Revolutionary Women

Namaste! My name is Priyanca Rao, and I am a New York portrait photographer.

Every year I work on a passion project that is related to my heritage and tells a unique story. I was lucky to be handpicked to share a story about a girl called Rekha at Photoville last year. You can see it here.

“Revolutionary Women” is a collection of powerful portraits and inspiring stories of 40 women who have crafted a dynamic roadmap for future generations, breaking through stereotypes and societal norms to assert their identities and achievements.

“Revolutionary Women” aims to showcase the diverse and compelling journeys of women who have become pioneers in their respective fields. Each woman’s story is a testament to the power of determination, courage, and resilience in the face of societal challenges and traditional expectations. The project seeks to celebrate these women not only for their achievements but also for their role in paving the way for future generations.

“I want to capture some powerful portraits of WOMEN AND share their stories with the world”.

-Priyanca Rao

Revolutionary women with incredible stories

About Priyanca

Born and raised in India, she imbibed the colors, traditions, and diverse narratives that shape her unique artistic perspective. Priyanca’s creative journey took her across continents. After pursuing fashion studies in the eclectic city of London, she set her sights on the bustling streets of New York City. At the heart of Priyanca’s work is a powerful narrative—stories of women challenging stereotypes and redefining their roles. Her lens captures the essence of these inspiring tales, showcasing the strength, resilience, and stories that often go unnoticed. Through her projects, Priyanca satisfies her innate desire to understand women better and fosters a supportive community where women uplift and celebrate each other. Priyanca believes in the transformative power of photography as a tool for change. Through her lens, she strives to contribute to a more inclusive and empathetic world.

Priyanca is an award winning fearless photographer ranking number 1 in New York and top 4 in the US. Her work is influenced by her Indian heritage and fashion background. Priyanca graduated from the London College of Fashion with a background in Fashion Design and styling. Her strong sense of color and bold compositions make her photography powerful and moving. Hailing from the vibrant cultural tapestry of India, Priyanca Rao’s photography is a reflection of her rich background and heritage.


Revolutionary women with incredible stories


A proud daughter of Immigrants, I grew up looking to fashion as a means to express my South Asian American identities.

Not being able to find clothes that resonated with me in stores, I would mix and match outfits from my mom’s Indian closet and my own, to create an individual personal style.

Megha Rao, Designer

I decided to work in a restaurant just to earn some pocket money while I attended more classes, but soon fell in love with hospitality and decided to focus on that work full-time.

I happened to meet Aldo Sohm at 3-Michelin starred Le Bernardin, one of the world’s best sommelier (he literally won that title in competition) at one of the world’s best restaurants. He offered to blind-taste me on wines to accompany my meal. At the end of the tasting menu, he asked me what I planned to do with my career, and whether I’d consider moving to New York if he offered me a job. I thought he was joking. He was not. I moved to New York and worked as a sommelier at Le Bernardin for about 6 years. During that time, I also co-founded my company, Kalamata’s Kitchen. Looking for a way to tie together my love of hospitality with my background in literature and my love of working with kids.

Sarah Thomas Children’s media and Hospitality.

I combine expertise in beauty and Ayurvedic wisdom with modern techniques to create natural, non-toxic, and effective beauty products.

Ayurveda, for me, is more than just a healing practice—it’s a way of life that began with my mother’s journey to wellness. Rooted deeply in my cultural heritage, Ayurveda became an integral part of my life’s path. Through its timeless wisdom, I discovered a profound connection between modern science, the ancient teachings of Ayurveda, and the pursuit of inner and outer beauty. My mission is to unite these realms, bridging the gap between tradition and innovation to empower others on their own transformative journeys toward holistic well-being.

Kirti Tewani, Content Creation

The inspiration behind my story lies in my transition from a luxurious lifestyle as a fashion model and designer in NYC to pursuing my lifelong dream of embarking on a spiritual journey, ultimately leading me to become an ordained Buddhist nun and living in a Monastery.

This unexpected journey from the superficial allure of the runway to the profound wisdom of Buddhist teachings reshaped my entire outlook. It was a transformation from the glittering but empty mirage of the fashion world to the enduring beauty found within—a narrative that transcends the superficial and embraces the profound.

