Kiana Kalantar-Hormozi, activist and filmmaker, shares her thoughts on Courageous Leadership
Kiana is a filmmaker, artist and activist. Her hip-hop protest film ‘Tax on me’ tackles the care tax in Scotland, highlighting double standards on human rights and the injustice of disabled people being charged for support to live their daily lives.
She has a BA (Hons) from the University of Stirling in Film and Media/Psychology, an MA in Film from the Screen Academy Scotland, and an LLB Law from the Open University.
If you would like to listen to the audio version of this interview listen here (this link will take you away from our website).
What does courageous leadership mean to you?
I think one of the most important qualities of a leader as far as I’m concerned is someone who can listen. Obviously with the activism that I do, I talk a lot and I shout a lot and I make sure that my voice is heard, but I think it’s really important to listen to the people around me and listen to problems of what they face and issues that I don’t perhaps deal with myself. I think a great leader is someone who can take everyone’s point of view into consideration.
I also want to mention utilitarianism because I think right now we live in a society that’s very much about working for the majority and I’ve always been in the minority. I have SMA type 2 which is a rare genetic health condition, I am an ethnic minority so I’ve always been in the minority in society which systematically just doesn’t work for me. So I think a great leader is someone who doesn’t use the easy way out, someone who isn’t utilitarian. One of my friends once introduced me to this idea that pain experienced by the individual is pain that society will experience as well. So it’s about realising that we’re all connected and we all deserve to live full and health lives.
What personal attributes do you think are important to courageous leadership?
Cooperating with others is really important. That’s something that I’m always working on myself because as the activist I need to challenge but I also really want to collaborate and cooperate and sometimes that’s hard because the issues that I’m challenging are often systematic issues and the people in charge don’t really want to work with me or they don’t want to acknowledge my voice and the expertise that I bring. So I’d like to do more cooperation, less fighting if that’s possible.
You mentioned there your voice and your expertise. We talk about authenticity in leadership, is authenticity important to you?
I think it’s almost impossible for me to not be authentic because a lot of what I do is about my personal life and my personal experience. Perhaps times where I have been less authentic, times where people have said to me ‘just don’t talk about this, try and let it go, don’t fight that battle’ and I actually found it really hard to not speak out, that actually takes more energy out of me. I find it hard to not be blunt, so perhaps at certain points in my life I have held back and I have made concessions in how I’ve approached something. I’ve always regretted it. I’m at that age where I’m not old and I’m not young, where I have confidence enough in myself to actually say what I think and I should do what I think is right and if I get it wrong then I take responsibility for that. More often than not trusting myself and trusting my instincts and being authentic has always led to better results.
What people, events or experiences have shaped you in terms of the way you lead?
I have been very privileged in my education, I love education and I think it’s so important for all of us. When I say that I don’t necessarily mean a university degree, it’s just about learning and evolving and becoming better versions of ourselves. I’ve been very privileged in having wonderful teachers and mentors and they’re the ones who have taught me how to speak out, how to manage situations. I’ve learned a lot of what I know from them. And there are so many great teachers I’ve had so I couldn’t name one or two or even five, I’ve just been so lucky to meet so many wonderful mentors in my educational journey. Also, it sounds cheesy but watching films – I look at films and I look at the heroes in stories and I think ‘I want to do that’. Maybe that’s why I’m a film maker. I had this really interesting conversation with a friend and I realised that not everyone relates to the protagonist that way and I always do. My friend watches the story and says, ‘I can’t do that’ whereas I think ‘yes, I can’. Films have taught me a lot.
In terms of the drive behind what you do, what drives your forward and motivates and inspires you?
I think there are a lot of things that drive me but at the end of the day I just want to live life like everyone else and I think that when I was young I thought I could. As I got older I realised actually, unless the system changes or unless I get rich overnight I can’t live life to the full. I want to say that I’m driven because I want to make the world a better place and that’s what I’m supposed to say but actually, it’s really selfish. I want to make the world a better place for myself and I think that’s OK, to want that and just to be able to get up out of bed in the morning and not have such a high price tag on my life is what I want. I want to be able to make music or make films and not have to worry about my human rights or what my future is going to be like.
Do you have anything in your mind that is an overall goal, something you would like to see achieved or changed thanks to your input?
In terms of how society works systematically I think there is a lot of injustice and I find it quite baffling to be honest given that we have human rights, and we have charters and laws on human rights but they’re not being enforced. I think the big question we have to ask is, is it the way that we’re operating in terms of capitalism, and I’m not saying we should all be communists but what I mean is we have to put values before profits and at the moment the type of capitalism that we have isn’t working because it’s all about money over values. If I had to sum it up, we have to make human rights so intrinsic to our systems and the way that we operate that nothing is above that. All of the battles I’ve had so far has been about my human rights.
When we look at the future of health and social care in Scotland, what would you like to see from the leaders of the future?
Before I answer that, I was watching the news on social care and it was really interesting when the presenter asked ‘why has no one managed to fix social care?’, you know so many governments have tried and failed. I was sitting having my breakfast thinking that it is isn’t hard, the solutions are all there, it’s just about money and priorities. I think a little bit of it is to do with the fact that the people making decisions are all privileged in the sense that they don’t need 24/7 support, their life is not hanging by a thread, they’re not dependent on someone for their life or their quality of life. The people making those decisions are so far removed from the reality of it. I think a leader that can fix those issues should first of all bring in expertise from people with lived experience and actually pay for that expertise. It’s about investment, you can’t make anything good happen without investing in it. It’s about putting money where our values are and we need leaders who can really understand that.
Watch Kiana’s hip hop film, Tax on Me (this link will take you away from our website).
This Courageous Leadership piece was brought to you from the ALLIANCE’s Health and Social Care Academy.
Photography by Kevin J Thomson.