SFU alum Harpo Mander on empowering young women in business

The face of the Brown Girl Guilt brand focuses on community outreach

Harpo Mander: entrepreneur, podcast host, and more. Photo courtesy of Brown Girl Guilt

By: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate

At the heart of the Brown Girl Guilt (BGG) podcast is the desire to establish a strong community of women. SFU alum Harpo Mander is the founder of BGG and one of the recipients of Surrey’s Top 25 Under 25 Award. Through BGG, she has increased awareness on the importance of body positivity, female empowerment, and diverse representation in media. In an interview with The Peak, Mander discussed why these initiatives matter to her.

With over 3,000 followers, BGG clearly resonates with audiences. For Mander, this was affirmation that her goal to increase representation for Punjabi women in creative outlets was succeeding. She recalled how rare it was for her to see Punjabi women in mainstream media during her childhood. She learned the importance of representation through forming strong connections with other Punjabi women while in school.

“I always say that you can’t become what you can’t see,” Mander said. 

“What I want to do at Brown Girl Guilt as the host of this community, of this podcast, is to show other young Punjabi women [ . . . ] that we are able to openly talk about ourselves and our lives and put ourselves first, and that we can be successful in more creative outlets.”

Community is something Mander values highly. But the BGG host saw the opposite when becoming an entrepreneur. While describing how competition hinders relationship-building, she recommended an alternative: “Instead of stepping all over one another to get to the top, if we hold our hands together and walk towards this goal of ours together, we’re all winning, and we’re actually creating more space.”

One of the ways Mander is uplifting other female entrepreneurs is by working to remove financial barriers. She explained that, while resources such as professional photographers streamline the process of building a brand, they are not always affordable. In honour of Women’s Day on March 8 this year, Mander and her colleague Amneet Athwal, also an entrepreneur, launched the $1,000 BGG Scholarship, which was funded by Barinder Rasode

Mander praised Rasode for sponsoring BGG without hesitation. “I think that’s really important for young women [to see], because often we’re so scared to ask for money. We’re also so scared to just have any conversation around finances and money in general, and it’s really hard for us to approach people in positions of power to say, ‘I think you should really invest in me,’” she explained. 

The BGG Scholarship not only provides financial support, but also features the “#cutiegirl starter package,” which includes resources for business management and marketing. By financially supporting female entrepreneurs, the BGG Scholarship intends to reduce competition between women and promote collaboration.

Another issue Mander is passionate about, and one she often discusses in her podcast, is the importance of body positivity. She believes that while mainstream media has touched on the idea of body acceptance, the conversations need to be more fulfilling. “It’s so easy for us to tell women — and I mean tell everybody really — to love themselves, but [ . . . ] your body is something that you embody,” Mander said.

“I used to have a lot of distaste and a lot of disgust for this vessel through which I’m operating the world,” she continued. “When I shifted to, ‘It’s a blessing. It’s such a privilege to even occupy this vessel, for me to even have this body,’ my relationship with my body shifted tenfold.”

According to Mander, “so much of what [she is] today comes from the SFU community.” Similar to her podcast’s vision, she said she would like to see SFU “really investing in [students, staff, and alumni] who are telling diverse stories, who are going against the grain, changing the narrative, and adding to the discourse.”

Supporters can follow Mander’s journey by following her on Instagram, @browngirlguilt_. The BGG podcast is available for streaming on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.