What if your dreams are way bigger than your reality? Who would you ask for help? How would you find the courage and confidence to take action. Today, we are speaking to Anu Bhardwaj, who shares her journey of struggling financially, being nobody and knowing no one to building a global movement, championing the economic empowerment for women worldwide. Anu is the founder of Women Investing In Women Digital, the world’s largest media platform, focused on women and investing, with over a million followers across 120 countries. She is also the founder of State of The Women radio network, that shares stories of role models, thought leaders and change makers, with a mission to make an impact on the state of women everywhere.
In this episode, Anu takes us through her journey and how she discovered her WHY and defined her path. She is candid about the obstacles she has faced, why she is unapologetically authentic, and how her tenacity and optimism have helped her overcome barriers. Anu is someone who lives her life outside of the box, she is all about the pursuit of a really big mission and shares why it’s so important for women to have equal opportunity and access to education and positions of power and influence. Visit www.iambeyondbarriers.com where you will find shownotes and links to all of the resources in this episode, including the best way to get in touch with Anu. (Listen to the podcast below.)
An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Nikki Barua: Hi, Anu, Welcome. I’m so thrilled to have you on the show.
Anu Bhardwaj: I’m so excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Nikki Barua: Well, let’s dive right in. So first off, tell our audience your story and what has driven you all your life?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, I’ve had a very interesting background, I’ve lived in India and in the United States for part of my life. And I would say growing up, I had a grandmother, both my grandmothers, I don’t think made it past the sixth grade. And so, my maternal grandmother who raised me for part of my childhood always emphasized that, you know, my life would be very different to hers, opportunities that were present myself, were going to be a privilege and that I should take advantage of this opportunity to have an education. And with that said, I was always encouraged to go as far as I could academically. And she was incredibly supportive. I went to school in India when I was in sixth grade and I studied Hindi and Telugu, learned Urdu and came back and went to an all-girls debutante school in Charleston, South Carolina. And then after that, went off to Georgetown, where I studied art history and biochem. So right then and there, I knew I was left brain, right brain. And I really wanted an education that would take me global and I wanted to make a mark and that, that I think has been my driving factors, just you know, having this ability to have the background that I do and then take it to as far as I can go. And I think there’s a lot of other young women and girls that could really benefit from, you know, all the experiences that I’ve had and so I’m really working to maximize my impact for them.
Nikki Barua: That’s amazing. Now you’ve had a lot of varied experiences from growing up in India to, you know, coming to the United States and a lot of different experiences and as you mentioned, left brain, right brain as well. You’ve also taken very unconventional paths in your career. So, tell us what you do now and what has helped you take chances along the way?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, what I’m doing right now, is I have a media platform called Women Investing in Women Digital, and it started about five years ago as a public benefit corporation, a B Corp. And we are producing content, original content and also aggregating content with many of our partners from around the world, focusing on entrepreneurship, innovation, investing, specifically focused around women. And when I say that, it also includes private equity round tables, we’ve had Summit Series, we talk about cryptocurrency and digital assets. So, anything around this topic of investing, as it relates to women who are investing at the highest levels, also angel investors and crowd funders are also part of the mix. But more recently, for the past two years, I’ve been deeply involved with digital assets cryptocurrency and blockchain, and so I’m in the process of developing a Crypto Wallet, for women, teaching them how to invest you know, small levels, but that helps them build confidence and at the end of the day, we will encourage them to invest in other asset classes, but you got to start from the basics and I think what we’re working on right now will get us to where we need to go in terms of moving the needle.
