While the conversation of diversity in media has arguably been front and centre now more so than ever, Michelle Akhidenor has had that mission for years. Founding The Peers Project, an Australian podcast producing agency championing diversity, Akhidenor has set out to help brands spark conversations in ways that are “less vacuous flop and more creative genius”, with the aim to reflect the diversity we actually see in the everyday world.
Stumbling across the Forbes ’30 Under 30′ list, Akhidenor was inspired by the people who were making real differences in the world. “I wanted to capture these people,” she tells marie claire Australia.
And so she did, leaving her role in corporate finance to travel – from New York to London – interviewing and producing her own podcast series. In 2017, Akhidenor decided to solely focus on her business and The Peers Project was born and has since gone on to produce series for Australian brands such as ModiBodi and Forever New (which Akhidenor happens to host herself).
Unforgettable Moments, Forever New’s podcast, looks at defining moments in women’s lives and how they shaped who they are. It’s featured interviews with inspiring Australian women, including ballerina Isobelle Dashwood and Little Dreamers Australia founder Madeleine Buchner.
The Red Tales, ModiBodi’s series, hosts candid, “too-honest” stories about the awkward teenage years – and bodies. In its episodes, brave Aussie women chat to host Sasha Meany about the stuff no one dares to share, hoping to make the lives of fellow young teens a little easier.
“I think what I realise is going into the media world, coming from corporate finance, I saw that I was often the only woman of colour in the room,” Akhidenor says. “There were lots of women in the space but just no women of colour. When I was in meetings to pitch, I was always in the back of my head like, ‘Wow, I’m really the only one here. What is going on?'”
Using that as her focus, the company now works to push the narrative of diversity. “That now has really become my mission to change that and this is what we’re all about. Encouraging the brands we work with to actually showcase diverse stories and diverse voices. Because in my personal experience, and, obviously, everything that’s come to light now it’s just so phenomenal that finally, this is becoming a focus.”
“The mission behind our business now is just to keep fueling that,” she adds.
On top of producing and guiding brands in the podcasting world, The Peers Project’s namesake podcast series, Peers2Peers, hosts conversations with some of the world’s most impressive millennial entrepreneurs. Interviews have included Kim Pham, the co-founder of OmSom, and Will Fan, the co-founder and CEO of New Campus.
And while even Akhidenor admits she and her team are attempting to tackle something “huge”, the change is worth it. “For us, I think it’s just we couldn’t imagine not doing it and really giving it a crack.”