Giving ‘Em SAMMA to Talk About

Speakers take the stage at the SAMMA Summit, Sept. 16-17, 2011. Credit:

Speakers take the stage at the SAMMA Summit, Sept. 16-17, 2011. Credit:

On Friday, September 16th and Saturday, September 17th, South Asians in Media, Marketing and Entertainment Association (SAMMA) held their annual conference in New York City.

The first and largest professional association of South Asians within these fields, SAMMA was founded in 2006 and has since developed into a leading networking group. It builds awareness in the industry, promotes South Asian diversity in communications and helps support the growing interest in South Asian media and entertainment industry.

This year, the conference opened with a networking cocktail reception held at the Time & Life Building and featured musical guest Brooklyn Qawwali Party, which was formed to honor Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Lawyers, advertising and marketing executives, entrepreneurs, digital and television innovators gathered and were excited for the panels and speakers that awaited them.

Ritu Narula, a 27-year-old first year law clerk, said, “I’ve always been interested in learning about sports and sports law. I want to learn more about how the media works and I’m here to be a sponge.”

Even if you weren’t in a media-related field, the conference was valuable. Akash Goel, a 26-year-old medical student said, “They’re just really bringing together business leaders doing interesting things.” And that’s a goldmine anyone can tap.

Guests mingled, ate, listened to the folk music and were, in general, impressed with the sheer number of like-minded professionals gathered in such a setting.

Sachin Shenolikar, Senior Editor at Sports Illustrated Kids stated, “I’m very passionate about Asians moving up in the workplace.” And while there are organizations mobilizing South Asians in the media industries, “It’s hard to get everyone together,” says the co-chair of A3, a diversity group at Time, Inc. “It’s a slow process but it’s getting better. Groups like A3 and SAMMA are helping. The numbers show that South Asians are employed [in media] but the next step is to get them leadership roles.  They’re perceived as worker bees that lack leadership and social skills and we’re trying to change that mentality.”

And slowly but surely, that mentality is changing. Gone are the days where medicine, law and business were the only fields that held South Asian interest. Now fashion, television, music and entrepreneurship are gaining in desi leadership.

“The scene is just exploding right now; it’s perfect timing [for this]” said Reve Mehta, 36, of Helios Entertainment, who flew in from California to attend the conference and offer support to his sister, Radha Mehta, who helped put the event together. “It’s great seeing my friends on screen in shows like ‘True Blood’ and ‘The Office.’”

SAMMA’s organizers felt the same way and the panels were packed with speakers from Google India, Sony Movie Channel, FourSquare, ESPN SportsCenter, Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” Turner International, Barneys New York and more. Panels addressed social media, start-ups, marketing and fashion — the future of those industries and the roles of South Asians in them.

“It’s really inspiring,” Goel said.

Sonam Hajela is a contributing writer.