Nikki Barua: That’s amazing. So, with all of these women-focused initiatives and organizations that you’re leading and the things you’re building, what, how do they all connect and tell us about the overarching mission?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, the overall arching mission is the economic empowerment of women. And we invite men to participate in this discussion as well. And we have an audience of over a million followers, 55% are actually men. What we do, is we bring together conversation, digitally and both offline. And so, our social media feed, we post probably like 15-20 articles a day. I’ve been personally curating this for five years and I want to say there’s over 20,000 posts now around women entrepreneurs, women investors, and just global topics that are relevant. So, a very large component is education. That’s where it all starts. But then in terms of action, we’ve had summits and one of our biggest ones was in Stockholm, at the Nordic Stock Exchange at NASDAQ and there were 1400 women, at the Nordic Stock Exchange talking about investing. And our conversation was a focal point of that meeting. And then we had summits in Los Angeles, New York, South Africa, Singapore with NCI Global private equity initiative. And then smaller round tables in the Nordics and the Middle East, also in the United States. And we also had one in Singapore. And so, with that said, it’s really understanding the dynamics between women who want to make a significant impact with their wealth, but also engaging women who don’t have wealth that want to participate in this global economy. How do we encourage them? Because at the end of the day, there’s power in numbers. So, the way that the threads connect is we have the digital media platform, that’s our communication tool. We have the World Women Report, which we’re about to release later this year. And that’s highlighting some of the best corporations out there and what they’re doing in terms of diversity and inclusion, getting more women in the C-suite, getting more women on boards. So, we’ve opened that conversation years ago, and we’re still following it on our social as well as through our other channels. We have a biweekly newsletter, about 100 newsletters came out last year. And those were one focused on economic empowerment looking at entrepreneurship, innovation and investing. But another one specifically focused around cryptocurrency and blockchain and how do we onboard more women into the space because there’s so few of us. And then the other thing that we’ve done is partner with other leading organizations. We’ve had numerous partners in the United States, Africa. I want to say globally because we reached, recently expanded into Australia two years ago, through some of our partners there, and we have this huge base in Scandinavia, where I did my MBA. And so really, it’s about bringing networks together, we do things that we feel are aligned, like work with organizations who are aligned with our mission. And ultimately, we’re all stronger together.
Nikki Barua: That’s amazing. I mean, you in a matter of just a few years, you’ve gained such massive momentum globally. What has helped you keep taking those chances? And were you ever scared of not being ready or not knowing something? I mean, you’re the cutting edge of so many things. Tell us what that personal experience was like when you believe in this big mission, but there’s also a lot to accomplish. How did you deal with those fears or limiting beliefs?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, I look at this in terms of what I can do as opposed to what I can’t do. That’s one of the attitudes that I have. And it’s really served me over time. And I’ll give you an example when, three years ago, I went to the World Economic Forum, and we were producing video content, at The Female Quotient. I took my 18-year old co-host and we have a radio show that we produced, that’s powered by millennial women and girls and Gen Z’s. My daughter Aria, she was two and a half when she started podcasting. My babysitter, Michelle Jaffe, was our co-host and the nanny was the producer at the time. And we started this, this this radio show and ultimately, interviewed Her Royal Highness Princess Reema. Then Bandar also interviewed the former deputy prime minister of Sweden with her granddaughter on air and the head of Intel women and girls at the time, Suzanne Fallender, and many others from UN Women, UNICEF, and at the time, you know, the question would be, well none of us have experience. And you know, you’ve got these young girls that are coming on the show, and you’ve got these high-profile women and you know, many things could go wrong. But at the end of the day, the girls themselves said, you know, we are the voice and we need to do this and if not us, then who’s going to lead these conversations? And so, we ended up doing a hundred shows, with voice America as our partner and they came on board, you know, we would record on the weekends and we had guests from all over the world. And they’re still like 20,000 downloads a year without any advertising whatsoever. We’re getting such a high hit rate so part of this is like yes, I had no experience, Aria is little, you know, she’s saying welcome to the show, thank you for joining us. But ultimately, Michelle came with me to the Clinton Global Initiative. We went to Washington for the State of United State of Women Conference. I ended up taking Avery, one of our other podcasters to Sharjah or the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit in in United Arab Emirates, where she interviewed Malala. That was her first interview on camera. And so, it’s like my girls have been taught from, you know, day one, that they will be thrown into situations that they’re not ready for. But you just step up and you do it because, you’ve got the platform, and if you’re not going to do it, then you know, you shouldn’t be there. So, ultimately, you know, I took Avery to Davos with me, and she interviewed, you know, the head of 10,000 women at the time at Goldman Sachs and, you know, some of the leading women at JP Morgan and we’re interacting with Sheryl Sandberg and whatnot. And so it’s really not about age, it’s about you know, your readiness to lead and, and bringing girls on board, I think was the risk, but at the same time, somebody has to do that right and, and we were the first and we are the only radio network globally powered by millennial women and girls, and it wouldn’t have happened had we not said, you know, we’re going to step it up and do this in 2015 when we did.
