Priyanka Chopra wanted to be an aeronautical engineer.
But fate intervened, and any dreams of heading to NASA were sidelined for a career that took her from Miss India to Miss World and ultimately acting. Now an international star, she has headlined dozens of movies from Bollywood to Hollywood, along with ABC’s “Quantico,” which premieres its third season in 2018 — and boasts a tremendous social media profile.
She admits it’s nearly impossible to balance all the demands of her life, but one constant has been charity work. She’s worked with Unicef since 2003 and now serves as a goodwill ambassador. She’s spoken at the U.N. General Assembly and met with heads of state.
Chopra’s parents, both physicians in the army, instilled in her and her brother the importance of giving back. “Philanthropy has been something that is inherently a part of my life from when I was growing up,” she says. As a 17-year-old pageant winner, she realized “I couldn’t change the world, but I could contribute toward change,” she says. “One person cannot eradicate poverty, but I realized that [with] the platform that I had, whatever I said would be spoken about, would be written about.”
The most important issue to her is the needs of children, from food and hygiene to education to the rights of girls. “We keep dividing ourselves between countries and borders and race and gender, but eventually we have to think about the fact that there’s only one world,” she says. “And if we don’t look after it, what are we going to leave our kids?”
One Unicef-led trip that stands out was to India, where she met a 13-year-old girl who was to be married off to help her impoverished parents. “She raised hell at the fact that she was going to get married to a man who was twice her age,” Chopra recalls.
The girl learned to sew in a Unicef center, and then started a business making and selling clothes. “That gave not just her but her ill parents the ability to take care of themselves,” Chopra says. “To see success stories like that and to see these girls take charge of their lives is amazing.”
She’s proud to call herself a feminist. “Feminism is not about berating or hating men or trying to make sure we’re better than men,” she says. “Feminism is just saying, ‘Give me the same freedom that men have enjoyed for so many centuries.’”
That’s a message she wants to pass on to girls around the world. “Hopefully all the work that my generation does will make it better for the next generation,” she says.