Lama Aria Drolma, Spiritual Wellness

I am a product of a home of domestic violence. Very early, I ingested ideas on what it meant -to be a woman (second class citizen) -what it meant to be a woman with a voice (hitting). I’m a product of what my grandmother whispered into my mom’s ear. What my great-grandmother whispered into my grandmother’s ear. What my great-great-grandmother whispered into my great-grandmother’s ears.

I grew up, making a conscious decision, to craft a living using my voice I became a news anchor.

Joya Dass, Women’s leadership

I’ve really rejected pre-defined narratives and binary choices my whole life, though I only realized it in just the past couple of years.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for over 30 years, and it wasn’t until recently that I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and on a much better medication and therapy regimen to support me.

Hitha Palepu, Multi-hyphenate
Hitha Palepu_ _priyanca_rao_headshot
Moulakshi_Roychowdhury _priyanca_rao_headshot

I’m not just a strategist, I’m a builder. I roll up my sleeves and collaborate with teams, infusing them with my contagious enthusiasm to improve patient care. I lead teams to break down silos and forge a culture of digital fluency.

I’ve had my fair share of the challenges at work that we all as women face including imposter syndrome, significant wage-gaps between myself and male colleagues (particularly when starting in the industry), or being the token “diversity” representative.

The most significant challenge in my life has been recurrent miscarriages and my fertility journey, which I am continuing to pursue. I won’t give up on my dream to be a mother.

Moulakshi Roychowdhury , Pharmaceutical & Medical Device

In my youth, I vehemently despised my Indian identity.

As South Asian women, our choices, ideas, and opinions matter – from dinner-table conversations and the most intimate walls of our homes to boardrooms – all the way to the ballot box. I will always work to ensure our voices are heard.

I became President of the Harvard Women’s Law Association (WLA) and the South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA). I believed it was important I spend my time in these two spaces because, for the first time, both these identities felt like the fabric of who I am and how I show up as a lawyer, an advocate, and a person.

Our home was always filled with love but patriarchy was pervasive in our household. I was disgusted by the differences in respect and expectations that I both witnessed and experienced.

Aanchal Chugh, Political Lawyer

From an early age, being a woc born to immigrant parents in the Canadian Prairie’s had its unique challenges. The early realization that you are different and you look different is not always positive. It takes an incredible amount of confidence to walk your own path and it leaves no room for self-doubt. Choosing a career in finance meant working twice as hard to prove myself in a male-dominated industry all while having the ‘audacity’ to dream of having a family and balancing it all.

My culture IS who I am. It defined me from an early age; whether it was the language, food, music, clothing or traditions, every piece of it has, in one way or another , enriched my life in beautiful ways. I am fully invested in ensuring my culture lives on through my children.

Simron Chopra, Luxury Goods Finance

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but somehow I learned to balance who I was while being proud of my faith and cultural identity.

It drove me to be a part of representing others like me in media and what drove me to become first Muslim and Bangladeshi woman to anchor in the number one news market in country. My journey was complex and came with numerous challenges, but I allowed every door shut in my face empower me instead making me quit.

Narmeen Choudhury, Journalist

I was raised by two Nepali immigrants in the greater Boston area, and I watched as they both made countless sacrifices to make sure I — and my future kids and their future kids — had the most fulfilling and free life. I didn’t always understand them. We came from two cultures and grew up in two different eras, but the older I get, the more I can appreciate the fact that they did the best they possibly could, raising a daughter in a new country, 7,500 miles away from everyone they knew and loved.

Now, I’ve been working as a reporter at Axios, a digital media company, for nearly seven years. This job has put me on television to discuss breaking news, in recording booths to bring my expertise and perspective to podcasts, and on stages to interview congresspeople, artists and CEOs. It’s my greatest honor to represent Nepal wherever I go.

Erica Pandey, Media

As a minority woman of color, I’ve had to get used to being “the only” in decision making forums.

I was born in India and grew up in several countries across the Middle East. Began my journey in the US as an international.student at Mount Holyoke College where I studied Math and Economics. Nearly 25 years ago, I began my Wall Street career in investment banking before embarking on a private equity investing path.

Farah Khan, Private Equity Investing

At 24, I took a leap of faith and started my own law firm. It was a daring move, but one that resonated with my determination to be the change that I seek in the field of advocacy.