Nikki Barua: That’s incredible. And I think some of it is, while there’s so many people that might wish to do that, the fears of holding them back and meanwhile, you’ve just jumped in, you and your team have jumped in into that open space, despite your fears, and that is created even more opportunity and your ability to create impact around the world.
Anu Bhardwaj: Absolutely. So, it’s learning by doing. And by doing we have a precedence and it’s truly authentic in that this platform is powered by these young women and girls, it’s not the experts coming forward and telling them what to do and how to behave, It’s really about the young people and young women and girls expressing, you know, what their needs are, what their desires are. And this is a truly different environment than, you know, what I had back when I when I was finishing college, like these are young women who are already producing content that the gen Z’s and Gen alphas are already making video content and they’re communicating with one another. So, it’s really about understanding where tech is going, but at the same time where culture is going. So, once you figure that part out, I think it’s the stepping-stone for being an influencer.
Nikki Barua: So, Anu, given that you’ve traveled to so many places, and been part of so many great conferences and organizations, you have a unique vantage point of observing women coming from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religious beliefs, and areas and have you observed some common patterns and maybe differences perhaps and what prevents women from showing up with confidence and owning their success?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, I would say, here, here’s the interesting part. I feel like I lived in Scandinavia for about five years when I was doing my MBA. And they are super fortunate because they have been encouraged to express their opinions from a very young age, and this is around the topics of gender equality and gender sensitivity and whatnot, and they’re really, really conscious. There’s a lot of room to grow for everyone, and no one has achieved gender parity, we know that and there’s, there’s, they’re fighting very hard and the men are fighting very hard as well. But even with that conversation, it feels like there’s a long way to go and this is people being open about it. Now, in the Middle East, I’ve also spent significant amount of time and culturally when I when I was growing up in Hyderabad, there was a lot of Muslims and people coming from the Gulf that I was friends with like expats. And at the time, it was like, you know, some of these conversations were happening and it was being hypersensitive around gender equality or gender parity, but they are moving forward and they’re not making noise about it. They’re doing things on their end. And yes, there’s a long way to go also. But I feel, you know, in certain parts of the world, it’s a little bit more acceptable to start talking about, you know, initiatives and the openness and the acceptance that you have, or, you know, opening conversations, I think it’s a little bit more, it’s easy. I want to say it’s easier, I’ll just say it, it’s easier in certain parts of the world. If I were to open up a conversation in India, for instance, there is this element of defensiveness. Well, you know, we did this and of course, it’s, you know, certain way and, and look how far we are. But at the end of the day, it depends on who we’re talking to, which demographic we’re talking to. But as a whole, I feel, you know, in certain parts of the world, they’re more sensitive, and India happens to be that and I would love to see more conversation around this gender, gender angle. And that’s the only way we’re going to progress is how we’re having these conversations, not why, but how. And in the United States, there’s a lot of talk, but if you look at the indexes, we’ve actually gone backwards, right? And some areas we’re going forward like, you know, with boards and things like that, but I think as a whole, if you look at like where we stand, things have gotten worse.
Nikki Barua: And this is obviously a very important topic to women of all ages, but particularly for Gen Z and Millennial women, it’s something that is very top of mind. What is important for large organizations and business leaders to understand about Gen Z and Millennial women worldwide?
