Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the women who are changing the world. We could not think of a better way to kick off this day with an interview with one of our most inspiring and accomplished ambassadors: Joy Donnell.
Joy is a media entrepreneur and creative activist driven by the power of voice. Her vision is to create media that increases humanity. She has spent several years fighting violence against women and girls through work with V Day Santa Monica and V Day West LA. Additionally, Joy has worked to combat sex trafficking and youth homelessness through The Carissa Project. She’s a strong supporter of female-led initiatives, especially in the realm of entrepreneurship.
Read about what why she became involved with the foundation, her work, and favorite women’s causes! Happy International Women’s Day!
What was your motivation to become a WLU ambassador?
There’s no part of any industry, system or society on this planet that has not been enhanced by the presence of women. Gender equity is vital to our mental health as human beings. Social justice is necessary to ensuring gender equality. These ideas are the cornerstone of WLU and I feel kindred to the organization for this reason. I’ve personally fought to end violence against women and young girls. I’ve tirelessly endeavored toward eradicating human trafficking for over a decade of my life.
Tell us about how you began your career in media?
I’ve always been a storyteller. That instinct first led me to PR and branding where I was shaping the narrative for entertainment and luxury campaigns. I was always creating media for clients and crafting it with a full content strategy, only, I never thought of the work in that way. I just called it PR. Looking back, it’s funny that I didn’t see what I was doing since I had pursued this type of storytelling because of a personal failure.
While in college, I was leading a social action campaign for a Somali woman seeking refuge for herself and her daughter. Her daughter didn’t want to be circumcised, which is a common practice in certain parts of Somalia. Her mother smuggled her out of the country and when I heard the story, I thought the solution would be so easy… I literally started a petition. Of course, that didn’t work at all. That’s not even close to how the world works. At that moment, I realized that I didn’t understand anything about anything. I needed to gain a better knowledge of storytelling and the human-made, as well as neurological systems through which our stories resonate.
After several years of doing countless campaigns, luckily, I was restless. I didn’t want to solely have the conversations that my clients paid me to have. I wanted to create platforms conversations. I wanted to tap into the power of media and use it to connect, expand our understanding of ourselves in this world and increase our humanity. I especially like digital media because you never run out of space. It can be infinite. Which means you can build a longer table, a table as long as it needs to be.
Why is working with conscious brands so important to you?
My dive into media started with fashion and luxury. That focus made it impossible to ignore certain truths about the fashion industry. There’s overproduction of cheap goods. There are serious wage issues. Both affect women. The lowest paid garment jobs are occupied by women who work full-time every week only to keep struggling financially. Yet, study after study shows that if we want communities to grow economically, we must invest in women. It’s women who reinvest in their communities and help them thrive. Financial solvency for women starts closing the poverty gap. Conscious brands, truly conscious brands, know this. They can tell you everything about their supply chains and they can show you the people who made your clothes. To decidedly fabricate on the continent of Africa or South America and so on is a huge and thankless financial undertaking for these brands, but they’re striving to create living wages. Often at the luxury level, they’re also preserving ancestral skills that are in danger of going extinct because few artisans are making a living wage through that knowledge, so the youth don’t want to learn it. These conscious brands can change that perspective with shifting economics.
What is the first step for entrepreneurs, especially those working in media, to become more socially conscious?
Any media entrepreneur who wants to be more socially conscious has to listen and do their damnedest to be in inclusive environments. Actually hear this world: the joy, pain, gain, loss, hopes, and fears. When crafting that media, do it in rooms with myriad voices. Try to avoid tribalism. Don’t get too insular. Diverse viewpoints enrich your content and it enriches the way that content is consumed.
What are some of your favorite women’s causes?
I’m excited about so many women’s causes, one of which is WLU. Two others are ROOTS of South Sudan and #50WomenCan. ROOTS of South Sudan is a 501c3 empowering women and youth in South Sudan through the preservation of traditional Sudanese arts and crafts. The organization also publicizes and markets the goods made.
I’m biased because I’m a part of #50WomenCan Change the World in Media and Entertainment. This a cohort of talented women who are driving gender parity in entertainment and media by 2025. It’s spearheaded by Take the Lead Women and this is the first cohort focused on this industry.
If you could name three women leaders that inspire you the most, who would they be and why?
I’ve recently come to appreciate how much I am inspired by Sarah Baartman, also known as The Hottentot Venus. Most people wouldn’t think of her as a leader and probably even fewer know her name. In the late 1700’s, she was sold to a doctor named William Dunlop who raped her, prostituted her, and paraded her body before gawking European crowds simply because she had well-developed hips. This trait wasn’t uncommon to her tribe in what is modern-day South Africa. Yet, her body was used to contrast what these societies considered a “civilized female form” and Sarah was labeled as a savage.
Dunlop promised her money and freedom if she cooperated but she never received either. Sarah was 16 when these men began treating her as spectacle and sexual fetish. She endured this for 10 years before she died at the age of 26. Before she died, Napoleon's doctor had argued she was the “missing link” between human and ape, he labeled her buttocks as a disease of fatty deposits on the hips and he likened her face to that of an orangutan. When Sarah died, they turned her into a museum exhibit in Paris where she remained on display for 100 years. They cut her genitals and brain out to be placed in formaldehyde for display and study, they reformed her naked body into plaster so it could be on view in a glass case.
I didn’t know Sarah’s story until college and I was dismayed that it took me that long to know her. It helped me realize that voice needs to be given to the voiceless. It helps me be optimistic about social media which, for the first time in our recorded history, gives anyone a platform for their voice as long as they have access to the technology. Sarah’s legacy inspires me to use media better and do more with my voice.