Category Archives: Who / What Inspires Us

The Holstee Manifesto



A few months back I was browsing the Internet for inspiring quotes and was delighted to come across this enlightening manifesto. I got it from Brain Pickings, a blog created by Maria Popova, dedicated to offering people an eclectic bank of information on everything from poetry, to science, to art. The purpose is to help arouse people’s passions and help them find what piques their curiosity and interest.

The Holstee Manifesto comes from Holstee, an organization that sells products made of recycled things. The three founders quit their jobs and decided that they wanted to do something different, to be creative and innovative. One day during the company’s infancy they sat on the steps of Union Square and wrote out what was most important to them and what they wanted to get out of life. I hope you find their Manifesto as inspiring as I do, it’s one I often meditate on. Happy Wednesday!



Festival of Lights


It’s that time again…a whole country focused on the same special occasion; debates and family rivalries abound; people of differing opinions come together to share one purpose…

I’m not talking about Election Day. I’m talking Thanksgiving – the oh-so-American holiday of gratitude that officially marks the beginning of the Holiday season. Gotcha!

Anyway, it turns out there is an Indian holiday that has something in common with our Thanksgiving, and one very inspiring woman who makes both traditions work for her.

Rohini Dey owns the fabulously successful Chicago restaurant Vermilion, which specializes in “Indian cuisine with a global twist.” In a recent Today’s Chicago Woman article she suggests that the Indian Festival of Lights, Diwali, might be the Indian equivalent of Thanksgiving. “Diwali is all about getting together and celebrating being thankful,” she says.

Diwali, which means “row of lamps,” is celebrated on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) of the Hindu calendar month Ashwin, which means it usually falls in November. For Hindu families, it is one of the most important festivals of the year, and they make a point to come together to share in the traditional activities. (Sound familiar?) Instead of roasting a turkey, however, family members fill their homes with small clay lamps which are kept illuminated during the night. Other important traditions include a thorough house cleaning, new clothes, and plenty of sweets.

“One thing my mom made was relatively simple and one of a few things I still make for my daughters,” says Dey. “It’s an Indian rice pudding that’s very rich, like a Dulce de Leche. It’s heavy, sweet, warm and comforting,”

At her restaurant, Dey serves a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with an Indian twist: the bird is glazed in black cardamom and stuffed with cumin lentils.

Rohini Dey is one smart businesswoman. With a Master’s in economics and a Doctorate in Management Science, she worked for the World Bank and for McKinsey & Co before opening her restaurant. She’s a huge proponent of women in business, and the proper education of women worldwide. Not only is she an active member of The Chicago Network, The International Women’s Forum, and the NY Women’s Forum, but she also teaches and speaks about the power of women entrepreneurs. Check out Rohini Dey’s biography on Vermilion’s website for more inspiration. And, why not light a votive candle this Thanksgiving in solidarity with all those celebrating Diwali?


Please Stop Asking This Question!


After much (unnecessary) debate over the years, the verdict is in: women are funny. Hilarious, actually.

So please stop asking that question! A new book by Yael Kohen called We Killed: The Rise Of Women In American Comedy inspired me as it explores the oral history of women in comedy throughout the last 6 decades. There are certain challenges which are specific to the conversation on funny women — how obsene to be, how cute to be, how sexy to be, how self-deprecating to be, etc. Regular women encounter these challenges as well when operating in the public sphere. Let’s take a look at a few women in comedy today that have broken the traditional gender rules on how women are portrayed. And they aren’t just funny for women… They’re funny because they’re really really funny.

Amy Poehler

To know Leslie Knope is to love her, respect her, and look up to her. She is a feminist to the core and has a true passion for her small town of Pawnee, IN and making her way in politics. She cares too much, loves too deep, and she is a source of continual entertainment. Although Amy Poehler is a veteran at this point and had a great run on Saturday Night Live as well, she has really found her niche as Leslie Knope with a fantastic cast in the laugh out loud NBC sitcom, Parks and Recreation.

Clip of choice:
Parks & Recreation

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling is a comedic rising star. She has had tremendous success as Kelly Kapoor on the hit show The Office, released a NY Times bestselling book in 2011 titled Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), and now has a brand new pilot for her own sitcom on Fox called The Mindy Project. She is one to watch, and I argue the best way to follower her is to actually follow her… on twitter of course! Mindy is an avid tweeter of her 140 character one-liners, and her twitter was ranked among the 140 best twitter feeds of 2012 by Time Magazine.