Anu Bhardwaj: I think that the most important thing is that, values, your values have to resonate with this next generation, because we have many options on where we can go and what we can do. Whether it’s with the firm or not with the firm and I have, I have worked with organizations and really tried to get to the heart of their culture and when they don’t have a culture or when, when management behaves contrary to what they say they’re doing, it’s very easy to say, look, I don’t think I belong here and this isn’t an environment for me. And in all honesty, there’s a fight for talent now, there’s so many companies out there, there are startups out there. There’s like independent businesses. And there is this drive for so many to start their own companies, this entrepreneurial spirit that’s pervasive all over the country, it’s not just in Silicon Valley anymore. It’s like pockets and clusters and New York and Texas and in the south. And so ultimately, for corporations, I think it’s very important for you to have role models and leaders within your organization that really speak to millennials and Gen Z, but more importantly, have influencers outside the organization who are also going to say, you know what, this is a company that I’d love to work with. Maybe not necessarily work for, but then it, sort of amplifies that message that, you know what it’s if you’re doing great and great things in the world, and we want to be affiliated with you, either as an employee or as a partner.
Nikki Barua: Right. That power of investing your time, money within the organizations that align with our values is really critical because it’s that element of free will and choice that is available is really changing how we look at organizations and brands that we either want to work for or work with.
Anu Bhardwaj: Absolutely.
Nikki Barua: So, you are someone who has truly dedicated your life to your mission. And even as a single mom, you travel the world with your daughter, and you have a very busy life. You’re leading a lot of initiatives, a lot of organizations. You speak a lot of places around the world. How do you make it all happen? Because so many people dream about creating impact, but then reality hits and then they’re worrying about paying their bills and living their lives. How are you doing it all?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, there’s a couple answers to this. One is that I, I was, I prepared for this journey before it actually happened. So, I, ten years ago, I worked on an initiative in partnership with the State Department and the Commerce Department to take private equity funds to Scandinavia, the Middle East and other parts of the globe to raise capital. And I worked primarily, I started this when I was third trimester, I had a baby and US Embassies abroad were more than willing to help me on the on the ground because I couldn’t be there in person and I had a large number of contacts that said, you know what, we know that you know, you need this to work and we’re here to help you. And luckily, I was working with close colleagues in Sweden at the time, and they really gave me the encouragement and the support that I needed. Most of them were men and they said, yeah, of course, you know, we know you’re working hard on this and we’re going to help you. And so that became a complete success. We replicated it in the Arab world. And again, men stepped up and said, you know, you’ve got an infant and my wife is good with kids or I have a daughter and she’s got infants, can we help you in any way? And so, I was really open with these, these partners and contacts of mine to say, look, I have a small child, she’s only six months old or eight months old, can I bring her with me on business? I had a dear friend, Patrice Register, who was working with me at the time as business manager for Women Investing in Women Digital and she said, you know what, if you need help, I’ll go with you. I’ll travel with you to Scandinavia, I’ll travel with you to the Middle East, just tell me when you want to go, and I will make myself available and she wanted to explore in these new geographies as well. So, I took Patrice with me, and I also had a very supportive spouse, still do. And Aria’s father is a pediatric neurosurgeon. And he is very, very good with little ones. And so, you know, when I had to do the bulk of traveling around the world and getting my meetings done, I knew she was in safe hands. So really having strong support and people you can count on, a supportive partner, I think are all critical to taking chances because you have to feel confident either traveling with the child or leaving your little one at home. Aria ended up coming with me to 30 countries on business. It just got to the point. Yeah, so she’s when she was in preschool, and you know, like, when she was younger, she would travel with us to meetings, like very high-level meetings with sovereign funds and pension funds and family offices and whatnot. And she would come along and everyone knew that she was going to attend the meeting also, no one had a problem. And people were very adaptive and accepting and I think that really helped. Doing business in Scandinavia is a dream, because they prioritize people who prioritize their families and, and it was really like I was blessed because you know, it’s the culture there. Middle East also, you’d be surprised for a single woman to be traveling on her own, with an infant, it was just they made they made it so easy. So I thank all those people that that made my track happen. Now with that said, all of the money that I made from this initiative, we raised over $750 million for these US PE/VC funds during the time that I was working with Commerce and State Department. I was able to redirect towards Women Investing in Women Digital, and that was my seed capital. I went in, got more money from angel investors, ten angel investors came on board. And from that point forward, I have been laser focused on execution, not worrying about how am I going to get this done? Where am I going to get this done? And I’ve been on the speaking circuit for about two and a half years globally, just traveling the world talking about blockchain, crypto, digital assets. And for the most part, there’s been some very large organizations who have been super supportive, welcoming. And now it’s just, you know, it’s a different era. It’s a different time. I have to start thinking about the next round, and whatnot. But I think the 10-year track so far, it was all planned out at the time when I started working on this initiative, the private equity initiative.
