Harjas Grewal is a 22-year old passionate and innovative leader from Brampton, Canada with a degree in Global Development from Western University and an Urban Humanitarian Emergencies certificate from Harvard University. Her work has revolved on addressing human rights and sustainable development goals with a focus on gender equality, reducing inequalities across the board, and education. Harjas has worked extensively in the United Nations and Youth Assembly ecosystems on gender equality and human rights through meaningful engagement, such as advocacy, community building, and policy work. She is the Founder of UnitedWomxn, a platform aimed to cultivate conversation surrounding sustainable development and highlight leaders’ from all over with an emphasis on the BIPOC community. Furthermore, she is a recipient of the 2020 Diana Award for her social impact work.
My first job was… as a media production assistant and I volunteered doing Seva at Gurudwaras, which propelled my mindset to serve the community.
My proudest accomplishment is… speaking at the United Nations General Assembly week in New York City about women in leadership at an event key-noted by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus. I am also proud of winning the Diana Award, one of the highest accolades a young person can get for their humanitarian work.
The idea for UnitedWomxn came to me when… I spoke to a young person who recently left women’s shelter and realized there was a lack of resources and diversity of mentors for youth from disadvantaged communities. Providing inspirational and educational content to create the agency needed for empowerment is what this platform is about. As someone who has been close to a shelter once and has faced difficulties, I know how hard it is to imagine beyond the four walls you are in. I want to create tangible and lasting change.
My boldest move to date was… accepting who I am and publicly advocating for causes I believe in; an example, running a rally against white supremacy. It took a while for me to own my voice and realize that is the single most powerful thing I have. Sometimes I stayed quiet due to fear of consequences, but I haven’t been scared to call people out for wrong-doings, advocate for change and put myself out there for the past years. I aspire to carry myself with No Fear (Nirbhao) and No Hate (Nirvair) as I learned from Sikhism.
I surprise people when I tell them… I am a creative and writer. I have helped produce sold-out concerts, acted in theatre, and wrote plays. I am a published playwright (Bloodline), a play about mental health, I co-wrote in high school which won me the Ontario Young Authors Award. Also wrote a short story called Curfew Clocks, which was published in an anthology. People tell me I am a “jack of all trades”.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to stay resilient and accept rejections. That is the single best advice I have learned from my own experiences. Many doors will close, many rejections will come, but eventually one will open, and it will lead to a world of opportunities and possibilities. It is up to you to hustle, keep your vision consistent, and remain resilient.
“Many doors will close, many rejections will come, but eventually one will open, and it will lead to world of opportunities and possibilities.”
My biggest setback was… I grew up with a lack of resources and opportunities. Due to difficulties in my childhood, I eventually faced mental health issues. My anxiety and depression caused a lot of roadblocks.
I overcame it by… imagining a world where my voice mattered. This pipe dream became a goal and I learned to voice my dreams, talk to as many people as I could, and remain inspired. My immigrant mother’s resilience in the face of a seemingly cold world taught me to always be brave and remain resilient…like her!
My passion for Global Development began when… I learned about Seva or service through Sikhism and volunteered at multiple organizations. I wanted to learn from different humanitarian organizations and when I was 11 years old, I learned about the United Nations General Assembly, and I made it my goal to be there one day (which I succeeded in doing)! As I grew, I eventually learned about the impact and the gaps in these organizations, especially in how Global Development was being taught. Though my time at these organizations, I learned you have to work WITH the communities at stake to see a sustainable difference. Thankfully, I found a program at Huron at Western University that taught Global Development in a critical anti-oppressive and collaborative lens. All of this caused me to become passionate about international affairs, global development and politics – because I believe that you can make a tangible impact in these areas.
Work/life balance is... a hard feat. For me, I work full time tackling gender, inclusion and equity with Matrix360 and in my free time, I am working on launching UnitedWomxn. I dedicate my waking hours to my passions, however, due to my mental health – I realize unplugging and doing some self-care is SO important! For me, this is ensuring I am doing my robust skincare routine, limiting social media in the evenings, and reading before bed (currently reading Songs of Kabir and Remnants of a Partition by Aanchal Malhotra).
If I had an extra hour in the day… I would write short stories, poems and work on play ideas! I’m always getting random interesting ideas to write about.
If you googled me… you still wouldn’t know I love stargazing and used to read about the cosmos for hours at end.
Also, I am a big believer in idealizing your own life. An example, embodying yourself as the main character of your own movie and living life with endless passion, belief and hope.
Another fact, I am a big fan of Korean Dramas.
I stay inspired by… young leaders from marginalized communities whose time to rise is now. And I stay inspired by the child me. The girl who grew up imagining she was walking the halls of the United Nations, travelling to big cities, and having a voice that mattered on platforms to elevate other young change-makers.
The future excites me because… there is so much growing, realizing, and learning to do. Youth today are so powerful, from mobilizing communities to running start-ups to actionizing change…they excite and inspire me every day. There are endless opportunities and I cannot wait to see what life has in store.
My next step is… to launch UnitedWomxn. The rest of the story will follow.