The women of today’s generation who enjoy relative gender equality do so because those who preceded them — like Mallika Dutt — had the courage to stand up against oppressive beliefs and customs. It also takes a whole lot of creativity to change hearts, minds, and actions. But Mallika did that by appealing to their emotions using relevant mass and local culture along with the most up-to-date technology. She has a wealth of experience in organizing and tapping the right population which she brought to the table when she started her own organization.
Growing up in a society that denied her fellow women’s human rights gave her the motivation to fight for others. She eventually succeeded with flying colors, not only being able to improve the lives of women but more so to change the environment to make the women of tomorrow stand on equal footing with their male contemporaries.
EDUCATION AND PHILANTHROPIC CAREER
She is a native of Kolkata, India. Born to Indian parents on 29 March 1962, Mallika grew up in a community where traditional culture was commonly observed. While the status of females in her own family was complex, she observed -- and rebelled against -- the way other women and girls were treated like property She was exposed to inhumane treatment of daughters. During dowry disputes, for instance, the brides-to-be often got killed. Fathers treat their daughters as though they were a piece of property. The “property” was then inherited by the husband who they often get to marry on their parents’ irrevocable behest.
So Dutt did her best in school and it paid off. She majored on International Affairs at Mount Holyoke College in the United States. This was where her idealism took its clearest and firmest shape. Her education at Mount Holyoke College went beyond the corners of the classroom. She was surrounded by many people who were pulsating with life and could, in many cases, do what they wanted to do regardless of gender.
With her eyes opened to infinite possibilities before her, Dutt developed a penchant for human rights. In her entire time in Holyoke College from 1980 to 1983, she specialized in ending sexual harassment against women. She completed her undergraduate studies with magna cum laude distinction. She also won a Mary Lyon Scholar and was awarded the Student Leadership Award. But more than the distinctions, it’s how the school nurtured her desire to do something brave in behalf of humanity she was most thankful for.
While still in college, she joined the International Women's Tribune Centre and became its Assistant Coordinator from 1982 to 1987.
After Mount Holyoke, she pursued a Masters in International Affairs and South Asian Studies at Columbia University, completing it in 1986. She flew back to Mumbai for her internship in 1987 where she worked for Lawyers Collective and alongside SEWA or Self-Employed Women’s Association. She interviewed employees, employers, and government officials to help draw up policies to better protect workers’ rights.
She then went on to finish her doctorate studies at New York University in 1989. She passed the New York Bar the following year. While at the university, she was book editor of Review of Law & Social Change and Women of Color and the Law’s colloquium organizer. By the time she completed her law degree, the institution gave her the Vanderbilt Medal for Extraordinary Contribution to the NYU Law School Community.
In 1989, as she was about to become a full-fledged lawyer, she helped her best friend found Sakhi for South Asian Women, serving as one of its Board of Directors up until 2001. In the same year she cofounded Sakhi for South Asian Women, she became an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton. She initially specialized in corporate areas, such as intellectual property and estates. But her heart never really left pure service. She still provided pro-bono (or free) assistance to people who were in need. In addition to that, she also helped build a pro-bono network where battered immigrant women could seek legal representation.
She began teaching as Adjunct Professor in 1991 at Hunter College, Women’s Studies & Political Science. She took part in the school’s community work as usual. After she left Debevoise & Plimpton, she directed The Norman Foundation and extensively learned the ropes of philanthropy. Her two years of experience there helped her hone the innate skill she had at organizing and building network that assists the needy and helps those who want to start their own organization.
According to her curriculum vitae, she did the following from 1994 to 1996:
• Directed Center’s work on women’s human rights in the areas of violence against women, reproductive health and economic justice in the US and global public policy arenas
• Played leadership role in the conceptualization, development and articulation of women’s rights as human rights in the global public policy arena
• Coordinated Center’s activities at UN World Conferences including Hearings and Tribunals at World Summit on Social Development, International Conference on Population and Development, and World Conference on Women
• Monitored government positions on UN documents and lobbied on behalf of language and decisions conducive to women’s rights
• Managed Center’s financial and administrative affairs, including budgets, fundraising, allocations, personnel policies and interface with university systems and policies (SOURCE: MallikaDutt.com)
She spent four years at Ford Foundation as its Program Officer for Human Rights and Social Justice until 2000. With her experience honing her expertise in human rights, she began to see that most organizations focused on the role of the justice system or those in authority to foster and uphold human rights.
She took it upon herself to start an organization that will challenge the norm. Her experience gave her access to a broader perspective balanced by her association with grassroots communities on the topic of human rights. It’s not possible to reinforce justice if the people themselves are not inspired to to challenge injustices around them.
