Keshia Hannam believes that global change starts from within. “Our world changes,” she says, “when each person grasps the monumental power of their autonomy.”
It’s this firm belief in the power of individuals to change themselves, and thus the world around them, that led the 2018 Generation T lister to co-found Camel Assembly, an international community of creative female leaders who gather to make change.
Its mission is to build purposeful, conscious communities and “mobilise individuals to better themselves and subsequently better our world,” says Hannam. Case in point: Camel Assembly’s #ActiveActivist campaign, which highlighted women making change on an everyday basis around the world—particularly in the eight Camel Assembly communities, which include Mumbai, Nairobi, New York and Hong Kong.
We talk to Hannam about Camel Assembly, inspiration and the future of feminism.
How do you define your role within Camel Assembly?
It comes down to what I feel like I’m here to do, and that’s helping people realise their ability to make change. I help people realise their autonomy to make change personally and see how that affects their world, whether through community or work. It all begins with the self and spreads to wider social change.
Where does the name Camel Assembly come from?
The camel is a beautiful, sacred creature that has been revered for centuries across cultures. It goes long distances with heavy loads, doesn’t stop often for food or water—when cared for, the camel has unlimited service to provide to those around it. And that’s what we really feel about women and the feminine energy. When you care for something or someone, and it feels cared for, it has unlimited service to provide for themselves and those around them. So what we’re trying to create is a community people who care for each other and support each other, so that we can provide greater service to those around us.
See also: I Am Generation T: Peggy Choi
Where do you want Camel Assembly to be in 10 years?
I’d like it to be the largest, most inclusive community of creative, conscious leaders in the world—male and female.
What was your biggest ‘ah-ha moment’ in life—a realisation that changed everything for you?
It was a series of moments, but the realisation was that everybody is making it up as they go along. That was actually such a huge revelatory moment. I was like, “Oh! Even the best of the best are still sort of making it up.” Sure, there’s expertise and experience, research and data, but if you’re innovating or doing something new, you’re making it up as you go.
"We didn’t have heroes to look up to because we were given examples of women who cared to show their bodies more than their minds"
What or who inspires you?
It’s really cheesy, but it’s the women that comprise Camel Assembly. We’ve said all the time that Camel Assembly isn’t about these women, it is these women. Camel Assembly is literally living and breathing humans. The way they respond to things, what they desire, what causes they care about—these are the things that Camel Assembly becomes known for.
Who’s your hero?
I don’t have any heroes. I hear this from a lot of women—we didn’t have a lot of heroes to look up to when growing up because we were given examples of women who cared to show their bodies more than their minds. I didn’t have a hero so I had to create her in the person that I’m trying to be, to become a role model for other young women. And I’m seeing many young women doing the same thing, because we simply didn’t have the heroes that we longed for.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Seeing people. Recognising the less visible, whether that’s opportunities or individuals. I just like people. I like valuing them and I like seeing them in a way that other people don’t.
If you could go out for a drink with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
This may be a bit sadistic but it would be like a Hitler character. Because I’d like to understand why. I think someone on the side of obvious evil would be more interesting to try to understand the ‘why’ of, rather than someone who’s particularly inspirational. The inspirational journeys are easier to follow, but the evil ones tend to be more multifaceted.
What is the single most important decision you’ve made that’s taken you to where you are today?
Quite early on I had a corporate job in London. I’d just finished a six-month project and they were offering to renew my contract, but my manager took me aside and said, “I want to tell you to never work in this job or this industry again.” I was taken aback and asked why. She said “You’re so creative—if you keep working in insurance and in a corporate structure you will become a muted version of yourself.” I thought that was a brave thing to say for someone who’s worked there for 30 or 40 years. From that moment I was brave enough to let go of any corporate dreams I’d been contritely pushing, and I moved back to Hong Kong to get into media. Doing that changed my whole life. I was 100 per cent convinced that I was going to climb the corporate ladder and do that whole thing.
What’s the next disruptor in your industry?
Women’s groups that include men. That’s the future of feminism. We’ve advocated for that from the beginning. As social consciousness evolves, people will realise that any gender exclusivity is contradictory and generally does as much harm as good.
What’s your favourite quote?
It’s by Archimedes: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” I love it because it’s both humbling and inspirational.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, what would you say?
Be more unabashedly yourself earlier. I think we wait to be given permission to be ourselves, but if we are okay with who we are and lead with that first as opposed to adjusting to the personalities of other people, we would unlock our own creative potential earlier.
What does Generation T mean to you?
It’s the optimism of a generation who believe in themselves and believe in their city.
How do you define success?
Feeling aligned with what you feel is your own purpose, and being able to give opportunities to others because of your life’s work.
What’s your favourite piece of counter-intuitive advice?
Don’t plan too much, especially early on in life. Your earlier years should be whimsical, where you get taught what you’re supposed to be taught. If you try to plan you end up living a very scripted, misaligned life for a while until you stop doing that. So plan as little as possible in the beginning. If you work hard and have an idea of the direction you want to go in, then let life paint the picture for you.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
Mother Teresa gave me a blessing when I was four years old and said I was going to live a very blessed life, and I feel like I have. I attribute a lot of my successes or opportunities to a really divine hand—not of my own accord, but of being surrounded by good people and kindness.
See all 50 of the game changing young talents on the Generation T List 2018.
Photography: Callaghan Walsh | Styling: Christie Simpson | Outfits: Theory
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