GirlDreamer: Empowering the next generation of women of colour
GirlDreamer is an empowerment platform for the next generation of women of colour. The project provides leadership development and community initiatives focused around social inclusion, so that young women of colour are empowered to do, be and achieve more.
Since March 2019, QCT has been proud to partner with GirlDreamer and assist them with the development of their business strategy and support the growth of their unique initiative, Boarders Without Borders. This partnership is allowing the work of GirlDreamer to reach often marginalised women and girls in their community and afford them the ability to develop and express themselves in a variety of dynamic and impactful ways.
Lack of diversity
Young women of colour are amongst the most marginalised in the UK, and often struggle to overcome the stereotypes and barriers they encounter, leading to a lack of inclusion, representation and access, and low confidence levels. Women of colour are underrepresented across a range of areas in society, and sport is a notable example. In the UK specifically, 31.4% of women are active participants in a sport, compared to over 40% of men, and for Asian women this percentage drops to 12.5%.
Gaps like these are leaving women, and particularly women of colour, severely marginalised and underrepresented across many areas, impacting on younger generations of women who cannot find role models that reflect their own experiences or backgrounds. With no one to inspire them, or to show them what could be possible, these young women remain on the outskirts, and their potential is often left unseen and at risk of being wasted.
Redefining sporting stereotypes in order to drive social change
GirlDreamer is setting out to redefine the sports narrative for women of colour in the UK whilst supporting young girls in Birmingham through leadership and empowerment programmes.
The importance of sport as a source of and driver for social inclusion has been well documented. Research has shown that participating in sport results in increased community development, better social cohesion, and can offer personal development opportunities including a sense of belonging, better physical and mental wellbeing or encouraging intercultural communication.
By approaching sport as a tool for social change and tackling diversity issues head on, the founders of GirlDreamer created an initiative called Boarders Without Borders, which brings groups of girls together to be coached in the sport of longboarding. In doing so, the GirlDreamer team are challenging perceptions around longboarding being a ‘niche’ sport and making it accessible to any young woman of colour who might want to get involved. By focusing on inclusion, Boarders Without Borders is leveraging the power of sport to bring people together and creating development opportunities for young women of colour to build their confidence, wellbeing and leadership skills in a unique and powerful way.
Helping young women of colour develop connections and gain opportunities
Boarders without Borders has been successfully running for two years and in that time has created two crews of 30 young women. They support the younger crew members, who often have the greatest accessibility issues, by connecting them to other girls and boarders in their area, giving them the connections and confidence to take their new found boarding skills safely out into the city.
The team produced a short documentary film about the project, which has since gone on to win two awards at the Shextreme Film Awards, including Best Short Film and the Audience Choice Award. They have also been recognised by local and national sporting bodies, winning Sport Birmingham Community Project of the Year 2018 and Sport England Community Sports Project of the Year 2019.
Overall, the young women involved with the project have seen improvements in their mental health and as their sense of community has improved, so has their relationship with the city in which they live. As they grow, the Boarders Without Borders crews are becoming more visible, catching the attention of passers-by and inspiring other young women of colour to get involved, find out more about the GirlDreamer mission and ultimately become longboarders themselves!
Kiran Kaur and Amna Akhtar
Co-Founder & CEO and Co-Founder & Creative Director, GirlDreamer
How did it all start?
Amna: It all started when I first saw some vloggers longboarding on YouTube. It was a group of guys in California on these super long surfboard-looking things and I thought ‘wow’! It seemed so simple yet so liberating. Keen to find a longboarding group near me, I looked around my city, searched online, and asked locals, yet no-one had even heard of this sport, let alone had anything set up and in place to pursue it. In short, after being disheartened and finding no outlet, I went online, purchased a longboard and taught myself via YouTube. After a couple of years longboarding alone, I decided I wanted a crew. I taught a couple friends and then as it became clear that GirlDreamer was a going to become a powerhouse community of empowered young women, I spoke to Kiran about the idea of integrating it into our offer. Two years later - here we are!