Nikki Barua: And how have all of these experiences shaped your daughter? Tell us what it’s like from Aria’s perspective to experience so many incredible things and travel the world, but also have a somewhat unconventional life as a young girl?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, Aria asked me a question when she was like, going to kindergarten. She said, mama, why do I need to school? I just want to go to meetings I like meetings like, it was important go to school. And, so her dad looked at me and he’s like, see what you’ve created, like she just doesn’t get it. School is so boring, it’s more fun to sit in the meeting. So, at that point, we were like, yep, she needs structure. And she’s got it. She’s got to do her own thing. So initially, you know, it was a was a weekend thing. Every weekend, we do our podcast, we do our radio show, and she was always included. And, you know, she met all of the hosts and some of the guests and things like that. So, she’s learning from properly, from role models. But more importantly, she said, Mom, you know, I want to be, I want to be working on something that’s going to help the girls also, can I lead something like this? I said, Yes, of course you can. And she recently started crypto for kids. Crypto for kids is an app. She wanted her own digital wallet and she’s like, you know, they don’t have a wallet for kids, and what if we want to buy things too and, you know, ultimately, it was a, it’s a learning tool. It’s a simple game and we’re designing it so that the crypto can be donated to UN Sustainable Development Goals, like they can learn about hunger and poverty and environment, refugees and things like that. So she’s like, you know, it’s a great way to learn, but at the same time, like, I want to learn about what you’re doing, and it’s lead by example again, and so, crypto for kids is becoming a real thing now, and there’s children helping other children and I think she’s had so much exposure that at this point, she doesn’t realize what’s difficult or hard. It’s just like, you just do it. You just, you know, get in and do it. And the one thing that I will say, for a young girl is she realizes the importance of confidence. And I think a lot of girls, they shy away, they’re, they’re, you know, nervous or not sure. And for her, it’s like, yeah, of course if you’re going to get something done, you need confidence. And so that’s, that’s, I think the one thing that’s gone, that’s hit a home run with her.
Nikki Barua: But she’s also learned that confidence comes from simply taking action instead of hesitating, and you’ve modeled that beautifully for her. So this is such an inspiring story to see you not only show up in the world very authentically, but also be vulnerable about where you need help and bringing your tribe and your community along to support you and you know, living your mission, but also being such a phenomenal example for your daughter and she sounds like this very inspiring young lady who is going to do great things in the world, right?
Anu Bhardwaj: Are you presented at the United Nations last June, so she’s, she’s on her way to doing great things, she’s getting, you know, the exposure. I’m just I’m excited what the next nine years are going to look like. She just turned nine. So.