Follow her here:

Kristin Wiig

Last year Kristin Wigg made big waves with the breakout comedy “Bridesmaids”, which she co-wrote and starred in. “Bridesmaids” hilariously tapped into the woes of female friendships, and the film was nominated for numerous awards and reviewed as the only worthly counterpart to instant classic “guy” comedies such as Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. I also recommend checking out some of her earlier work on Saturday Night Live if you haven’t already. Characters such as Surprise Sue, Sexy Shauna, and Penelope (and many more) will have you rolling. I may or may not have shed a tear on her final episode last season. Silver lining – the women who are making their debut on SNL this year are hysterical, shoutout to Vanessa Bayer, Kate McKinnon, and Cecily Strong.

Clip of choice:

There are obviously many many more incredible female comedians out there that deserve a tip of our hat. They are very easy to find now, as the majority of prime time comedy television is graced with their presence – check out We Killed: The Rise Of Women In American Comedy to get a fuller history on funny women.


“Obedience Means Death!” -Alexandra David-Neel


Two years ago I spent my Spring Break visiting Colleen at RISD, helping with an Anchal event and exploring new parts of the East Coast, when I came across the most amazing book: Women Travelers: A Century of Trailblazing Adventures 1850-1950. This book quickly became a favorite of mine, with stunning photographs and 31 incredible stories of courageous and determined women. It shares stories of women traveling around the world through jungles and across deserts, escaping social convention disguised as men, and challenging the roles of men by surviving when men could not.

Author Alexandra Lapierre writes, “These women’s curiosity about the world and their quest to find their own truth required one particular type of courage: the courage to disobey… in order to become footloose- an independence of heart and mind that would carry them to the ends of the earth- all these women, even the most conventional, most well-behaved, and most pious, had to start saying, ‘No!'”

When I read these words I thought only of our Anchal artisans. Women faced with never ending pressures, stranded in an unbreakable cycle, forced to lead a life they do not want. However with Anchal, they now have the power to say NO, to free their minds and spirits, and to face their future with optimism and hope.

Photo Above: “In 1898, Fanny Bullock Workman launched her assault on the Himalayas. Hanging from the handlebars of her bicycle was a tin teakettle. Her pith helmet barbered the badge of the Touring Club de France. A final accessory, one that never left her side and was scarcely less indispensable than her teakettle, was her husband.” Fanny was an American geographer, cartographer, explorer, and mountaineer, notably in the Himalayas.

Photo Above: “There is a paradox concerning the Western women who openly declared themselves to be followers of Buddhism in the early 1900s: almost all of them were intrepid women of action. Their public quest for release from desire and its concomitant suffering was the fruit of a devouring passion for freedom of thought and fro a distinct individualism, characteristics that ill fit the sublime renunciation of self that their spiritual masters taught them.” Alexandra David-Neel was a Belgian-French explorer, spiritualist, Buddhist, and writer. David-Néel wrote over 30 books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her travels.

Photo Above: Rosita Forbes was an English travel writer and explorer, she was the first European woman to visit the Kufra Oasis in Libya.

These women and the many others featured in the book are an incredible inspiration. Their courage and fearless attitudes remind me that anything can happen as long as you fight for it. Though they have long passed, these trailblazers still inspire women today and I thank them for their audacity. This is a wonderful book and worth a look.

“the best way to rid yourself of an obsessive desire is to fulfill it!” -Ella Maillart

-Maggie (Aspiring Trailblazer)

Looking into the Faces of Our Products


I recently read a fantastic article in New York Times, Looking into the Eyes of ‘Made in China.

The article uncovers the mystery behind the anonymous people who produce our imported goods. The photographer, Lucas Schifres, created a series of typological portraits looking at the workers inside six Chinese factories, which resulted in “Faces of Made in China.”

While browsing through the portraits, I was struck by how much the images resonated with me. Their eyes tell a story of hard work. Their smiles speak to the pride in what they produce. But why was I so moved by portraits of people I had never met?

“Looking at a human face mobilizes more brain cells than looking at anything else, “ said Lucas Schifres.

This got me thinking about people’s growing desire to know where their products come from and who makes them. The days of knowing your dressmaker and milkman may be over, but it is clear that as consumers, we crave a personal connection to the people that make our goods.

I turn to the local food movement as an example, where communities are choosing to reclaim responsibility for the food they put in their bodies. After years of relying upon the convenience of the industrialized food system, people are increasingly concerned with the health risks behind what they consume and a desire to know who grew their food.

Whether you are buying a tomato or a scarf, Anchal believes that consumers should feel good about what they are buying. When you purchase an Anchal product, you not only know where it comes from, you can see the artisans name stitched on that product and you can feel good that it is assisting a woman into economic empowerment.

