BrownGirlGang: A social media phenomenon

How Instagram took Sydney girl Sanjana Nagesh to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Following your passions is a simple adage that is wrought with complexity for young South Asians. For one, it is never sufficient to simply follow; you are expected to excel, to lead, to win. But more significantly, passions are fine to follow – as long as they lie within the bounds of convention: medicine, law, finance, engineering.

But Sanjana Nagesh, the 25-year-old founder and CEO of social media community BrownGirlGang, is breaking the mould. Sanjana’s journey in “accidentally” starting a global sisterhood has seen her start to rack up accolades, including being honoured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List in the category of Media, Marketing and Advertising. In an interview with Indian Link, Sanjana describes her journey as “surreal”, and one she hopes can motivate others.

It was in 2017 that the Sydney-based Sanjana found herself scrolling through Instagram, drawing inspiration from a wide range of South Asian women across a variety of diverse careers. Surprised to discover that there was no community or “girl gang” collating these women and their stories, Sanjana created – on a whim – the Instagram handle @browngirlgang and began that curation.

“The process [of curating stories] was initially meant to be a personal mood board. Growing up desi, I didn’t really know about the different careers available to me. So, I thought I could learn from these other people,” says Sanjana.

brown girl gang
Source: Instagram

“A key reason I chose Brown Girl Gang as a name is that the Asian diaspora come from so many different countries, so content by most ‘brown creators’ is inherently relatable to an extremely wide audience. So, brown is just shorthand to reflect my identity. Brown means to embrace my ancestry and heritage and merge it with my daily life, whether it’s speaking multiple languages at home, watching Bollywood movies or eating different cuisines,” she continues.

Initially, Sanjana’s pet project involved posting content primarily during her daily commutes to university and work. But BrownGirlGang took on a life of its own, and now boasts nearly 140,000 followers on Instagram alone, and counts amongst its followers celebrities like Never Have I Ever creator Mindy Kaling. For a while, Sanjana also juggled the responsibility of collating, producing and researching content for BrownGirlGang along with her part-time job at venture capital fund AirTree.

Given that “working” in social media is a relatively new phenomenon, at times Sanjana was unsure whether BrownGirlGang could support a sustainable career. Having rarely seen role models that looked like her in the media space, Sanjana was determined to find South Asian women and featuring  their stories on her Instagram, and in doing so, has developed for herself – and others – a strong sense of community.

brown girl gang
Sanjana and Nikita at Instagram headquarters (Source: Supplied)

Fittingly, BrownGirlGang also has an unofficial micro-brown girl gang behind it; Sanjana’s older sister Nikita, who herself has extensive experience in working with technology and start-ups, and by Sanjana’s own admission has a fantastic knack for spotting opportunities, also devotes whatever time she can to help Sanjana with the arduous task of maintaining and growing the community.

“It’s been amazing seeing Sanju’s journey as a lesson in how far passion can take you,” says Nikita. “All the opportunities that have come Sanju’s way are quite organic, which just goes to show how engaged her community is. One of my favourite experiences was flying over to America together to meet the Head of Product at Instagram. I am so excited to see what’s ahead for BrownGirlGang.”

With plans to now scale BrownGirlGang up across more platforms, with a wider variety and volume of content, Sanjana’s workload isn’t about to get any quieter. Finding inspiration to do so wasn’t hard – Sanjana notes that she receives daily messages and comments from followers – including across a wide spectrum of genders and ethnicities – who credit BrownGirlGang with helping them feel comfortable in their own skin, motivating them to follow their passions, or allowing them to embrace their cultures.

It’s interactions like these that ground Sanjana in reality when it comes to the dark side of social media: trolls.

“Getting negative comments is part of content creation, and like every job, there are pros and cons”, admits Sanjana. “But the bad is very much outweighed by the good, and in the moments when I feel overwhelmed, I try to focus on all the amazing DMs I’ve received instead and take a break from the online world.”

And having used the platform to run successful social campaigns like raising almost $5,000 dollars for COVID-19 relief in India, there’s a sense that there is much more good to come for and from BrownGirlGang.

Sanjana’s advice to creators, entrepreneurs and influencers is simple: “Create things you wish existed – whatever you’re going through, you may feel isolated, but someone else is feeling it in the world. There’s no such thing as a niche anymore. If you can find the targeted thing that you care about, you’ll have an incredibly engaged audience.”

READ ALSO: TikTok’s Jeremy Franco: embracing all our desi quirks

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Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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