Nikki Barua: We’re all going to be watching Aria go places. So, speaking of United Nations, you are an influencer, an international keynote speaker at some of the biggest conferences and events around the world. You’ve also built really great relationships and authentic, deep relationships with very powerful and influential leaders. And you’ve gained their commitment to help you, you know, pursue your mission. The things you’ve managed to do are not very common because so many people have a vision for what they want to do, but there’s a gap between, I wish I could do this versus I’m able to do this. What has helped you gain access and earn trust of powerful and influential people? And how did you specifically go about doing that?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, I will, I will maybe tell a story of my time in Stockholm, Sweden. This was during grad school, I got married. I met my husband, we got married in a couple weeks. And within the end of the summer, I was in Stockholm. I knew no one. I had no friends, no family, I didn’t speak the language. And here I am a new bride and trying to figure out how to get around in this in this new city. And I’ve never had a winter in my life before, like a real hard winter. And so, it was really about getting connected quickly and trying to find what my strengths were, I won’t lie It was very hard. Being a foreigner and not having access to you know, certain channels that people who spoke the language or who lived there their whole life did, and so I use every meeting, every conference, every whatever and event as a way for me to really integrate and figure out you know where I belonged in this new society. Long story short, I ended up getting connected to several very influential individuals who came on board as mentors, and more importantly, friends. I told them like, look, I have no one here and the people that really shaped me, like career-wise in Scandinavia, they ended up becoming very close friends and mentors, family, I should say. And I ended up getting a full scholarship to the Stockholm School of Economics MBA. And while I was there, I created a foundation, the Nordic chapter of the Indus entrepreneurs and the original TIE organization is based in Silicon Valley but they have chapters all over the US and India. And I brought it to Stockholm. And before I left, there were 3000 Nordic entrepreneurs that were part of our network. We were backed by all the leading Nordic venture funds. It was, you know, a good time, it was 2006, before the financial crisis, lots of sponsorships, we had Price Waterhouse on board, really built this network. So, going from zero to just knowing every leading entrepreneur in that community without having, you know, diplomatic access, or, you know, any corporate or multinational, you know, backing or anything. It was just sheer drive and sheer willpower to create an environment that’s going to be helpful to other entrepreneurs who are just landing in a country where they don’t speak the language and Swedish is very difficult. I learned Swedish over the period of four or five years, but when you first get there, it’s like, where do I go? What do I do? And with that, I was able to get connected even more people because, you know, I, I built my reputation on that this is a girl who showed up, who wasn’t willing to let adversity affect her negatively, she’s gonna beat the odds and really make a success. And by the time our time in Sweden was over, I built a foundation. I got my MBA, I won a Fulbright to the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai. And as soon as I finished my Fulbright, I started raising capital out of the Nordics. And it was like, boom, boom, boom, it was like one, one after the other after the other. And I went back and did business there for about 16 years. And so, it’s like building your story from the beginning. It’s not what don’t I have, it’s what do I have that you have to really focus on and, and just run with it.
Nikki Barua: I love that, that’s really powerful. And I want to dig a little deeper in the specifics of how you went about building these relationships because that’s very fascinating to someone who may be in a similar situation as yourself when you were new in Sweden and potentially wanted to get access to organizations or leaders but did not even know where to begin. So, share with us some more concrete things in terms of how to begin like, did you ask someone you knew to introduce you to someone you wanted to get to know, was it an email, a phone call, walk us through how that actually emerged?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, I, before I went to Sweden, I used to work with initiative around children with HIV in Southeast Asia. And this was my work, I was working with, or friends in Thailand, in northern Thailand, specifically, and shamans, healers and monks, like how they were working together to provide holistic solutions and I got to Sweden where this is not exactly a problem. HIV is not a problem. And it was really trying to get connected to the community there because they’re on the donor side, not on the, you know, not on the recipient side. And so, I started working with organizations that were interrelated, not necessarily directly focused on my geography but interrelated organizations. And I started talking to the stakeholders there, and eventually started raising money, like once there was a fundraiser, and it was for Botswana AIDS org. And someone said, look, we need someone who’s going to lead this fundraiser who would like to do it and I said, I’ve worked with children with HIV. I’d like to work with this. I got connected to the Embassy of Botswana through a mutual contact, a woman’s group that was that was doing this fundraiser. We ended up calling Merck Sharp Dohme, Bristol Myers Squibb as donors, I said, why don’t you guys come on board as sponsors, I know that you you’re doing like a lot of work in Botswana, you should be at this event. They ended up bringing like all of their top people because they were like, oh, this is going to be great, you know, we can showcase the work we’re doing. It’s great press release, so Merck Sharp Dohme came, Bristol Myers came, and the Embassy of Botswana, who was our key partner