Leena Manro: transforming a corporate and community culture through arts

The YWCA has released the inspiring nominees for the Women of Distinction Awards and will announce the winners on June 7 at their virtual gala. One of this year’s nominees, Leena Manro, truly embodies the essence of the Arts, Culture and Design category, by making a corporate and social difference through her media endeavours and performative arts work.

As a co-founder and media director for the design company All Purpose, a founder of a sketch comedy troupe I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken, and a Leo-nominated actress, Manro has an extensive and impressive background in the art sector. However, her path into this field was anything but ordinary.

An unconventional journey

Manro initially started off by working in the legal field as a lawyer, but she didn’t find her true purpose there.

“We all have an inner calling, a voice that speaks to us ever since we were really little,” she says. “Mine was to become an artist.”

Manro decided to move to Vancouver to become an actress but ran into the issue of being pigeonholed due to her ethnicity. It was during this period of time she found her love for storytelling. Her initial work as a contracted producer for IBM training videos led to co-founding All Purpose in 2017.

“I took a meandering path, but when I look back at my past and what led me to do my work today, I draw on so many of these experiences. However, it all started with me becoming courageous, having faith, working hard and never losing hope,” she says.

Social action through the arts

Through her work with All Purpose, Manro has been able to use an amalgamation of video production, creativity and storytelling to shape socially responsible projects for corporate clients.

“For example, in order to stop human trafficking, you need technology, website building, and media to help educate others. Through the clients we work with we were able to contibute to the creation of a human trafficking analysis tool,” she explains.

Leena Manro. | Photo courtesy of YWCA

Manro has also been able to work on other corporate citizenship initiatives, working in the diversity and inclusion arm for corporations to change their work environments.

“We look for projects that fit that socially responsible category and are looking to do more than just make money,” she adds. “These are projects that are looking to make the world better, either by designing the technology or creating a media platform. We play a small but important role in these projects. Part of the reason that we were named All Purpose is we believe that we are a purpose-driven organization.”

I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter Chicken is another example of how Manro uses creativity to address diverse social and cultural issues. Through the sketch comedy group, she was able to write, direct and act in pieces that used humour to focus on real issues regarding the South Asian Community. The accessible nature of the performative arts medium allows it to resonate so widely, Manro explains.

“I wrote a trilogy focused on domestic violence for South Asian women. Because it was a form of entertainment, it exposed more people to the message,” she says. “People that you wouldn’t think were absorbing the message were confronted head on in a way that shines light on community problems.”

A current project Manro is working on for the Creative BC JEDI’s series also focuses on equity and inclusion.

“The episodes use comedy to address diversity and inclusion issues in the workplace with topics like harassment,” she says. “By having recurring characters, we are hoping to tell a story that’s a little different from something that’s more cookie-cutter. Our goal is to tell the story in a way that gets people interested in seeing things differently without even realizing it.”

A vision of light and joy

The YWCA Arts, Culture and Design Award nomination has been a profound acknowledgment of the efforts Manro has done in this area.

“Arts, culture and design is all about adding love, light, joy and voices to the world. It means the world to me that this body recognizes the intangible, very vital and deeply important work that’s done in the sector,” she says.

She hopes that others take an important insight from her nomination.

“Don’t ever give up; whatever your dream is hold steady to it and keep at it. You don’t need a sequential logical path. Continue forging ahead and you will create your own. As you do that you make a path for others to follow in your footsteps,” says Manro.

For more information, please visit www.ywcavan.org/women-distinction-awards