Sumaya Kazi never wanted to be an entrepreneur. She studied marketing at the University of California, Berkeley and was content climbing the corporate ladder at Sun Microsystems, where at age 25 she is one of the firm’s youngest marketing managers.
But the dearth of media coverage of South Asian Americans—especially of young, socially conscious professionals like herself—began to gnaw at her. That discontent sparked the birth of The CulturalConnect, an online media company that spotlights those young people of color who are making their mark in every field.
TheCulturalConnect.com launched its weekly magazine, DesiConnect, in 2005. Each week. the magazine profiles a forward-thinking young professional in the Desi community and spotlights the work of a nonprofit in the hope of getting young professionals to support those organizations. Two years since its debut, The CulturalConnect has grown to include four additional magazines, all sharing the same format of DesiConnect but focusing on the Middle Eastern, Asian, Latin and Africana communities in the U.S. The website gets more than 150,000 page views a month, Kazi says.
More than just a networking site for people of color, The CulturalConnect spotlights the work of innovative nonprofits and people each week, with more than 300 interviews published since its launch. Readers can read about an editor who created a progressive magazine on Arab politics and culture in the West in the wake of 9/11, a medical student who founded a community-based foundation focused on preventing HIV/AIDS in India, and a housing advocate for Latino families in Boston.
"There’s this notion that this generation is apathetic, that young people aren’t really doing anything," says Kazi, who directs the company in addition to her full-time corporate job. "We definitely think otherwise."
Run entirely by a volunteer staff of 25 young people working remotely from home and promoted almost entirely through word of mouth, the number of subscribers to the magazines on www.TheCulturalConnect.com has grown rapidly to more than 50,000 readers in over 100 countries.
After reflecting upon a conversation with the director of the U.N. World Food Program, Kazi recently started the I Give a Damn Network, a nonprofit dedicated to her vision of creating "a community of young philanthropists around the world."
Ultimately, Kazi says, she wants other children of immigrants like herself to know that there are alternatives to "the South Asian trinity" of becoming a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Thanks to the links forged via The CulturalConnect, new nonprofits have been formed and young people are finding out about different careers and seeking out ways to provide much-needed funding to nonprofits, she adds.
"Success is making these connections happen," Kazi says.