On taking action & transformational leadership – Celebrating International Women’s Day with Aakanksha Manjunath

SAARI Collective invites you to join our International Women's Day series - every day, women of colour are blazing trails in their fields and leading their communities, but their achievements aren’t always recognised. Valuing their contributions and achievements is vital to advancing gender and racial equality and to showcasing the voices of women of colour all around.

We invite you to join us in recognising and celebrating their efforts, achievements and immense contributions - follow along as we profile some resilient and inspiring women of colour over the coming days.

Today, we celebrate the resilient changemaker Aakanksha Manjunathaswamy. 

Taking action and creating change - Aakanksha is the CEO and CoFounder of It’s Not A Compliment (INAC), where she campaigns to combat street harassment and achieve street justice for all.

She is an intersectional feminist and first-generation migrant who was born and raised in India. Her personal experiences with domestic violence, mental illness, being bullied and other inequalities further strengthened underpin her resolve to create a more just and equitable world. She is also an active member of several committees at various organizations tackling gender-based violence in public spaces and also mentors young activists with a focus on community organizing and transformational leadership.

Her background involves extensive grassroots campaigning work around the world on issues such as affordable housing, human rights, poverty, urban governance, community education, foreign aid, youth representation in politics, advocating for young people and the youth sector in Victoria. Aakanksha graduated from Leiden University with a Bachelor of Arts, International/Global Studies. She did her Master's at New York University as well as the University of Melbourne.

When it comes to leadership, Aakanksha believes no one size that fits all. She believes everyone charts their own leadership journeys and that begins the day one decides that they want to be a leader, while also accepting they will learn something new every day. 

 “Leadership to me means rallying a team united by purpose while simultaneously creating a safe space and environment where everyone can flourish. It is about building capacity and individual strengths which helps create a movement that is sustainable and driven by positive values.

“The key to becoming a successful leader is by keeping an open mind and learning to handle uncertainty because if you can’t handle uncertainty, you won’t be able to handle growth. The day you start being comfortable is the day you stop growing.” 

 

She acknowledges stepping into leadership or becoming a change maker is not easy. “You have multiple systems trying to keep you out but don’t give up. And while it doesn’t get easier, you become stronger, more resilient, and more capable of tackling the challenges as they come,” she says.  

 

This year, Aakanksha wants to break the bias of taking up space. “There’s enough space for everyone to thrive and flourish. It’s not a competition because we’re all on our own paths and if you want something, you have to put in the work.” 

She also believes the Australian government needs to do more to support its migrants, whether it be first-generation or international students, and calls for efforts on multiple fronts. She says we need opportunities that uplift South Asian women “without treating us as monolithic entities” and we need safe spaces at work, including a space where women of colour don’t have to do the work of informally educating peers on diversity and inclusion.

Reflecting on the year gone by and the one to come, Aakanksha says she is proud to have persevered “despite having the odds stacked against [her]” and is looking forward to expanding the reach and scope of It’s Not A Compliment while being surrounded by a wonderful group of women in her personal and professional life – including her mother, her mentor, fellow board members and her team at INAC. 

“It’s only March but 2022 is already off to a fantastic start because of the support I receive from all of them. Through knowing them and working with them, I get to experience first-hand how beautiful the sisterhood of intersectional feminism can be. I’m surrounded by women who lift each other up, make space and actively challenge norms.” 


You can connect with Aakanksha via Linkedin, and learn more about It's Not A Compliment's work here


Pranjali Sehgal is a writer and journalist based in Melbourne. She is a member of SAARI's Editorial Team and can be contacted via email. You can connect with her via LinkedIn or Instagram.