Executive Director

Caty Borum Chattoo

Caty Borum Chattoo is Executive Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), a creative innovation lab and research center at American University that creates, showcases, and studies media designed for social change and social justice; and Assistant Professor at the American University School of Communication in Washington, D.C. She is an award-winning documentary producer, scholar, professor and strategist working at the intersection of social change communication, documentary and entertainment storytelling. Her co-authored book about the role of mediated comedy in social change, A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The Serious Role of Comedy in Social Justice, with co-author Lauren Feldman, was published by University of California Press as the launch volume for the first Communication for Social Justice Activism series. Her documentary book, Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change, was published by Oxford University Press.

In 2017, she launched The Laughter Effect, a research and creative initiative that examines the role of comedy in social change and produces co-created comedy with social justice organizations. She co-created and co-directs, with cultural agency Moore + Associates, the Yes, And…Laughter Lab, a creative incubator of comedy for social good, launched in 2019 in partnership with Comedy Central. In 2016, she launched Story Movements, a biennial national convening and research initiative at the intersection of civic storytelling and social change. Under her leadership, CMSI’s Comedy ThinkTanks initiative launched in 2019 under the creative direction of comedian Bethany Hall, as a comedy co-creation lab between social justice leaders and professional comedy writers and performers.

As a documentary producer, her films and TV programs have aired internationally and nationally on the Sundance Channel, Pivot, NDTV (India), Link TV, KCET, DirectTV and theatrically. Her research and creative work has been funded by leading global and national philanthropies including the MacArthur Foundation, Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Luminate, Open Society Foundations, Pop Culture Collaborative, Atlantic Philanthropies, Univision, and others. In the U.S. and around the world, she is a featured speaker and workshop leader on the intersection of storytelling, communication, and social justice. A former philanthropy director and producer with legendary comedy film and TV producer Norman Lear, program officer at the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Entertainment Media and Public Health Program, and senior vice-president in social change communication at global communications agency FleishmanHillard, her peer-reviewed research on the intersection of storytelling, creativity and social change is featured in leading journals in communication and the humanities, including Journal of Communication; Journalism; Media, Culture & Society; International Journal of Communication; Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media; Mass Communication and Society; HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research, and more. Borum Chattoo serves on the Board of Directors of three leading organizations working at the intersection of entertainment storytelling and social justice: The Peabody Awards, Kartemquin Films, and Working Films. She also serves as a member of the Advisory Group for The Civic Imagination Project led by renowned media scholar Henry Jenkins, housed at the University of Southern California.

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