In the Spotlight: Kiran Gandhi
Day job: Madame Gandhi
Kiran Gandhi, or rather, Madame Gandhi, started playing the drums when she was 11 years old. At 18 she moved to Washington D.C. from New York City to attend Georgetown University where she studied mathematics, women’s studies, and political science. Her dream? To work on Capitol Hill.
But things took a different turn when she started drumming.
You may know Kiran’s name prior to reading this In the Spotlight piece. As she walked the Harvard Business School grounds, she talked all about the importance of women in the music industry empowering the younger generation of women to pursue a creative career in a video published on Refinery29. While watching, I was wondering why her name sounded so familiar. It turned out her e-mail was sent along as a proposed speaker by a colleague for the Berklee Women’s Empower Symposium (the event which led to the creation of ProjectNextUp). Go figure.
After I watched the three-minute video, dug through my inbox, I found her e-mail and drafted a note to her. Subject line: WE MUST MEET.
In those three minutes, the words that summarized Kiran’s vision and mission in life were told in just a few sentences: “We need the next generation to see you [female leaders]. There’s someone out there doing it, therefore we know it’s possible…Nothing makes me happier than empowering the next generation of young women — especially women who are trying to work in music. That’s my sweet spot.”
Since that initial e-mail, Kiran and I have exchanged ideas, more e-mails, texts, and phone calls. I had the honor to watch the first Democratic debate at her family’s home (which happens to have previously been the home of Eleanor Roosevelt). Kiran is a huge Hillary Clinton advocate — members of Hillary’s campaign were present during the viewing party. Just a few weeks ago, I was at Kiran’s home again for a beautiful holiday fundraising party. Proceeds donated were given to the "Let's Face It. Period" campaign, which supports on-the-ground projects and innovative products that promote menstrual health and empower women and girls around the world. When this piece goes live, Kiran will be in Africa to perform and help the team, before her move to Los Angeles to keep pushing her artistry.
When Kiran got her MBA at Harvard Business School, she was also touring with M.I.A. all over the world. One day she would be in class, that afternoon on a plane, and the next evening on a stage drumming her heart out. The following day she would find herself back in class. Maybe even taking an exam. Rockstar? Yes, something like that.
“I made it my mantra. I wanted it to work out so badly,” Kiran explained. “Both sides of my brain were getting nurtured. I was drumming and playing with my favorite artist. While at the same time, I was at a top school learning about patterns I could apply to the music industry. How did I make it work? I worked my ass off.”
Kiran previously worked at Interscope, as the label’s first digital analyst, studying streaming patterns. She also completed a consulting project for Spotify, and was offered a full-time job there after her MBA. But her life’s purpose has always been to pursue her musical career and keep empowering young women all over the world. So, she turned down the offer, and has continued to pursue the merging of her passions: music, technology, and advocating for gender equality.
As one of the founders of ProjectNextUp, my own life motto is to surround myself with creative individuals who make it a life goal to push for social change, to inspire others, to work fearlessly until a vision becomes reality. Kiran is that role model every girl should have in their life. Not only did Kiran run the London Marathon back in April (a mission in itself), she ran on her period and she ran without a tampon. Why? Because this was her run. Because she trained months and months and months. And that time of the month, as so it is deemed, wasn’t going to stop her. Because thousands of girls all over the world don’t have access to these sanitary products on a daily basis. Because a few hours running without any sanitary product would be uncomfortable. And because it would start a conversation. A much needed conversation. Because you know, talking about periods is so taboo. Period. Pun intended.
“We tell women to clean it up, to be sexy,” says Kiran. “They say, We don’t want to hear about your period because it’s not beautiful. It’s not sexy. We don’t want to know a thing about it because it’ll make everyone else feel awkward. But it happens to every woman in the entire world.”
“Girls are marketed from a young age to be a princess during Halloween,” Kiran adds. “They are told they have to look beautiful and consumable. Women seem to prioritize buying the ‘right’ lipstick and ask themselves if they look good enough for Instagram or tell themselves they need to fix their hair or their eyebrows. We seem to have so many decisions about what to do to look a certain way. Even if we look beautiful doing the thing we love doing, society still doesn’t pay attention.”
Kiran firmly believes today’s girls need to hear from women in the industry so they can be molded into tomorrow’s leaders. “Young women need to see that there are roles in the industry which they can dream and aspire to fill,” says Kiran. “If we dream and if the path is not made clear for us, we detract. Role models make that path visible. Women need more visibility. We need to create platforms to put women on so the next generation can see them.”
What I would tell my 15-year-old self: I would tell my 15-year-old self to just live. Don’t worry about your weight. Don’t worry about being dorky. Focus on your passion and you will be happy.
My purpose in 140 characters or less: Use music as a medium to make a world a better place for women.
Connect with Kiran on Twitter: @madamegandhi