Jambo Africa Online’s Editor, ANDILE MSINDWANA, profiles the world-renowned Indian-British Business Executive, Filmmaker, Television Producer, Outstanding Administrator and Altruist

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?  Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learnt to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping its dreams, it learnt to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from a concrete”, these lines are from a poem by a college student Tupac Amaru Shakur.  Vir Paminder OBE is a brilliant representation of this rose whilst her hectic journey and the tasks many would have thought impossible to perform simultaneously is a striking, picture-perfect illustration of the concrete. 

As an inspirational, candid leader and visionary, the Paminder rise continues to be felt in the United States of America (USA), the Caribbean Islands, Africa, Europe and Asia.

The Rose seedlings

Born in Punjab (India) in 1955, Paminder is an altruist. She inherited this skill (one would argue) from her father who was a primary school teacher that ultimately expanded his own philanthropy to England when Parminder was just eight years old. Subsequently, a ten year old Parminder joined her father in England in a journey that was to introduce her to the realities of the world. 

The Rose Germinates

Irrigating her rose seedling, her diligence and self-belief allowed her to achieve a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from the Dartford College in 1978. 

Fresh from college in 1979, Parminder became an Arts & Cultural Manager for the Greater London Council and the Commonwealth Institute. 

Her desire to make films was born out of a passion for storytelling. “In my journey, I generated a body of work that challenged the mainstream of film and broadcast media to open itself up to perspectives that emerge from the margins, where cultural innovation so often begins”, says Parminder.

Her rose used the power of art as a force for political and social change. It was her admirable as well as professional efforts that ignited her resolve at ensuring the realisation of Black and Asian creativity through funding, cultural programming and policies that mainstream their cultural contributions to Britain.

Her period as a founding Board Director for United Kingdom (UK) Film Council, through which she contributed immensely to the development and implementation of its international strategies, begun to solidify her growing recognition. These strategies embraced the film industries of emerging markets through new co-production treaties with India, South Africa, Morocco, and China. Her activism played a pivotal role in ensuring that equality and diversity commitments were fully integrated into every aspect of the organisation’s activities.

Working as the Head of the Race Equality Unit in the Arts and Recreation Department of the Greater London Council, she managed a grant aid programme valued at over £4 million. This looked comprehensively at the funding of a wide range of ethnic minority artists and organisations, many of whom are internationally renowned today.

She introduced policy initiatives for the development of minority arts, created training schemes in arts administration for ethnic minorities and ensured the representation of ethnic minorities on the bodies of the major arts organisations in the United Kingdom.

The Rose Pollinates and Become Impossible to Ignore

Paminder’s rose became impossible to ignore when she moved into the film and television industry. Here, she worked as a Producer for Formation Films Ltd (which was her own company) and the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Television network.

As a Managing Director of Formations Films she produced an outstanding range of award-winning films including the feature film ‘Babymother’, and ‘Film Four’ which was released in August 1998. 

She also produced documentary films with various directors from across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and India. 

From 1990 to 1994 she was managing a budget in excess of £3 million working as a series Producer for BBC Television.  This included award-winning drama and documentary series, ‘Developing Stories’ and ‘Our War’. These films were directed by filmmakers from India, Brazil, Haiti, Palestine, Burkina Faso, Philippines, Trinidad, Lebanon, Algeria, Iran and Mozambique.

Paminder also served as the Cultural Diversity Advisor for the Carlton Television, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Music Television (MTV-UK) and the London Development Agency.

She remembers her time at Carlton Television: “I developed a business case for cultural diversity as a commercial opportunity. This led to increased employment of ethnic minority talent on and behind the screen as well as increased revenue generation for the company.”. She introduced new talent to Carlton Television through the production of award-winning programmes that included two series of Single Voices, Carlton’s Multicultural Achievement Awards, Music of Black Origin (MOBO) awards and the Ethnic Multicultural Media Academy (EMMA) awards. The MOBO awards focused on music of Black origin including jazz, reggae, hip hop and soul. The EMMA awards are based on promoting diversity in the media industry by recognising excellence achieved by various ethnic groups.