In the future, maybe not every single thing you purchase will have a face to it, but I do belief that socially and environmentally conscience products will soon be mainstream, to the point it becomes hard to find products that don’t give back. Or at least I can dream…


VOICE 4 Girls


While in India I had the pleasure of working with three lovely ladies who piloted the first fellowship the year before my co-hort. Allie Gross, Averil Spencer and Ilana Shushansky co-founded Camp VOICE after receiving a generous grant from the Nike Foundation.  The three women were struck by the large inequalities in opportunities for girls as compared to their male counterparts while working in low-income schools in Hyderabad, India. VOICE stands for Vital Opportunities in Creative Empowerment, and its goal is to improve the livelihood opportunities for girls from low-income communities by addressing common challenges girls face with regards to education and employment. VOICE is comprised of a 4-week summer camp for girls, and it blends learning with doing through an interactive program focused on communicative English and gender empowerment. The camp curriculum is designed to be replicable across developing countries where the need for female empowerment is great. 

Girls participate in a workshop.

VOICE provides an 18-unit workbook for counselors and campers. It was created after a pre-camp assessment of English and life skills knowledge of girls in grades 7-10. The book has English grammar lessons yet also highlights important like skills, such as safety, harassment and changes in body. Camp also consists of “enhancers,” such as medical check-ups and field trips to meet working women at institutions like Deloitte and Google.

Girls show off their mehndi, a temporary form of skin decoration that is tattoo-like yet not permanent.

In its first year alone VOICE reached 450 girls in Hyderabad. Eventually they want to expand to other developing countries outside of India.

In the words of one camper, “Girls are stronger than boys!”

To learn more about VOICE visit:


An Exclusive Interview with Indian Designer and Illustrator Shilo Shiv Suleman


“For Sex Workers, I Think Art Can Be Deeply Healing:”

We came across Shilo Shiv because one of our friends was shooting a documentary on her story and life. We were blown away. Shilo is wise beyond her years. At only 23, she’s given a TED talk with over 800, 000 views, illustrated a dozen children’s books (her first at the age of 16), and released her own interactive fantasy iPad app called Khoya.

In an exclusive interview with Anchal Project, she gives us a peek into her brilliant creative mind and her thoughts on design, art and magic in today’s world.

Q: How do you believe design and art can create social impact?

I think design and art impact society in two ways. The first is obvious: every campaign or social cause needs iconography around it that becomes it’s driving force through society and social media. I really felt the power of this when a poster I designed for a campaign against women in India being beaten up just because they wore jeans or drank a beer. It went completely viral and got over 70,000 people on that Facebook page.

When I was 18, I started a group called Artivism where we’d do pro bono graphic design work for NGOs we believed in. Art and its relation with the community is something that fascinates me as well. A few friends and I started a group called the Bangalore Wallflowers where we’d get together with non-artists over the simple act of painting a wall and reclaiming a community aesthetic. On one level, the wall was prettier and the neighborhood restored. On another level, however, a lot of people who were afraid of taking action, afraid of leaving a mark, afraid of paint on a blank wall could finally begin to get over their fears.

The second way is on the subtle level and I find it most interesting:

Beauty is as functional as breath. I’m starting to really feel like just creating beautiful objects that are true to us and our subtle nature is so important.  In a world where we’re driven by usability, functionality, fast food, cars and connections, I think there’s an increasing need for creators of beautiful things. We need more moments to appreciate things beyond their function, moments where beauty is both the means and the end.

Q: We work with sex workers from slum & red light districts areas. What role can magic play in marginalized and poor communities?

I was traveling through the salt deserts of Kutch district [Gujarat state of India] earlier this year. It really came as a bit of a revelation to me that in rural spaces like Kutch and Rajasthan [State of India], beauty and magic aren’t a luxury of higher classes, but is essential to life. Every house is painted, every skirt is stitched with love and care, every woman would weave her own dowry. And this was our wealth, our abundance: beautiful things. In villages, until late at night Satsangs [i.e., communal gatherings] go on, there are shadow puppets and dancers and it’s all just for the community itself. This too is magic.

When we move into cities somehow the poor/marginalized living in slums and surrounded by such a vast and vulgar display of economic disparities lose a little of that. I feel like urban setups make one constantly dissatisfied: beauty and magic become a luxury, movies are only really enjoyed if in fancy multiplexes. I find this quite sad.

I feel like we need to move back and disconnect magic and beauty from wealth and reclaim magic as a right.

Particularly in the context of sex workers though, I really think art can be deeply transforming and healing. Nothing has healed me, no “guru” has taught me, like my art has.

Q: Who is your greatest female mentor? How have they inspired you?

Apart from being one of the artistic inspirations in my life, my mother has also brought both me and my brother up on her own and through her art. I think that’s always been a pretty big encouragement to me, that a family can be run on pigment and pixel, that one can survive all hurdles as long as one’s love for one’s work keeps one going.  And that kind of trust in art and one’s love for it has really been the biggest influence.

“Let the Beauty of What you Love be What You Do,” said Rumi, and because of having my mother’s influence around me, I’ve learnt to trust that completely.

Thank you to Shilo for inspiring! Follow her incredible work:

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