said, you know what, we’re going to invite all the South African Embassies to join us on this, you know, Botswana night that we’re going to organize. So, I had probably 14 embassies and ambassadors coming in addition to Botswana. And then they said, oh, we’ve got this guy, Banjo Mosele, who did backup for Peter Gabriel. He’s got his band in Norway, he’s gonna bring the entire band. And so, before we knew it, this was like three months after I just landed in Stockholm, newly married. And I was like, What do I do in this place? I’m like, I’ll go raise money for children with HIV. And that’s what I’m going to do. And so, I ended up getting connected to all of the players at Carolina State University, which is the university that gives the Nobel Prize for medicine. So, we had researchers come in. And then we also had a local Red Cross agency initiative come in. And so, I got super connected within a matter of days. But somebody has to drive this, right, at the end of the day, it’s like pulling all of the pieces together. I understood the ecosystem very well and from there, I made some incredible contacts, who basically saw what I could do. It’s not me telling them or someone telling them, oh, this girl is great. It’s they saw it for themselves. And they were like, wow, this just happened in 90 days under our feet and we couldn’t execute something like this, even if we planned it for 18 months. And so, it’s really like showing who you are and what you stand for, my values were out there, and it was really a philanthropic event. We raised 100,000 kronor in a night and, you know, everybody that came was at like a certain, you know, top level and it was great. It was wonderful. And that was my introduction to Sweden. And from that point forward, it was one step at a time building, building, building. And it ended up in the result now 10 years after this MBA happened, I was invited back to Stockholm School of Economics commencement ceremony. So, for the whole school, they brought me back and I got to give a speech. The same dyess where they give the Nobel Prize, where they announced the Nobel Prize winners, I was I was giving my speech on, for this graduating class. And I thought that was the greatest honor. It’s like coming to this country, you’re no one, you’re nobody, you look different, you are different. But if you can rise to that level and looking at you know, the City Hall, the Stockholm City Hall and all these brilliant minds and faces and giving them direction, it was like, it was an incredible honor and there were so many supporters, I can’t even emphasize like I could not have made it out of that country without the network that I had before I left and it’s honestly family that is with me for life still.
Nikki Barua: That’s incredible, from shamans to Scandinavian investors, it was quite a journey. But it shows just how unstoppable you are and what an inspiring story of, you know, going from being nobody and having nothing to really creating so much impact and you’re continuing to do this all over the world now. As you, the space that you’re in, and all the things that you’re doing for women worldwide, especially with economic empowerment, give us some perspective about the lens of, you know, from the lens of women of color, like what’s important from a skill set mindset, perspective, you know, what are some of the challenges that still exist and how can, what does that future look like?
Anu Bhardwaj: So, If you look at women of color today, two fifths of the world, occupy that space. So, you make a pie. And that’s 40% of the world is women of color. And we’re talking about Africans, Latinas, Asians. Yeah, people who get tans do, we can we include them. But ultimately, this is our demographic and to a large extent, the funding, when it comes to venture capital, less than point 00, you know, 5% of African Americans in the United States will get funded. There’s actual statistics out there and there’s funds that are, you know, being developed specifically to target this demographic. There’s like four or five, you can name them on your hand. It’s so small, but they are some of the highest producers. If you look at people like Oprah, for instance, like she’s done incredibly well and you have a number of women, there’s Payal Kadakia, now she’s ClassPass. She’s another billion-dollar business. And I’ve been following the space for quite some time. I think that the, you know, there’s power in numbers ultimately and a lot of the same issues that are affecting women in South Asia are affecting women in Africa, and in Latin America, namely patriarchy, misogyny, chauvinism, it’s so prevalent in our in our societies. And I think that’s the common denominator when it comes to these women of color, whether you’re from the Middle East, or whether you’re from, you know, Cuba, or whether you’re from Bangladesh, it’s basically, you have women who are fighting against all odds culturally, religiously, ethnically, like they, there’s a barrier which is you know, sons are prioritized more than the girls and ultimately, if you’re going to accomplish something, it’s, you do it for yourself. But more importantly, you’re doing it to prove something. And I think that’s, that’s something that we share as a bond. Many of the women that I’ve come across in the past have said, yeah, we have similar, similar situations, and we have to navigate around our brothers, our husbands, our fathers and whatnot. And I don’t think necessarily women in Scandinavia can relate to that. So, it is it is, it is a different, like, reality that we face, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity that pushes us forward. And once we figure it out, I think, you know, sky’s the limit at that point. And so, I would say that, all we can do is there’s this common sisterhood we can support one another and invest in one another. And that’s, that’s the core of what we’re doing at Women Investing in Women Digital. We have a large audience of international and you know, ethnic diversity within this demographic of people that we work with. And so, I think that’s the heart of what’s making this gain so much momentum is that we embrace diversity, we embrace inclusion, we embrace all genders who support the economic empowerment of women.