Much like a tapestry woven from different threads, all of these aspects of my life are an integral part of my story. Through this journey, I aim to not only become a better advocate for others but also to deepen my connection with my own essence and the world around me.

Abhisha Parikh, Lawyer

One day, I bought myself a DJ mixer and went up to my building’s rooftop to jam. A few folks overheard me playing, vibed to it, and invited me to play at their party the next day.

I have been fortunate to have had amazing opportunities, such as DJing with Jay Sean, for Movie Premiere Events (Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ Love Again Premiere Party), political events (US Congress rally events and a party for NY Governor Kathy Hochul’s election win), the runway at South Asian New York Fashion Week, TaoGroup (Marquee, Tao, Highlight Room) and Somewhere Nowhere clubs, corporate events with Harvard Club, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue, as well as one of the largest Bollywood New Years Eve event in the West Coast.

DJ SZNaina

I am an Indian-Dutch girl raised in a multicultural family across 3 continents now raising my own multicultural kids in New York, planning fusion weddings along the way.

My niche as a fusion wedding planner was inspired by my own multi-cultural South Asian-Dutch heritage and living and working in India, The Middle East, the Netherlands and then my own multi-cultural wedding in Dubai.

Tara Manchanda , Fusion Wedding Planner

I spent my youth as an undocumented immigrant, an 1980’s version of a “Dreamer”.

Today, I am a Knight in the National Order of Merit presented by French President Macron and hold leadership roles in international affairs, government and philanthropy. I am a life-long advocate of women’s rights, and a vocal champion for sustainability and social justice. My contributions have been recognized and celebrated by the United Nations, the World Economic Forum and the French American Foundation,

Penny Abeywardena, International Affiars
Shyama _Puliyanda_priyanca_rao_headshot

My family went through a lot of financial struggles when I was growing up. I was lucky enough that my parents still gave me the best education opportunities possible, and it was up to me to make the most of them. I used to commute almost 2 hours one way each day to college to make sure I got access to the type of education I wanted. I learned to prioritize investing in myself and my future.

Along with my career in Marketing, I try to give back as much as possible by working with not-for-profits that serve some of the most impoverished neighborhoods of the country in the field of education.

Shyama Puliyanda, Alcohol and Bev Marketing

In 2020, in the midst of societal discussions around Black Lives Matter, I conscientiously looked for books by authors of color.

While interacting with platforms that provided recommendations, my friend, Srisruthi Ramesh, and I discovered a void—there was no major platform dedicated to our South Asian identity. In response, we founded Brown Girl Bookshelf (BGB).

Over three impactful years, BGB has cultivated a global community of nearly 30,000 individuals. We’ve shared the brilliance of over 300 books, published 180+ reviews, curated a database of 150+ articles, and orchestrated a volunteer reviewer program with nearly 100 participants.

Mishika Narula, South Asian Author Curation

I’m a loud and proud South Asian woman and I’ve been championing our community my whole life through personal goals and have now built my professional career with the same goals and values.

Her PR roster includes branding campaigns for Lufthansa Airlines, Columbia Artist Management’s US Tour of Taj Express, live concerts featuring AR Rahman, comedy specials featuring Vir Das, Maharaja’s of Comedy with Kunal Nayyar, Varli Food Festival with Padma Lakshmi, Diwali Dance Fest At Walt Disney World, Girls That Invest, and many more.

Neerja Patel , PR

I am of Pakistani and Indian decent, was born in Africa, a Canadian citizen, and immigrated to the States 20 years ago. I grew up in a dominantly Caucasian city where I was bullied on a daily basis for having different ethnic features and brown skin, I felt very alone and I didn’t speak up for myself growing up – this has definitely shaped who I am and why I want to help others amplify their voices.

Fast-forward to 2014 I listened to the Serial podcast and was shocked and horrified by how Adnan Syed was treated and wrongfully put in prison. While it seemed the world was entertained by the podcast, there was an innocent man who had been sitting in prison since he was 17 years old – I couldn’t shake that thought from my mind.

When I decided to go into filmmaking, I knew I wanted to focus on true crime films about wrongful convictions, and Jeff was the first person I approached since I knew him personally. And at that time, he was the only person I knew who had been wrongfully convicted. Today, I know so many people who have been unjustly imprisoned – it happens far more than we know.