What was your greatest challenge?
Kiran: I think the greatest challenge has been getting support from potential funders to develop the project in the direction we want it to go. Many people do not see the social and personal impact sport can have on an individual but when paired up with our GirlDreamer leadership content and approach to the project, we believe it to be pretty life-changing stuff! It has the impact that funders, sponsors and leaders want, but it’s just encouraging them to trust something that’s a little unconventional.
Amna: I absolutely agree and would also like to add, the weather. Places like California are ideal - great weather and smooth, wide streets. A city like Birmingham is heavily industrialised, with uneven paths and narrow streets - and it rains the majority of the year which can make it difficult to longboard.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
Amna: Seeing the documentary come to life and played on a big screen at a film festival where we won our first two awards, Shextreme Best Short Film and Shextreme Audience Choice Awards (a double win that was a first in Shextreme film festival history!) To see it actually materialise, watch it back and witness the impact along with hundreds of other people was incredible. It actually made me cry - and I still cry each time I watch it!
Kiran: Definitely! That was so special! Mine was a more recent one where we just won the Sport England ‘Community Sports Project of the Year Award’ 2019. It wasn’t so much about the award itself but rather the fact that we were not able to attend due to other commitments and having the boarders themselves go to the event. They had the amazing opportunity to meet other British sports people (including Olympic athletes), go up on stage to accept the award, give a speech and be on that platform. It showed me that our mission is bigger than a longboard, it’s about those memorable and empowering moments right there.
What’s next for your project?
Amna: We have something super special coming up! We have now set ourselves a target of introducing 220 women of colour into adventure sports by 2020. We will be expanding longboarding to multiple crews running throughout the year and will also be introducing other board sports such as surfing and snowboarding. The plan is to launch a Crowdfunder to make that happen.
What top three things helped your venture succeed?
Perseverance: Things can get tough when others can’t see or don’t share your vision when it’s so clear to you, or when funding falls through, or when you’re doubting yourself. All of these things happened to us along the way, but we continued to keep our “why we started” values at the heart of everything we did, and also kept the bigger picture in mind to enable us to persevere onwards.
Belief: We have always maintained our belief in Boarders Without Borders. Even when we’d throw a big idea out there or have no idea how to get from point A to B, we’d keep believing in it and that things would begin to align in order to make it happen.
Passion: We don’t just do this project for the awards, or the funding, or even just because we enjoy making longboarding a part of our job. We have so much passion for the impact and the betterment of our community, and that has indeed been the most important element of all. In fact, it helped us to persevere and believe in ourselves because of the foundation of passion it was built on.
What inspired you?
Valeria Kechichian who started Longboard Girls Crew (LGC) is a definite source of inspiration! LGC is a global movement of using longboarding for social change around the world and it’s all centered around women longboarders. We’ve been following their work for years and are continuously inspired by how they’ve put women at the forefront of longboarding.
There’s also Peggy Oki who is a skateboarder, surfer and environmental activist and was the first and only woman (and of colour) who was on the original Zephyr Competition Team, also known Z-Boys, in the 70’s.
Working together to make a difference
Since working with GirlDreamer, we have been inspired by their unwavering passion and commitment to drive positive change and afford opportunities to young women of colour, which would not have otherwise been accessible. As our first UK partnership, GirlDreamer and the Boarders Without Borders initiative represents a new area in our grant-giving work, highlighting the power of sport specifically to help build leadership skills, enhance mental wellbeing and showcase the potential of these incredible young women. Amna and Kiran aren’t just breaking barriers, they’re demolishing them, paving the way for a new generation of empowered female leaders. This is only the beginning for them and the rest of the GirlDreamer crew – let’s enjoy the ride!
Join the family
Together we can build a better future. Sign up and we’ll stay in touch.
An error occurred.