Karla Bookman's journey from corporate lawyer to founder of "The Swaddle", a free media platform educating and empowering the women of India on issues such as health and gender, is a mission driven story of an individual making an immense positive impact on society.
Karla is an American who has lived in Mumbai, India, for 11 years. As founder and editor of The Swaddle, a health, gender, and culture magazine, Karla works to peel back taboo around women’s health and gender stereotypes. She believes lack of transparency that limits young women’s choices can be alleviated by open, frank conversations about reproductive health and gender.
A chance encounter...
Amsterdam, late December 2018
We had published our last People of Impact Story in September 2018 and I was contemplating the next feature. It was cold outside and the grey skies were beginning to turn dark at 4pm.
And then, in walked Karla, fresh off an international flight, but her charming personality and enthusiasm was about to brighten up my day. I could not help thinking that the angels had sent her to us. After learning, briefly, about her passion to use her media platform as a force for GOOD, we agreed to follow up in the New year to discuss her challenges, impact and broader vision of how she is empowering females living in India. Hope you are inspired as much as we are.
Did you know when you graduated that you wanted to pursue purposeful journalism?
Not at all! It’s certainly safe to say I had no idea I’d be doing this! I used to be a corporate lawyer.
I landed in my current space because I wanted to address the lack of conversations and access to information around basic women’s health issues in India, which is something that cuts across socioeconomic and education levels, presumably because so many women’s health issues are shrouded in taboo. I saw a clear opportunity to be able to provide basic, clear, free explainers on women’s health issues and to create a publication that would tackle issues head on that others weren't always so willing to discuss. That’s how it all started. Of course, it’s evolved from there.
“Everything is better when it’s done thoughtfully, responsibly, and for the right reasons.”
Explain some of the challenges have you faced since you started and how did you overcome them to go from start-up to growth stage?
Hiring a good team was probably the biggest challenge. As a mission-driven organisation, the most important thing when hiring is always to ensure that every new member of the team shares our values. That made our growth slower at times, but it also makes our identity, as a publication, so much stronger.
You are positively impacting the lives of thousands of females living in India, how do you log that impact?
If we can propel discussion around the subjects we care deeply about (that aren’t being discussed as much as they should be) and bring some of those perspectives into the mainstream, we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve. We really judge our impact from the feedback we receive. People write in to tell us how much our coverage has meant to them. Journalists tell us they’re proud and excited to work with us because of our ethics and perspective.
“I wanted to address the lack of conversations and access to information around basic women’s health issues in India, which is something that cuts across socioeconomic and education levels, presumably because so many women’s health issues are shrouded in taboo.”
What is your connection to India and why focus on that market specifically?
My husband is Indian, and I’ve lived in India for eleven years. I started The Swaddle for an Indian audience, because that’s what I see and experience every day. But I strongly believe that access to women’s health information and non-judgmental care is one of the biggest human rights issues across the world today. Without free and open access to an understanding of reproductive health, a dismantling of social taboos around menstrual health, and an examination of how gender inequality in the provision of healthcare is impacting women, we won’t be able to truly tackle systemic gender inequality. These issues are for everyone.
Do you envision replicating your Indian focus to other areas in the world where the education of women’s health issues are also in desperate need?
Good question, I’d love to do that. But for now, India is my home base, and it’s the culture I’ve lived in for a decade, so our perspective is India-specific. But as you point out, many of the issues we care about are universal, and would be broadly applicable at a global scale.
“The women I work with are dedicated and passionate about our editorial mission to push the boundaries of social norms, dismantle taboos, and get people thinking and talking about social issues in a way that isn’t necessarily comfortable.”
You are using your publication platform as a force for good which in turn sets you apart, in a unique way, from other publications. Was this always your intention?
I won’t pretend that I ever framed it that way, though I don’t mind you saying that! The Swaddle exists to fill a void in freely available information; we are a strongly mission-driven team. The women I work with are dedicated and passionate about our editorial mission to push the boundaries of social norms, dismantle taboos, and get people thinking and talking about social issues in a way that isn’t necessarily comfortable. If we’ve done that, we’ve accomplished something.
You are perfecting your own craft within the #journalismforgood space, what do you think about our philosophy of using Luxury for Good™ to preserve craftsmanship and create positive impact in the world by creating a new kind of accessible luxury which is driven by quality, honesty, transparency and fair pricing?
Everything is better when it’s done thoughtfully, responsibly, and for the right reasons. I like to think that when a reader lands on our site, they recognize the difference between us and a publication that does things for quick, easy clicks. In the same way, luxury fashion brands, like yours, that truly embody values of transparency and honesty, and value craftsmanship and minimal negative impact on the world around them – these are the products people are increasingly drawn to and value.
We would like to thank Karla for her inspirational approach towards providing an inclusive, empowering and purpose driven media-publication for those that need it most. An inspirational leader and visionary on gender equality. Subscribe to The Swaddle and show your support.
Karla Bookman was speaking to Martin Johnston, founder & co-pilot of Crafted Society.
To learn more about The Swaddle visit www.theswaddle.com
For each bag sold, Crafted Society pledges 1% of annual revenues towards the New-Delhi educational non-profit www.harmonyhouseindia.org
#buyabag #helpcarryaneducation #luxuryforgood