Nikki Barua, a recent regional and national Supplier of the Year award winner, is a successful entrepreneur who is highly respected by her peers, competitors and blue chip clients. Building her digital agency, BeyondCurious, from scratch, she has achieved a level of success that many business owners can only dream of.
But her accomplishments don’t tell the full story of her remarkable journey, and how she overcame personal loss, financial struggles and self-acceptance to get to this point. She emigrated from India to the U.S. to attend business school and realized she was different as “an immigrant, minority and gay woman.” She imitated people around her in the hopes of fitting in. This continued as her career was taking off at a leading agency.
Then, in 2008, her world fell apart. Barua recounted how she experienced the greatest loss of her life—her partner had committed suicide. “I lost everything I valued—my partner, my home, my pet and my assets. And, I felt really alone. Through my grief and suffering, I learned that in order to connect with others, I first had to connect with myself.”
During this painful time, she found her purpose—to be the catalyst that unlocks the limitless potential of people. Barua launched BeyondCurious with no clients, case studies or capital. She soon attended SCMSDC’s Minority Business Opportunity Day and met Chris Genteel from Google, who invited her to participate in a development program for minority suppliers.
“In just weeks, I had a playbook and learned to make the most of my meager budget,” she says. “I got access to advice and products that helped me accelerate my business and reach new customers. I got support from Virginia (Gomez) and her team. I had clients like Toyota take a chance on us when no one else did. Soon my business was growing and so was my team.”
As Barua gained recognition, she found her voice and self-acceptance and the responsibility of sharing her story to help others. She used her keynote address at the SOTY luncheon to urge diversity professionals “to be the change agent that shapes the narrative for our future as the world becomes even more technologically advanced, geopolitically charged, economically challenging and socially conflicted.”
She said, “let us choose to be the light. Let us remove barriers and give voice to people so they aren’t just surviving; they are truly thriving. Let us use our collective voices to shape a new narrative!”
Nikki Barua’s message to supplier diversity leaders:
Be the door opener, not the gatekeeper.
Reframe your role, go beyond corporate initiatives and become a champion for change. Represent suppliers and be aggressive in creating opportunities for them. Every new supplier you engage with levels the playing field and creates the path for others to follow. Enlighten colleagues internally and drive accountability within your organizations. Challenge the status quo and your own unconscious biases. Connect diversity to real business impact and let commercial success validate the ideology.
Be a beacon of light, not a bystander.
Create visibility for what matters and let your voice be heard. Invite discussions on topics that no one wants to address. Don’t be afraid to have the courageous conversations. Visibility creates awareness, and awareness leads to acceptance and that’s what creates a new normal. When your organization is diverse, when your products create impact, when your culture is empowering—you are creating hope for those trapped in the shadows. Express yourself and be the role model for others.
Make it about new perspectives, not about pigmentation.
There is something deeper and more profound that happens when you surround yourself with people who look, act, and think differently than you do. Those that embrace otherness in people are better equipped to accept the “otherness” that innovation represents. Diversity and innovation demand similar attributes—openness to the unfamiliar, acceptance of the unknown, excitement for change. Diversity isn’t a feel-good thing or a box to check. Diversity is about accepting otherness and differences in perspectives so that the most powerful ideas prevail.