“In technology, it’s so rare that women have the decision-making power…” -Krystal Persaud
Meet Krystal Persaud. A first-generation Guyanese tech entrepreneur who’s responsible for creating one of the most innovative technology companies in the U.S. At just 32-years-old, Persaud is the sole founder and CEO of Grouphug Solar. Grouphug Solar may sound familiar from ABC’shit show “Shark Tank.” Persaud landed a seed investment with business mogul Mark Cuban. Since the show, the company has established a reputation for reinventing the way consumers think of solar energy.
Grouphug Solar was founded in October of 2019, and within less than a year, Persaud was approached by a “Shark Tank” producer to be featured on the show. While publicity and mentorship from Cuban have contributed to the company’s exponential growth, Persaud brings an extensive resume of eight years of experience in the technology industry. Starting as an intern, she worked her way up to senior director of an electronic toy company.
Raised in an Indo-Caribbean family, Persaud’s family emigrated to Queens, NY, and eventually moved to New Jersey where Persaud was raised. She recalls how supportive her family was in entering a male-dominated field. In fact, it was no surprise to her parents given their professional backgrounds.
“They have always been very supportive of me working in tech. I have three older sisters who all work in public health or medicine, also male-dominated fields. My dad is an electrical engineer and my mom is an entrepreneur & teacher, ” she said.
As a product designer, Persaud used her experience to design solar panels as home decor. The idea of solar panels as both functional and stylish is new to many. When most people think of solar panels multiple panels placed on a rooftop are what come to mind. Persaud took a more innovative route to the idea of solar.
The concept first came to her while living in a New York City apartment. Without access to a roof, many solar companies simply do not offer solar options to apartment residents. Persaud saw this as an obvious problem and started designing her own panels. She incorporated art along with wood and bamboo materials in all her designs. The result was a complete hit. As friends visited her, they would inquire about the hanging panels in her apartment. She started making them and selling them locally to friends and quickly realized there was a market with a huge need that was not being met.
But who exactly is Grouphug Solar for? Is it for families, singles in the city, or college students? The company caters to the conscious consumer. Many of Persaud’s clients are millennials who care about sustainability and style. Not only does the company provide styled panels, but it also makes the process as fun and as easy as possible. They produce a series of educational workshops and local programming on the general concept of solar energy and how their panels function. The goal is to be the clients’ first step into the world of solar energy. What most people don’t understand is that regardless of where you live (apartment, home, or farm) there are solar options available to you.
While Persaud’s entrepreneurial journey as a femtrepreneur has been rapid, she also represents an even larger and oftentimes underrepresented group in the technology industry — women of color. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology fewwomen of color “…are found in software development, technology leadership, or the other kinds of key roles that have a significant influence on future innovation.” Additionally, 88 percent of all information technology patents from 1980–2010 were invented by all-male teams. Only two percent were invented by all-female teams. Latinx and Black women hold only 1 percent and 3 percent of computing jobs, respectively. When asked how the tech industry could improve such figures, Persaud had this to say:
“In the technology industry it’s definitely important to hire people of color with an emphasis on women in STEM and engineering.”
Considering this severe lack of representation, I asked Persaud to name one female role model who inspired her to press on in this male-dominated field.
“One of my biggest inspirations came from working for a female CEO who was also an engineer by the name of Aya Bdeir,’ she said. Just seeing her in a powerful position was a huge inspiration for me and gave me the confidence to know that I can do this! I couldn’t imagine not having this experience. If I hadn’t maybe I would have thought I couldn’t do this. Having powerful female representation in the tech industry made such a big difference.”
Persaud prides herself on being more than just an environmental impact entrepreneur. She spent one and a half years studying all aspects of solar and is continuously perfecting her craft. At many major industry events, she found herself being one of the only women of color in the room. Though she brings years of product design to the table, some of her male counterparts would question the technical aspects of her design. In many instances, this was simply because Persaud is responsible for creating an introductory concept that differs from traditional designs current in the solar industry. Other times, her male counterparts simply did not understand her design. As is a typical experience of many young women in traditionally male-dominated fields Persaud found that her innovative concepts and designs were at times questioned, misunderstood, or voluntarily critiqued by male counterparts.
A prime example of this is the story of Spanx founder turned billionairess Sara Blakely. Blakely visited multiple hosiery mills in attempts of getting Spanx (control wear for women) mass-produced. She was turned away by most because they did not see the value of her product. Ironically enough most hosiery mills, which produce hosiery, were run by men. While the disconnect here lies in the difference between what men perceived as valuable to women versus what women actually value, it all translates to the real problem in most majority-dominated industries — lack of heterogeneous thinking and perspective. A female perspective in a male-dominated field contributes to diverse thinking. And it’s diverse thinking that is essential to innovation. Blakely finally got the call she was waiting for from a male mill operator who offered to support Blakely’s concept after receiving positive feedback from his three daughters. According to CNBC Spanx rakes in $400 million in sales annually.
Solar panels as home decor is a relatively new concept. While solar panels for all types of residents (renters or homeowners) have not been promoted by the majority of solar companies, Grouphug Solar is changing that through educating and serving the conscious consumer. The company is based in Brooklyn and serves all states within the U.S. From the apartments of glitzy New York City living to suburban homes, to rural areas where the stars light up the sky at night, Grouphug Solar complements all lifestyles. Learn more about Grouphug Solar panels and their line of products.
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.
Dear President Biden,
As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.
Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.
“As privileged members of the diaspora, it’s our duty to challenge the repressive practices of the current regime in India. We stand in solidarity with those … opposed to the government’s attempt to reshape the country into a Hindu nationalist state. https://t.co/RxU9wUy2Zy
Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law.
India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders‘ press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index — which examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi.
“If the President meets with PM Modi, then the protection of the Muslim minority in a majority Hindu India is something worth mentioning…if you do not protect the rights of ethnic minorities, there’s a strong possibility India starts pulling apart.” Thank you @BarackObama! https://t.co/RhcMNfiqaR
Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.
This morning in DC, on the lawn of The White House at the welcome reception for Modi.
As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.
— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).
Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting.
In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance eventcentered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.
In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships.
Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality.SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.
While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.
Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular