NAME: Pradeepa Jeevamanoharan
HOMETOWN: Sri Lanka & Minnesota
NBC Asian America asked celebrities and industry leaders to nominate individuals for our inaugural list, and Pradeepa Jeeva was nominated by the YOMYOMF network, founded by film director Justin Lin: "What makes Pradeepa an ideal choice is the genuine activism for the Asian and Asian American communities that she brings to the entertainment industry. I would say of all the people we've worked with, she really is someone who not just talks but walks the walks and really takes action to infuse activism into the industry."
How do you introduce yourself?
Deepa or Pradeepa.
What inspires you?
Agents of change, people who create opportunities for communities that have a lack of resources inspires me. I have had the opportunity to work with and meet three individuals who have inspired me to continue working on social issues and provide opportunities for those without access to resources.
Ken Oloo is the founder and CEO of Filmujuani a social enterprise that takes large shipping containers and turns them into production studios for youth in Nairobi, Kenya. He has trained over 150 young adults and provided them with job opportunities after their training.
Vijaya Pastala is the founder and CEO of Under The Mango Tree a social enterprise that trains marginalized farmers in India on how to become beekeepers to increase their agricultural yield and income. UTMT is literally reducing poverty through bees.
Dr. Ethirveerasingam Nagalingam has spent the last 30 years working on educational reform in Northern Sri Lanka. At the young age of 83 he continues going back to Sri Lanka every year to continue improving the education of rural Tamil youth. I hope to emulate his work and in so doing inspire others in the same way.
What challenges you?
I am dedicated to lifelong learning and am naturally a very curious person. I am constantly reading and actively look for opportunities that will challenge my assumptions about our society and the world around me. Those on the front lines of poverty and injustice challenge me to look within and really understand, when you have nothing, what empathy and resilience truly means. Their dignity in the face of great obstacles challenges me to find that same grace and dignity within myself.
Tell us about the biggest risk you ever took.
I recently left my position as Head of Development at Machinima Inc. to join the Acumen Global Fellowship. I left two decades of working in live event & film production for my fellowship placement at a social enterprise in Mumbai, India. I am currently working on increasing UTMT's digital brand presence. Under The Mango Tree trains rural farmers on how to become beekeepers in order to increase their agricultural yield and incomes.
Last year I was sitting in an office over looking the WB water tower and this year I am visiting farms in rural India capturing stories of impact and the importance of beekeeping/pollination. It has been a challenging six months navigating India and working with little resources on such a fundamentally important issue. I knew nothing about bees or the social enterprises coming into the space. Working in India and leaving my life behind in Los Angeles was a big risk.
I believe it's important to constantly challenge oneself and learn to be uncomfortable. I believe those are the times in which you grow and learn the most. I am privileged to call this a "risk" and I fully understand my privilege, which is also a challenge when working in spaces focused on poverty.
What are you reading/watching/listening to these days?
"Have Mercy" By Bryan Stevenson, "Sister Outsider" Audre Lorde, listening to a lot of the New Tribe Called Quest & Ms. Nina Simone.
Re-watching "Better Luck Tomorrow" — It's the 15th anniversary!
If you weren't doing what you're doing now, what job would you want to have?
The first Sri Lankan to land on the Moon.
I would love to be an astrophysicist but I am not very good at physics or understanding celestial objects.
What's your motto?
Speak your truth and do things that make you uncomfortable
I celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month because…
...we are a nation of immigrants and we must celebrate our diversity and our common humanity.
I came to America in 1983 as a refugee fleeing a civil war in Sri Lanka. It took me over 25 years to finally become a green card holder. I do not take for granted what it means to be an American and the opportunities I have had since coming to the United States. I celebrate because I have the freedom to criticize and appreciate America and everything it has to offer good and bad. I celebrate diversity and building bridges with my, African, Muslim, LGBTQ, Hispanic, and Native American sisters and brothers. When we celebrate and tell our stories we have nothing to fear.