The persuasive Parminder was one of the founders of the Cultural Diversity Network (CDN). CDN is an alliance of United Kingdom (UK) broadcasters and film industry professionals committed to increasing the range and diversity of talent on and behind the screen. She was part of this initiative in 2000.

She also became a Non-Executive Director of the Goldcrest Film Finance in the United Kingdom. 

In 2006, she became Manager of Ingenious World Cinema Fund. This included conceptualising and designing the Ingenious World Cinema Fund, an equity fund investing in cross-cultural films from the emerging markets. She, further, introduced new investor base to the company and financed two international film slates valued at £40 million for films such as “Life of Pi” and  Hotel Rwanda. “We used the entry into the emerging markets to expand the company’s profile at international media conferences in India, China, South Korea, Singapore, Nigeria and Kenya as well as the USA, Canada, and Europe.”. 

She guided an investment of £22 million capital film fund with investments in the Oscar winning film ‘Iron Lady’; award winning ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Now is Good’ feature films.

Parminder has made a very heavyweight influence in the media industry across to the globe. 

She produced three long form documentary films, viewed by over 2 million people world-wide. The power of art as a force for political and social change ignited her passion with her admirable and professional efforts at ensuring Black and Asian creativity – through funding, cultural programming and policies – contributed to Britain’s mainstream culture.

She has published 500 Alumni stories and produced audio stories featuring 100 TEF Alumni with a Listenership of 6,000, documenting the Foundations story and the stories of the African entrepreneurs as part of changing the African narrative.

The list of her achievements is boundless. She founded and worked as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the PVL Media Emerging Markets still in the United Kingdom (UK). This institution focused on helping companies, entrepreneurs, governments, multilateral development organisations, corporates and investors working in digital media, film and television production, media finance and education sectors in order for them to expand into the emerging markets for business growth.

Through this organisation, assistance was given to ARM which is Nigeria’s largest asset management company. They conducted a feasibility study and business plan for a new, purpose built digital media hub comprised of digital production and post-production TV studios, a training institute and entertainment venue for Lagos..

She also co-produced a one-day summit on the impact of the internet in India. She did this by contributing to the development of the programme, securing the appropriate speakers and ensuring a good response from delegates. Speakers included Eric Schmidt (who was the Executive Chairman of Google); Alan Rusbridger (at the time, editor of the England-based newspaper, The Guardian); Sam Pitroda (who was an advisor to the Indian Prime Minister); Stephanie Cutter (who served as an advisor to President Barack Obama and was Deputy Campaign Manager for his 2012 re-election campaign); Kapil Sibal (who was the Indian government’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology at the time); and, Raghav Bahl (founder and CEO of Network 18).

She developed the United Kingdom-based Omnicom Media agency’s strategic approach to accessing the economic benefits of engaging with the growing UK ethnic consumers for their clients, leading to the company winning key accounts valued at over £6 million.

She also worked with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), a statutory body that administers cultural heritage in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Through this, she mentored three Arab Middle Eastern screenwriters to win the $100,000 Shasha Grant Award designed to help identify, develop and launch the careers of outstanding regional filmmakers from 2007 to 2009.

Parminder’s rose grew in our continent, Africa, during her time as Chief Executive Officer of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme (TEF-EP) between 2014 and 2019. “The emergence of African entrepreneurs shaping their destinies and the destiny of the continent is a compelling story for the world to change its mis/perception of Africa,” asserts Parminder. She steered programmes that were aimed at involving Africans in prioritising their participation in economic growth, job creation and small business management. 

Records Management and keeping are a characteristic feature of a well-run organisation as they assist in providing information on which future decisions could be based.  “From the start of the TEF-EP, I incorporated documenting our story and stories of the entrepreneurs as a critical part of the programme,” she says matter-of-factly.

She was pivotal in the setting up of the foundation’s programme which was pillared on, inter alia, training, mentoring and funding. Approximately 10,000 entrepreneurs benefited from across the continent. The success of the foundation saw it move from a modest number of 20 000 applications in 2015 to an overwhelming 216 000 in 2019 from across 54 African countries. This development was very progressive as it also went along with an improvement in the number of African women business owners selected to the programme from 24% in 2015 to over 41% in 2019. 