Nikki Barua: And you really highlighted the importance of visibility in those contexts because you can’t be what you cannot see. And I think the need for role models the need for highlighting both the barriers as well as the opportunities for women, and even more so for women of color is critically important. I think your platform certainly does that by raising awareness and shifting hearts and minds so more people can be part of that movement. From the perspective of a young woman of color, who may feel stuck or not see those role models where she might be, what advice would you give that would help her, you know, embrace success in the digital age?
Anu Bhardwaj: And this is something that I would tell my own daughter is, is really focus on your strengths, what is it that you have that no one else has. Because ultimately, that’s your differentiator. And you really have to dig deep inside and figure this out as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter what age but really know, like, what is it that makes you YOU, and once you become comfortable with yourself, then you can fight the rest of the world, but you need to have that really solid foundation of knowing yourself, what you stand for, where you want to go in life. And once you have that, that focal point, that drishti, we call it drishti in sanskrit, then you’re good to go. And you just follow that line and you’re there, before you know it and so it’s knowing your direction and knowing why you’re going in that direction is also very important. The why is super, super important, knowing yourself and knowing your why I think is really critical for any age.
Nikki Barua: And what is your why?
Anu Bhardwaj: I want to make this place a better world for women and girls. That’s my why and, you know, seeing what I’m seeing, and seeing what you know, experiencing what I’ve experienced, there’s, there’s a long way to go. And if we quit now, there’s so much that’s lost, like at a certain point you get to a point of no return. And my Why is, you know, ultimately paving the way for girls who did not have the opportunity and I think it’s our duty, it’s our duty and our obligation to help them because they can’t help themselves.
Nikki Barua: That’s beautiful. Who inspires you Anu? Who do you look up to and admire and would love to learn from?
Anu Bhardwaj: I learn from Aria every day, she is my inspiration because she comes out so authentically, she tells the truth, she’s kind, she’s caring, she’s sensitive. And she’s really, she’s wise beyond her years. So sometimes when I get stuck, I say, you know, Aria, I don’t know what to do. How would you handle this? And it’s funny because kids really speak their mind, and they don’t have bad intentions, for the most part, and just the way that she goes about doing things, like for a long time, I was traveling, I was on the road, I didn’t get to see her much and she said, Mom, I know why you’re doing this and I support you 100%, I’m with you. Like, don’t worry about me. I’ve got Dada, like you do what you need to do, we both support you and you know, like, I know why you’re doing this. And so, having that support from that little one means the world. And I think when as a mom, you know, you suffer, many moms suffer from guilt. At the end of the day, if your kids know why you’re doing something, it makes it a lot easier for everybody to be on the same page and everybody to be following the same goal. And I think that’s really critical. But for her to be that open and you know, supportive, I can’t ask for more.
Nikki Barua: That is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Anu, thank you for all of your advice and perspectives and for sharing your inspiring story. But most importantly for the very important work that you’re doing in the world. It’s an absolute privilege to know you and to be part of this mission that you’re on. We wish you nothing but great success and really bringing you Why to life. So, thank you again for being on the show.
Anu Bhardwaj: Thank you, Nikki. This has been an honor. And I look forward to sharing it with our community.