Jia Rizvi, Film & Television
Jia_rizvi_Wertz _priyanca_rao_headshot

I started my journey as a civil engineer. After graduating with a Master’s degree in Construction management from Stanford university, I pursued a career in heavy engineering. Slowly, the creative side of me took over and what started as a small passion project steadily grew into a thriving business. I learnt that passion and hard work together is an unbeatable combination.

Coming from an engineering stem background and having had no professional training in fashion, my learning and training has been part of my journey.

Reena Mathur, Jewelry and accessories

I’m often told I don’t resemble or act like your average surgeon or plastic surgeon. I take pride in my job and trained in a field where only 14% of us are female. Fortunately this is changing, but even fewer of us are South Asian.

My parents taught us the importance of education and family which I believe are innate beliefs of our culture. You could say I followed in their footsteps, first as a doctor, and then opening my own practice.

Smita Rao Ramanadham, Plastic Surgeon

One of my first jobs was as a bartender at a club in Philadelphia and it taught me a tremendous amount of patience and humility, values that have help serve the parenting feather in my hat well and also strongly influenced my work ethos.

One of the reasons I pursued a Masters in Social Work was to understand human behavior on a deep level. As a child of immigrant parents, navigating through cultural expectations while also adhering to western societal norms ignited a curiosity about the power of choice. How should I show up? The deep tradition of Collectivism that is paramount in the South Asian culture always seemed in conflict with the American ideology of Individualism.

Nita Batta, Mental Health

My story is Dharma, Dignity and Dreams. I live by these words. Live in my dharma, and encourage others to find theirs. Cultivate dignity for myself and others. And Dream Beyond my world, my knowledge, my circumstances – and help others live theirs. skin, I felt very alone and I didn’t speak up for myself growing up – this has definitely shaped who I am and why I want to help others amplify their voices.

Like many of my generation, I code-switched through most of my childhood – I was ‘white’ during the school week, and ‘brown’ on the weekends. It wasn’t till my mid twenties that I felt comfortable wearing my Indian-ness on my sleeve. And I am so glad I did, because it unlocked a new world to me. It lead me to my work – which turned out to be my life passion, it lead me to my to some of the best and enriching friendships I could have hoped for.

Being multi-cultural is such a gift. It allows us to see the world in a richer and broader way. I am so grateful to be all of them!

Megha S Desai, Social Impact, Desai Foundation

I moved to the US from India for my PhD almost 2 decades ago. Growing up with a strong cultural background and imbibing a lot of values has helped me be more adaptable, flexible, perseverant and empathetic.

I am now CEO of a new Biotech startup.

Sukanya Punthambaker, Biotech Founder

Besides many tactical challenges that come with owning a business, let alone a frozen food business, most of the challenges that I have had to overcome have to do with myself rather than the industry. It’s so easy to compare myself with others and how far they’ve come. However, lately I have realized that I am running my own race and I only have myself and my goals to worry about – I’m keeping focus on the track that’s in front of me

My culture is the cornerstone of who I am. As an Indian American, a woman, a dessert enthusiast, an advocate for social change, a New Yorker, and someone with roots in North Carolina – every nuance of my cultural background has played a pivotal role in shaping my identity and has made Malai what it is today. It’s not just about heritage; it’s about how I navigate the world, present myself to others, and embrace the uniqueness of my identity. It’s allowed me to unapologetically create Malai, which is an exact representation of what makes me me.

Pooja Bavishi, Founder of Malai Ice cream

I finished my MPH and my best friend said to me, “You have a lot to say, you should start a podcast.”

I started a podcast called ‘That Desi Spark’ in 2019. Since then, we’ve gone on to release 120+ episodes, interview celebrities and experts in social justice, health, and societal issues across the South Asian diaspora, and we’ve even been on Spotify billboards.

Annika Sharma, Podcaster and Author

Learning how to redefine what matters to me and finding a way to do what I love while being present for my family continues to be challenging but worthwhile. I think as a physician and a mother that it is easy to lose yourself in the role of being a care-taker.

I am working on creating time and space for myself to do the things that matter to me, for myself and also as an example to my children to find balance in their lives. I want my sons to see that Indian women are strong and hardworking and present at home, but also have careers and personal goals.

Dipti Palakshappa Padmalayam , Physician