & Marketing at uni but I was always intrigued by the psychology with how we interact with each other as people as well as on a brand level. I’ve had a few roles across marketing but this has always been for another business until I then took a lead at my sister’s restaurant, Masala Wala Cafe. Since then I have also worked in marketing for a charity and now I am the Project Manager at a Brixton based digital agency. Goodness Gracious Grief is my first time cultivating a sense of community across my own personal experiences and also in my own time. 

“Being authentic allows you to attract others that are on a similar level to you. This in turns allow you to waste less of your precious energy on those that do not nourish you in some way.”

You’re passionate about connecting with people and forming communities. Where did this passion come from?

My passion for cultivating community has been embedded in me since I was young, where food was always at the centre of everything we did as a family. So much so, that we ended up basing a whole restaurant around our mother’s cooking. It is through this space we have connected with our local community and beyond. This is the same energy I try to channel in all areas of my life, including any ongoing passion project I may have. 

Common Exception Nafeesa Arshad 03

You started Goodness Gracious Grief after your incredibly inspiring sister Saima, founder of the award winning Masala Wala Cafe. Can you tell me more about Goodness Gracious Grief and what it’s meant to bring together a community of other young people experiencing grief?

Goodness Gracious Grief was initially set up as a means of me expressing myself during my raw stages of grief whilst also curating a space of connecting with other young people experiencing varying forms of loss. This was during the thick of Lockdown 2.0 in November. Not only was I experiencing isolation during the pandemic but I also felt alone with my grief and, in particular, sibling loss. I was quick to realise that as much as it comforted me connecting with others through this space, I really wanted to connect IRL. I have experience in marketing, events and also with hosting supper clubs. So for me, it was a no-brainer to get planning for potential meet up ideas, so that I could connect with some of my new grief friends and to also encourage others to join. 

You also recently launched your podcast What the Funk? with your friend Abbie Brett. Can you tell me how it came about?

We wanted to get our voice out there and stir up conversations amongst our peers about topics that mattered to us whilst also reflecting on how the past year has been one big WTF moment. We always have had these mad chats between us, so look to be vulnerable in exposing our inner thoughts and lived experiences around things such as career fulfilment, entrepreneurship, the wellness industry, manifestations, social media and grief! 

“You can literally start anything you want to by writing those ideas down on paper, visualising what that idea is and perhaps expanding on it using a mind map.”

On the first episode of your podcast, you and Abbie discuss authenticity. How do you think people should show up authentically, and what does this mean to you? And what do you suggest for anyone struggling finding their voice? 

Being authentic allows you to attract others that are on a similar level to you. This in turns allow you to waste less of your precious energy on those that do not nourish you in some way. Authenticity can feel difficult for many as we live in a world where a provisional version of yourself is encouraged however it’s important to remember that it is a journey and everyone has their own purpose in life. It can be scary to share the authentic version of yourself and of course there may always be contexts in which this doesn’t work. But when you are starting a business, authenticity generally resonates with your audience as you interact on a personal and human level. Which will ultimately lead to you attracting the people you intended to reach through your product or service. For anyone struggling to find their voice, I encourage you to take the leap and start small, this could be snippets about your process behind the scenes or sharing content about topics that truly interest you. 

You’re wearing quite a few hats with your day job and being co-director of Masala Wala Cafe, alongside Goodness Gracious Grief and your podcast. How do you manage your time and energy levels?

Yes, I definitely am wearing a few hats but ultimately it comes down to passion and what various projects mean to you. When you are fully and emotionally invested in something you are happy to give it the time it needs. But also, I actually heavily prioritise my wellbeing, especially after the last year. So if I have to switch off and hit pause I will delete my apps for a few days and delegate tasks to others. 

Who or what inspires you? 

My biggest inspiration is my sister Saima Thompson. She had the most amazing warming nature, entrepreneur spirit and go getter attitude. Nothing ever held her back and she knew how to fulfil her visions whilst at the same time she maintained being a highly empathetic and loved pillar of our local community and also leader of my sisters. People didn’t come to Masala Wala Cafe just for the food or the fun space, they came for her energy and wisdom. And in the face of her cancer diagnosis, she taught me that no matter what gets thrown at you in life, you can find a way to thrive not just survive! All that matters in the end is finding joy and light in each day, no matter how small. 

What’s your advice for someone who has an idea but hasn’t yet started?

Start now! You can literally start anything you want to by writing those ideas down on paper, visualising what that idea is and perhaps expanding on it using a mind map. Mind maps are one of the most accessible tools I could recommend, and it’s great because you can do it with the intention of having both realistic and intangible ideas. Set yourself some small actions around what you can do this week or who you can talk to this week to become one step closer to your idea becoming a real concept! I can guarantee once you just make that small step, you will be excited to make the next. 

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