As a part of our Rule Breaker series, we got the opportunity to interview Gayathri Shukla, the founder of Campfire Kinship.
Campfire Kinship is a social impact firm offering advisory, training, and creative storytelling that empowers people to foster a diverse and inclusive culture. Their specialty is an innovative blend of human-centered design + a proven method of storytelling, known as Guided Autobiography.
Let’s hear more about it from Gayathri herself.
1. Can you tell us a little more about Campfire Kinship and your work?
I am the founder of Campfire Kinship. I support companies in achieving their equity, diversity, and inclusion through story-based training, workshops, and advisory. We also provide creative media services in the community, including a podcast, Hearth 2 Heart, and a video project, unLikely Friends. I am happy to share that I just published a book, Landed: Transformative Stories of Canadian Immigrant Women, and it a collection of stories from 37 women in Calgary from 30 countries worldwide about the transformative experience of immigration. It went live on Amazon last week and it is a bestseller already! I started this company just over 2 years ago during the onset of the pandemic. I transitioned my career from being in the corporate environment into entrepreneurship last September. I have 17 years of engineering and leadership experience in the energy and mining sectors.
2. How did you come up with this name?
I see it as a symbolic name. A campfire is where people gather together to share stories and forge a sense of connection, purpose, and belonging, hence, Campfire Kinship.
3. What was your inspiration behind it?
As the only female engineer of Indian origin working in a male-dominated field, I often found myself being the ‘only’ both in the boardroom and the field. This came with feelings of isolation and biases. Journaling about my experiences helped me persevere and reconnect with my strengths. I also craved for visible role models growing up that I could learn from. I realized over time that by sharing our stories, we could all lift each other up and build connections despite our differences. So that was my original inspiration. Having faced such struggles firsthand, I wanted to make the world a better place, especially for women who are entering the STEM professions.
My next inspiration came when I was promoted to a leadership role within the engineering profession. I realized that when each team member feels appreciated for what they are bringing to the table, not only does it improve team morale, but the overall business performs better. On the contrary, if the team isn’t very inclusive and there is a lot of bullying and discrimination going on, people obviously tend to leave and the performance suffers. So I became interested in creating a culture where people felt included and appreciated, regardless of their background. This has informed the leadership development programs that I offer through Campfire Kinship. My goal is to help people recognize their own unique strengths and build empathy skills to be able to harness the benefits of diversity.
4. Why did you choose storytelling?
I believe that storytelling is a very powerful way of creating human connection. It is a natural and intuitive way of evoking curiosity and building empathy. When we tell stories, even if we come from very different backgrounds, we get to appreciate what we have in common – our shared humanity. We all have stories of pain and sorrow, losses and wins, and by sharing these stories, we get to learn what’s unique about each individual and realize we are not alone. I believe that the magnitude of challenges facing the planet today – from climate change to social justice – will require ALL hands on deck to come up with innovative solutions. There is no sense leaving talent behind just because of societal biases towards certain demographics.
5. When we start something new, we often have our own expectations of both good and bad. But more often than not, we get to experience things that we never expected. Can you share such unexpected experiences that left you surprised?
The most unexpected surprise for me is that I am now a bestselling author, within a year of going full-time on my business! What is even cooler is that I had the honour of leading a group of 36 women through the process of writing their stories for the book, using a storytelling method that I offer in my training program called guided autobiography. I received an artist grant to be able to undertake this entire process, and guide them from the idea conception all the way to publication.
Landed: Transformative Stories of Canadian Immigrant Women went live on Amazon on 27/7/22 and it is a dream come true, because I have always wanted to write a book since the age of ten. Coming from a technical/engineering background, I ended up being more focused on analytical subjects, and this for me was a journey to move into a more artistic and creative space of intuition. Supporting these women to have a voice and a platform to share their stories has also been an empowering process! When we can confidently take charge of our narrative, we reclaim our identity, and especially those parts that we may have been forced to keep hidden from the world.
6. What keeps you motivated?
Anchoring on a sense of purpose in my work is my biggest motivation. When I first started this company, I wrote down my vision: a world that celebrates its diversity and shared community. Every day when I start my work, regardless of what sort of day I am having, I can look up to this vision and find inspiration in the fact that I am working towards it and actively living it. I know that whatever struggles or obstacles I may face are only steps along the way for me to learn, bounce back, and grow. So having a higher purpose grounds me when I am facing challenges.