Fay Sharpe (founder of Fast Forward 15) introduces Shonali Devereaux in the sixth of her series on Shero’s: “Shonali is one of those women that just radiates positivity, she lights up a room. I first met her a few years back when she was a lecturer at the University of Brighton in international Event Management and at the time, I had just launched FF15. Finally, she’s joining us next year as a Mentor. When we look at women with a ‘can do attitude’, Shonali ticks all the boxes. At the moment she’s beating cancer and using her expertise to create hope and encouragement for other women, though she is in the middle of chemotherapy. She is conducting interviews with women who have or have had breast cancer for her vlog ‘One Boob Down’. A great addition to next year’s programme.”

Who is Shonali Devereaux?

“I am Shonali Devereaux and I am a presenter, event host and interviewer. I passionately believe in the power of story to inspire and empower others, so am delighted to have found that my super-skill is facilitating great debate. I am currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and so for the last few months have been interviewing cancer survivors to build an archive of inspiration on Shonali.com.

My career to date hasn’t followed a single path; instead, I’ve followed my interests in the moment, relied on the skills I have and worked really hard. In a world that encourages you to be one thing, it feels subversive to follow your changing passions, but for me, the mark of a life well-lived is about experiencing and learning as much as possible.

In my career I have had the enormous privilege of working back-of-house on some of the world’s largest events. Early on I worked for the late, great Vanessa Cotton and then went on to work on the Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth and Asian Games, then ran a company organising events at the UK’s three main Political Party Conferences. I have always had a passion for fundraising and have had the honour of working for Meeting Needs (The Event Industry Charity) and being on the Board of Pride. My last employment was as Head of Events for the British Heart Foundation leading a team that raised £10 million annually. Along my winding path I’ve acquired an award-winning Masters in Tourism and Social Anthropology, taught at Universities in the UK and France, and have given a TEDx Talk.

My TEDx Talk encompasses my philosophy; it is about applying the principles of Improvisation to life to create serendipity. I’ve found that practicing the three main rules of Improv (saying “yes and”, trusting yourself and trusting others) opens up possibilities and enables creativity and innovation. It has also helped me to embrace my journey with cancer in a time of COVID by allowing me to live in the moment, trust the process and accept support.

One of the greatest things that has helped me build resilience at this time is practicing gratitude as an intentional, ongoing and deliberate effort. I’m immensely grateful for the overwhelming kindness I have experienced while undergoing treatment. I am grateful for the opportunities that have come to me, including being a mentor for FF15 next year. And while we are not all in the same boat, we are all in the same storm; I hope that encouraging you to practice gratitude helps you weather yours.”