So Breakthrough, the organization she started in 2001. According to Mallika, Breakthrough aims to "create social actors around the world who challenge violence and discrimination against women. We work through centers in India and the United States and are now partnering with groups in Nepal, Bangladesh, China, Scotland, Malaysia and Vietnam to engage men and boys in building safe homes and communities." (SOURCE: IBN Live)
She is going from one country to another, mobilizing people to act, believing that human rights start from each one of us. As a testament to that, Breakthrough produced Bell Bajao, a multimedia and on-the-ground campaign calling on men in India and beyond to challenge domestic violence. The campaign won them the Silver Lion at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. But more significant is how it revolutionized the Indian mindset. People suddenly started doing their share to end violence against women. Instead of turning a deaf ear to a woman’s cry, they “ring the bell,” make a noise, do anything to keep the perpetrator from hurting their wife or partner.
Mallika has so much belief in the human race and its creations — arts, media, and technology — to help advance dignity, equality, and justice:
"We believe that creative and innovative forms of outreach and mobilization create engagement with people-right where they are and in language that is meaningful to them. Young people are absolutely critical for human rights leadership because they are not only the ones who will be most affected by our current global challenges; they also have new ways of thinking and being that may be more effective in getting us to a better place." (SOURCE: IBN Live)
So yes, you can help without leaving your home. You may share their videos and be educated about what’s going on around you while having fun. Activism need not be boring. Thanks to Dutt for adding that twist.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Human Rights and India
- Open Society Institute’s U.S. Programs
- Human Rights Watch Women’s Rights Project and WITNESS
- Council on Foreign Relations
- Games for Change Advisory Board
- Rights Working Group Steering Committee
- SAKHI for South Asian Women
Awards and Achievements
- 1983: Graduated Magna Cum Laude, International Relations from Mount Holyoke College
- 1991: Received Public Interest Law Foundation Alumni Award, NYU Law School
- 1996-2000: Served as Program Officer for Human Rights at the Ford Foundation
- 2001: Founded Breakthrough, New York, New York & New Delhi, India
- 2001: Received National Citizen’s Award, India, for contribution to women and development
- 2001: Received South Asian Women’s Creative Collective, SAWCC, Annual Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to the South Asian Community
- 2001: Breakthrough won National Screen Award for Best Music Video
- 2001: Breakthrough was a MTV Award Nominee for Best Indipop Music Video
- 2002: Received Phoenix Award, New York Asian Women’s Center
- 2003: Breakthrough won UJudgeIt! Film Festival Award for Best Cinematography
- 2003: Received Spirit of Asian America Award Asian American Federation of New York
- 2005: Won Link TV Award for Best Music Video
- 2006: Received Silver and Bronze Indian Advertising Agencies Association Awards in the Public Service and Political Advertising Category
- 2006: Received Award for Distinguished Service, New York University School of Law BLAPA Alumni Association
- 2007: Breakthrough won Bronze at Abby Awards – Public Service, Appeals and Charity category
- 2007: Received Radio & TV Advertising Practitioner’s Association of India Award for Best Film with a Social Message
- 2008: Received The Woman of Color, Woman of Courage Award, IUP Women’s Studies Program
- 2008: Won Bronze at Abby Awards – Public Service, Appeals and Charity category
- 2008: Received Trailblazer Award, South Asians in Media Marketing Association
- 2009: Breakthrough won Gold for Best Integrated Campaign in Public Service, Appeals and Charity category at Gold at Abby Awards
- 2009: Breakthrough won Silver for Best Film in Public Service, Appeals, and Charity at Abby Awards
- 2009: Breakthrough won Community Engagement Award from Media that Matters
- 2009: Received Asian American Justice Center Courage Award
- 2009: Received Karmaveer Puraskar: National Award for Social Justice & Citizen Action, Indian Confederation of NGOs
- 2010: Breakthrough made it to Silver Lion at Cannes International Advertising Film Festival
- 2010: Breakthrough won Best-Integrated Campaign at Spikes Asia’s Creative Advertising Awards
- 2010: Received Distinguished Service, Diversity & Progress Award, South Asian Law Students Association of New York Law School
- 2013: Called by Newsweek/The Daily Beast a “breakout star” of the Women in the World conference
- 2013: Included in 50 Fearless Minds Changing the World by the Daily Muse
- 2013: Received International Humanitarian Award
- Recipient of the Vanderbilt Medal for Extraordinary Contribution to the NYU Law School Community
- Twice been named one of Verve's Top 50 most influential women
- Named one of the "50 coolest Desis in the world" by DesiClub.com
- Breakthrough won the Avon Global Award for Excellence in Communications
- 2012: Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, Mount Holyoke College
MallikaDutt.com (Mallika Dutt)
Wikipedia (Mallika Dutt)
Verve Online (Verve’s 50 Power Women 2009)
College Street Journal (Breaking through Barriers to Equality: Human Rights Advocate Mallika Dutt '83 to Speak April 25)
Breakthrough.tv (Mallika Dutt)
LinkedIn (Mallika Dutt)
IBN Live (An Interview with Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of Breakthrough)
Yahoo Voices (Using Social Media for Social Change: Mallika Dutt)
Media Global News (Q&A with human rights and media entrepreneur Mallika Dutt)