Words by Amy Packham
Kiran Kaur and Amna Akhtar, from Birmingham, are business partners with a purpose – but they've been friends for a lot longer than that: nearly 20 years.
After college, Amna went to uni for a week and dropped out. Kiran was on a gap year, and supposed to become a dentist, she tells me. But during that time, something shifted.
"We had a profound conversation about what the future looks like, not just for us, but for young women of colour who have less access to opportunities," says Kiran, speaking to Smiley News.
If there was more support to help these young women navigate that journey in life, thought Kiran and Amna, the results could be incredible.
"We didn't have that, it wasn't around, we couldn't see it," adds Kiran.
The pair decided to do away with their previous plan, and start volunteering and mentoring in secondary schools to support young girls of colour with their future aspirations.
"We had that moment," says Kiran, "where we were like, 'this is it'. We wanted to rewrite the rules and say we can be anything we want to be as long as we have access and support – we wanted to build that."
GirlDreamer was born to give young women of colour a better shot at life. On a random day, says Kiran, they registered GirlDreamer with no knowledge about business or finance – but a strong vision.
That was six years ago. Now, GirlDreamer is a fully-fledged non-profit organisation that supports the personal, professional and communal development of young women of colour to pursue their dreams. Kiran and Amna used their lived experience and deep cultural understanding to create more pathways and access to opportunity.
How do they do it?
For the professional development, they fund mico-grants to other young women of colour-led organisations leading on social change (around five organisations per quarter), providing accelerator programmes and mentoring. The mentoring programmes last 6-12 months programme, where young women get paired with women in senior position in different industries.
And for the personal development, they create events, a wellbeing focus and community-led spaces to help people connect with themselves and others around them.
After launching in Birmingham in 2016, they decided to roll out their programme nationally in 2019 – and in 2020 everything went online. "Now, we get applications from young women of colour in South Africa, America, Middle East," says Kiran.
During the first four years, GirlDreamer was supporting around 400 women a year – but now some of their resources are online, too, that's gone into the 1000s.
Everything is free for women, and the aim is to get women of colour to be leading on social change. The impact has been incredibly encouraging for Kiran and Amna to see.
"We finished a programme on increasing the number of women of colour on boards," says Kiran, "and we had three of them come back six months post-programme and they're serving on boards of charities in the country.
"We remember interviewing them – and now they're making a change. It's amazing to see."
They've also had people apply for their funds, who have then gone on to becoming social entrepreneurs with registered organisations within a year. "It's really special," says Kiran, "you get to see people at the beginning of what their idea and hope is – and then we see them come into fruition."
Spreading the message
Kiran spoke at Anthropy on 3 November in a session, 'You Can Be What You Can't See', which aimed to fire the starting gun for new social ventures that will help shape society in years to come.
"We all came from the version of what we wanted to be without that representation," says Kiran, about the session. "We built it first so that others could benefit.
"I never knew anyone in this space – the social sector – who looked like me. I knew I was going to have to go out and make it myself."
Kiran wanted to get across a message of hope for the next 30 years, but also the need for action. "At a lot of these events, we all talk a lot," she says, "and for me, we need to go out and starting doing this stuff so we can eventually stop having these conversations.
"Eventually, I wanted to stop coming to these events, I don't want it to be a problem anymore."
Smiley News is a media partner at Anthropy.