During her leadership, the foundation also grew its database registering over 950 000 start-ups and entrepreneurs drawn from across Africa. During this era the foundation also managed to build a strong databank of over 3000 mentors from around the world and over 50 000 value-adding partnerships with stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Alumnis are a source of visibility that each organisation can make use of to show its output and keep the skill that it has given available to prospective entrepreneurs that want to succeed in similar or comparable ways. She built Africa’s largest alumni network of African entrepreneurs for cross border business growth, skills and knowledge sharing.

Paminder led partnerships with government financial institutions such as Gesellchaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), African Development Bank (AfDB), Agence Francaise Developmennt (AFD) and also developed structured financing for African small and medium enterprises, World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on the role of innovation in job creation and economic growth; with African Heads of State to drive investment for inclusive growth into sectors of strategic interest to Africa and its MSMEs.

Hard work and team spirit is a precondition for success for successful ventures. She has been leading the teams that delivered four TEF Entrepreneurship Forums, the largest gathering of African entrepreneurs, alumni, mentors, policymakers, government leaders, donor agencies, financial institutions and media in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, from 2015 to 2018. Speakers at these yearly fora have included some of the most influential leaders in business and politics across Africa. These include the Ghanaian President H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo; Kenyan President H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta; Angelica Nwade; Aliko Dangote; Mayeni Jones; and Debola Williams.

Parminder transformed the Foundation as Africa’s strongest philanthropic organisation which is in the forefront of technology innovation and recognised as a foremost thought leader on African entrepreneurship around the world. As a result, even the world is not able to resist the good work that the foundation has come to represent. The New York University included the foundation in the Introduction to Corporate Social Responsibility course.

She also represented the Foundation at various high profile Pan-African and international business conferences, summits and forums to highlight the economic value of entrepreneurship to global audiences of government leaders, investors, international development agencies, philanthropies and policymakers. She also attended these as part of the facilitators; working collaboratively with colleagues; leading workshops and seminars on building the African transformative entrepreneurship development model for scaling up entrepreneurship sustainably across the continent.

She built an effective management team; identifying and hiring the right talent with passion for Africa, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial skills and mind-set. As the CEO, she harnessed their enthusiasm, provided them with mentoring and coaching. As a result, many former staff members are now on career paths heading their own businesses and working for international organisations.

The Rose Spreads Its Seeds

Paminder is currently a member of a number of boards. These include the Ongoza, Kenya (as Board Chairperson); Track Your Build, Sierra Leone; Tony Elumelu Foundation, Nigeria (as a Board Advisor); Dalberg Media, Amsterdam (as a Board Advisor); and the UKTI Asia Task Force (Board Director).

She has also been a member of various high level boards including the Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable 2010-2013); the Goldcrest Films (2008-2013); United Kingdom’s Department for Culture, Media and Sports (2006-2010); United Kingdom’s Film Council (1999-2005); United Kingdom’s India Business Council (2004-2009); The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE UK) (2009-2011); Cultural Diversity Network (2000-2005); Young Vic Theatre (2005-2009); and BBC Board of Governors (1981 -1983).

She has received many awards. Among others, she received Asian Jewel Award for Media and Arts (2003); Videsh Samman award for contribution to the enhancement of human welfare and Indo-British understanding by High Commission of India (2003); Order of British Empire (OBE) for services to the Broadcasting and Film industry (2002); the Asian Women of Achievement Award for Media (2001); and the European Federation of Black Women in Business for Media and Business (1999). Parminder was also awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree by University for the Creative Arts (2010).

Her family is her greatest treasure.Parminder is married to Professor Julian Henriques, who is a distinguished teacher, writer and award-winning film director. Henriques is of Jamaican and English heritage. The couple is blessed with two daughters – namely, Mala and Anurdha. 

Mala Henriques lives in Medellin, Colombia, and working for Impact Hub, which supports social entrepreneurs. Anuradha Henriques lives in London and works for Fable Pictures. She is the Associate Director of the award-winning film ‘Rocks’, released in 2020 on Netflix. She is also the co-founder of ‘Skin-Deep Race + Culture’ – a London-based multimedia platform that works with new artistic talent to amplify discussions on race, culture and politics through print, film and live events.