If I can use my production and television skills to bring about social change, then that's how I can give back.
Joya Dass ’95 (English and psychology) had realized all she had dreamed of in her journalism career. For 15 years, she had reported business news for NY1 and CBS. She had appeared on CNN, ABC and Bloomberg News. And for more than a decade she had brought her love of Bollywood to viewers as host of a weekly show on the AVS television network, the leading South Asian entertainment network in the U.S.
Dass struggled to achieve those dreams, having put herself through college (and gone heavily into debt) after her parents denied financial support. And she had found her way in a career where South Asians were rarely represented.
But a few years back she began to wonder: What was it all for?
The answer came to her in 2009, when she visited India for the first time and saw conditions there. "I feel like I am at the point in my career where my name holds some weight. If I can use my production and television skills to bring about social change, then that's how I can give back," Dass says.
Her first such project was the documentary First Sight, which had its world premiere in December 2013 at an HBO film festival.
Filmed in 2009, First Sight follows the journeys of three children in India suffering from curable blindness who undergo life-changing eye surgery. Dass hopes her documentary will bring attention to the scourge of curable blindness in the developing world, particularly in India, where one-fifth of the world's blind children live.
She's working on a narrated series of photo essays about women who are survivors of domestic violence. The project resonates deeply with Dass, who witnessed her mother being abused by her father. Even as that project is in the works, Dass has been writing and speaking about her experiences with domestic violence.
"Soon after my TED Talk [in November 2013], an abused woman with children told me that my talk inspired her to leave her husband. Since then, I've heard more and more stories like that," she says.
Dass has also been busy helping women realize their career aspirations. Last year, she and a partner established Lady Drinks, a monthly networking group in New York City that regularly attracts some 300 participants, the majority of them Asian.
She says, "It took a little knocking around in life for me to find my purpose, and I think I've found it. It's supporting women, and particularly South Asian women."