Inspirational Woman Interview: Komal Minhas
Komal Minhas is an Indo-Canadian entrepreneur, media maker, and investor who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She’s the founder of KoMedia, a digital consultancy that focuses on telling women’s stories worldwide. In 2014, Komal became producer and distributor of Dream, Girl, a documentary that tells the stories of ambitious female entrepreneurs. In May 2016, Dream, Girl premiered at the White House as part of the United State of Women Summit. Komal was named one of Oprah’s SuperSoul100, a list featuring extraordinary individuals that live life intentionally, create great social impact, and bring inspiration to others, and is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. She has spoken on panels and at events about entrepreneurship and women in media, including at the White House, and the Cannes International Film Festival.
What is your background?
Komal Minhas: I did my undergraduate degree in journalism, human rights and political science and I grew up in a really entrepreneurial family. My background is a combination of storytelling, international relations, development, human rights and business.
You are the Founder of KoMedia, a media company with the mission of amplifying the stories of women and girls from around the world to educate, inspire, and systematically change how females are treated globally. What inspired you to found KoMedia and what sets KoMedia apart from other blogs related to women’s empowerment?
Komal Minhas: I was inspired to start KoMedia very early into my undergraduate career. In my second year of university, I was studying journalism and I realized very quickly that I wasn’t meant to be a traditional journalist and the passion I’ve had for business and creating new entities was something that I needed to pursue. During my human rights degree, I did most of my research on understanding how rape was a weapon of war and how women’s bodies were war zones in the DRC during that time and it still continues today. As I was realizing my passion for women’s rights in such a treacherous way of understanding the movement of feminism through this lens of understanding the geopolitics of that part of the DRC, it really made me feel compassionate about women and understanding how we can move forward in the world and shift how women’s bodies are seen and interpreted. That’s turned into how we portray women in the media and the role models we see on screen.
I think what sets KoMedia apart and makes us unique is this understanding of what needs to systemically change for women on the global level. We focus on taking time to research the context, background and norms involving women in different ecosystems, cultures and spaces around the world. Knowing the power of media particularly in North America in changing perceptions and perspectives of women young and old, we really wanted to invest the rest of my life in creating culturally appropriate and relevant narratives that can move us forward to women’s empowerment. KoMedia has a part ownership of Dream, Girl – a documentary about the lives of a diverse range of women entrepreneurs – and this is the first piece of important media that KoMedia has invested in and has helped bring to life. We want to continue going down this line with books, publishing, blogs, feature films and other content. What sets us apart is the uniqueness of all the people who work with us, our passion for wanting to understand the global systems around us, and our attempt to make this a long-term concerted effort at changing mainstream media.
Can you tell me about some of KoMedia’s impact investments? What encouraged you to pursue the impact ventures including Coca-Cola’s economic empowerment initiative?
Komal Minhas: Our impact investing arm seeks to look into companies that are moving the dial within the media that are run by women for women. We wanted to put our money on a product that not only was scalable on the social impact but could also be scalable on the revenue side as well. In terms of our work with Coca-Cola, it was separate from our investment arm and it was an opportunity for me, as a representative of KoMedia, to travel to India to showcase the way Coca-Cola is impacting women within their value chain. We saw how drainage irrigation systems allowed women to no longer be in the fields all day because there were more concrete irrigation systems in place that were being funded by Coca-Cola. This allowed women to spend more time with family and become more educated. Through this initiative, we saw how Coca-Cola was involved with the lives of women in a positive way. Moreover, we saw how Coca-Cola is actively involved in creating more sanitary bathrooms for primary and middle school girls so that these girls don’t drop out of school because of a lack of sanitary pads or restrooms during their periods. Coca-Cola took the efforts through partnerships with schools to increase the retention rates of young girls in the communities. These are some of the things that I was able to witness.
You also are the Producer of Dream, Girl, a documentary about the lives of female entrepreneurs representing a vast array of industries and backgrounds. What encouraged you to produce Dream, Girl, and what has been its impact so far?
