How a 23-year-old UN rep, manager at billion-dollar beauty brand Deciem, and nonprofit founder spends her day

Harjas Kaur Grewal
Harjas Kaur Grewal

Harjas Kaur Grewal is always busy.

As an activist, writer, and UN youth ambassador, her days are filled with researching social issues and implementing strategies to help solve the political tensions ever-plaguing the world. She ran her first petition at 13, became a Youth Ambassador for the United Nations Youth Assembly at 19, and is currently a Young Innovator for UN Global Compact. Last year, Grewal won the Diana Award for her humanitarianism, which inspired her to start her own volunteer organization, United Women.

During the day, however, Grewal works for the billion-dollar beauty company Deciem where she helps create and run its corporate activism initiatives. Deciem is known for its cult-favorite brand The Ordinary and Grewal started working there in February.

To Insider, Grewal maps out her typical day, including smoothie lunch breaks, meetings with Deciem CEO, and late-night United Women Slack meetings. “I’ve learned that routine is important,” she said. “But it’s okay to have every day look different and become comfortable with imperfection.”

Her first alarm goes off at 7 a.m.

Grewal’s first alarm goes off at 7 a.m., but if she’s too tired, she’ll press the snooze button and stay in bed for another two minutes. “I open my blinds and window to get some fresh air first thing in the morning,” she said. “It always makes me feel refreshed, light, and ready for the day.”

Moving back home during the pandemic was “hard” she said, but there have been perks. “Waking up to the warmth of the sun, sounds of birds chirping, and smelling spiced chai (tea) is refreshing,” she continued. “Finding gratitude in the small things is always important.”

Around 7:30 a.m., she starts her skincare routine

She always starts her day with a skincare routine. She became a “skincare lover” when she was just 13 after discovering Korean skincare routines. “Over the years, I would always tell my friends and family to take care of their skin because it’s a form of self-care,” Grewal said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal
“The art in the background with my name on it was created by my good friend, Zsofia, and the flowers represent my resiliency because they grow in winter,” Grewal told Insider.

She starts off with a gentle cleanser before putting mist on damp skin. She follows up with a rosewater toner, before, of course, using The Ordinary’s Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% as a serum. After that, she puts an eye contour serum to cover hereditary dark circles.

“And as every good skincare routine ends, I use a moisturizer to lock in my skin and soothe,” she said. “I also spritz some perfume on because it’s a habit that’s comforting and helps normalize working from home for me.”

At 8:00 a.m., she starts to journal

Shortly before the workday begins, she journals her thoughts, “whether it be poetry, emotions, memories, or things to be grateful for,” Grewal said.

She’s been a writer and poet since she was a child and has been spending more time [during the pandemic] writing new work. She recently launched an Instagram page to showcase some of her writing. “Many people don’t know that I used to be a child actor, loved the theatre, started writing by the age of seven, and by the time I graduated high school I was a published playwright and won the provincial Young Authors Award,” she told Insider.

“Writing and poetry is a hobby I try to make time for because it is a true passion of mine and I believe everyone needs to make time for what makes the heart and mind content.”

The work day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.

The Deciem office was previously featured in Vogue, highlighting its 70,000 square foot office in Toronto, Canada. Sadly, since the pandemic, Grewal has been working from home and has only been able to go into the office a few times.

“A colleague has the cutest black lab mix, Matthew, who greets us at the door and provides the best company someone could ask for,” she said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal

On this day, she reviewed the social impact and activism strategies and campaigns to prepare for an internal listening session she was co-moderating. The company is prepping to kick off its “We Are Eight” unconference, which is a participate-driven meeting without a set agenda.

She starts her day with a new hire call with executives including the CEO and COO. “We got to personally introduce ourselves and learn more about the senior leadership team,” she said. Each week, she connects with the company’s director of sustainability and social impact Jacquelyn Kankam, to whom she reports.

“She has a unique, inclusive, and liberating leadership style that I am thankful for because I am constantly learning as well as executing,” Grewal said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal
Meeting with Jackie Kankam

Grewal contacted Jackie last summer on LinkedIn for a virtual coffee after noticing her extensive sustainability experience as a fellow woman of color. “I found her inspiring because she paved her own path and career,” Grewal added. “When we spoke during our initial meeting, she mentioned opening a Social Impact, Activism role one day but wasn’t sure when this role would open or the details.”

After that meeting, Grewal said she made it her goal to become Deciem’s top pick and created a 13-page visual proposal outlining ideas she had for the role if it ever opened up. Four months later, Grewal found herself interviewing for the role and she was hired.

“When Harjas contacted me, I could tell her passion and dedication to activism and social impact was unmatched,” Jacquelyn Kankam told Insider. “One of our goals at Deciem is to build growth to power good, we needed someone who is agile, smart, and creative and Harjas fit the bill to a tee.”

“This role meant I had achieved a goal to make my passion for social impact and activism into a career,” Grewal added. “Moments like that prove that resiliency opens doors. “

Lunch is usually from 12 to 1 p.m.

She aims to eat a quick meal and has her daily fruit smooth for a boost of energy. Every day she picks up a book to read, and typically alternates between two at once.

“Currently, I am reading ‘Faith, Gender, and Activism in The Punjab Conflict’ by Mallika Kaur to learn more about the events leading up to the violence against Sikhs in Punjab in the 1980-90s,” she said. “I have written about Partition of India, conflicts in Punjab, and violence against Sikhs extensively throughout my undergraduate degree, and as a Sikh, I am constantly pursuing knowledge about my community and history.”

Harjas Kaur Grewal

She is also reading “Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey, the first book she picked up to read for “pleasure” after University ended. “My favorite quote from Greenlights, which is now my lock screen on my phone is: ‘Less impressed, More involved,'” she said.

At the end of the workday, she takes a walk with her family

After her workday, she makes sure to spend time with her family before starting her work with United Women, the organization she founded. “My younger brother, Jujhar, is rocking a t-shirt in support of the farmers protesting at the Delhi border in India right now in this photo,” she said, referencing the picture below. “My entire family is passionate about social justice and we often talk at length about world issues, philosophy, and activism.”

Harjas Kaur Grewal

Around 6 p.m., she logs in to work at her nonprofit

After a break, she logs into Slack and starts working on United Women, her platform seeking to amplify young BIPOC voices, provide mentorship to youth in women’s shelters and community housing, and platform human rights issues. She is managing a team of about 17 volunteers, alongside her co-founder Aimée Lister, who is based in the United Kingdom.

Harjas Kaur Grewal

“We just wrapped up a human rights campaign and are working on expanding our partnerships, finalizing the mentorship program, and responding to the youth who are interested in joining the organization to make an impact,” Grewal said.

She also attended the United Nations Generation Equality Forum last week on behalf of United Women to create an alignment with the 17 SDGs, which include eradicating poverty, combatting climate change, and fighting for quality education.

Around 11 p.m., it’s bedtime

After she’s done working on United Women, she takes the time to wind down and turns on some old Bollywood music. Right before bed, she might even FaceTime her friends. “My friends are the best support system I could ask for.”

Then, she goes to sleep and does it all over again the next day.

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