Komal Minhas: When Erin [Bagwell] put out the Kickstarter campaign to Dream, Girl in 2014, I was oblivious to it. I didn’t even know it existed until it ended in my email inbox; once I saw the trailer and Erin’s call to action at the end of the trailer, I was hooked. When I started KoMedia one and a half years before that, I didn’t have a network of women who I could lean on or look to about issues related to running a business. I remember just watching the trailer and feeling so seen and supported by the women on screen and more specifically by Erin at the end of the trailer. When I reached out to her, we realized we had a synergy. I wanted to invest, provide camera equipment, meet her and be on set. We realized how great we were a fit in business and how that has progressed – we support each other and help each other in any way possible. I came into this because of Erin’s passion and also because I felt such a deep resonance with the story as an entrepreneur myself.
On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Komal Minhas: Women’s empowerment matters to me because I grew up in a culture that is very much patriarchal. Indian culture is very much male-dominated and very much prioritizes men over women; for example, in the dowry system, culturally, women are seen as more of a burden than they are an opportunity. I was fortunate enough to grow up in Alberta, Canada in a community that was extremely entrepreneurial. I have the hybrid of growing up in a city that’s very entrepreneurial but a culture that was very patriarchal. But my parents always pushed me to go for my dreams and pursue my passions and never let me believe that my gender was an obstacle in some ways. My passion for women’s empowerment started at a young age from a very personal angle. As my scope opened and as I understood more about wars and global politics, I learned that wars and conflicts are actually taken out on women’s bodies and that is unacceptable. Now my passion for women’s empowerment is more specific; looking forward, I hope to see more women as media-makers and media funders in the future.
What, in your opinion, are the biggest problems about the media’s representation of intersectional feminism?
Komal Minhas: It’s so interesting to see how the commercialization of feminism has taken off. When you are looking at a fashion commercial and you’re seeing models walking down the street in their full on fashion garb with very expensive designers holding up signs saying ‘feminist,’ seeing Beyonce in front of a massive sign emblazoned ‘feminist,’ or you’re seeing Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi saying that Beyonce’s brand of feminism isn’t her brand of feminism – not in a condescending way, but in an awareness way. Feminism isn’t one-size-fits-all. There’s a generalization that we hear often that feminism is the social, political and economic equality of the sexes and that’s a great baseline understanding but knowing that every subset of society has different experiences regarding gender and everyone’s story is important. The media is very click-baitey and sound-bitey that the way that we’re seeing the proliferation of feminism in the media is a very one-size-fits-all model. Even with the Nasty Woman trope emerging from the Presidential Debate, my friend wrote a piece in the Metro Toronto talking about how black women can’t reclaim that word because when it’s applied to black women it’s a very different understanding of what Nasty Woman is and how that word has been embedded for them within that culture. I think it’s important to continue to be critical and know that it’s a generalized understanding that we’re being spoon-fed every day and it’s important to be thoughtful about it, especially around the cultural implications about what feminism looks like for women from different walks of life.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Komal Minhas: Erin Bagwell has left an indelible mark on my life; I wouldn’t be in New York if it weren’t for her passion and risk starting from the Kickstarter campaign that brought me to this place. She’s an incredible friend, sister and someone who I love so wholeheartedly. She inspires me every day to be my best every day and someone who has inspired me to be not only my best for our team to be our best too. She has supported me through so many hard times in my life; though it’s only been two and a half years since we’ve met, it feels like a lifetime. Erin is such an inspirational woman to me.
Are there books, movies and websites that are inspiring you right now about gender equality, women’s empowerment and social impact?
Komal Minhas: Obviously, I’d have to say Dream, Girl. Other websites that I love to go include Feminist Wednesday (a site that Erin founded a few years ago) and Medium. I think that Medium is such a great hub of all different topics that you need and that can help you pull forward. I recently also went to a series of live events called the Together Live Tour. There was a woman, Valerie Kaur who spoke there; this is a collection of women who are gathered together in the face of this election and the news surrounding women during this election and it felt like such a wonderful space to be in as a feminist, activist and woman. I also really love Plan International, a wonderful women’s organization that’s doing great work at a high level.