Indian-Americans in politics, policy and government create leadership pipeline

India Abroad
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The Indian-American Impact Project founders Raj Goyle, right, and Deepak Raj, left,  with Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.). Goyle, a former two-term member of the Kansas State Assembly, is the CEO of the New York City-based technology firm Bodhala. Rai is the chairman of Pratham USA and founder of the Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies and Columbia University. 


WASHINGTON, D.C. — A politically savvy group of Indian-American Generation Xers, comprising a former Kansas state legislator, a senior Obama administration official, erstwhile senior congressional staffers and a longtime Democratic Party political operative are launching a nationwide pipeline of Indian-American leaders in politics, policy, and government.

The initiative, The Indian-American Impact Project, will also have a political action committee appendage — the Indian-American Impact Fund”— and will be collectively known as “Impact.”

The organization has been co-founded by Raj Goyle, CEO of the New York City-based technology firm Bodhala and former two-term member of the Kansas State Assembly and Deepak Raj, chairman of Pratham USA and founder of the Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies at Columbia University. Raj, a noted philanthropist, has provided the seed money to launch “Impact.” A former global head of equity research at Merrill Lynch, where he worked for more than two decades, he now runs a real estate development company.

The convenors predict that these “bold new initiatives will help talented and patriotic Indian-Americans run for office, win, and lead.”

Goyle will chair the Impact Project, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization focused on leadership development and training, while Raj will chair the Impact Fund, that “will endorse and support viable candidates who reflect the Indian American community’s values.”

They said their values, which are largely progressive, include pro-immigration reform, pro-civil rights and the anti-Muslim ban. They noted that University of California, Riverside Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan’s research was probably “the best data set we have at this time on public opinion views in the community.”

“Despite rapid growth and professional success, for too long Indian-Americans have been underrepresented in elected office from state capitols to the U.S. Congress.” Said Goyle. “As a result, our needs, concerns, and priorities often go unheard in the halls of power. At a time when our community and our values are under attack by xenophobic rhetoric and regressive policies, it is more critical than ever that Indian Americans build and wield political power to fight back.”

“This is our time,” said Raj. “Across the country, a record number of Indian-Americans are running for office. We can’t leave it to chance that they will win on their own. We owe them our support — and we have a plan to help them run, win, and lead.”

The Impact Project Board of Directors includes former congressional staffer Priya Dayananda, now managing director of federal government affairs for KPMG LLP — considered one of the most influential young lobbyists in D.C., Vinai Thummalapally, former U.S. ambassador to Belize and former executive director of SelectUSA at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Mini Timmaraju, executive director of external affairs at Comcast and former National Women’s Vote Director for Hillary for America. Timmaraju is also an ex-senior congressional staffer, having served as Rep. Ami Bera’s first chief-of-staff.

The Impact Fund Board of Directors includes Ravi Akhoury, former chairman and CEO of MacKay Shields LLC, and Raghu Devaguptapu, partner at Left Hook Strategies and former political director for the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC).

Vikas Raj, managing director of Accion Venture Lab, will serve as a non-voting observer on both boards.

Both initiatives are led by Gautam Raghavan, who previously served as vice president of Policy for the Gill Foundation, as a senior adviser in the Obama White House, and also as director of the Office of Public Engagement, and in various roles for the 2008 Obama campaign and Democratic National Committee. 

Raghavan, who will be the hands-on, full-time executive director of Impact, told India Abroad that “interest in politics and public service is at an all-time high among Indian-Americans. Just last November, 25 Indian-Americans won their campaigns for state and local office from Washington State to New Jersey. But interest isn’t enough; our community still doesn’t have a robust, organized, and well-resourced plan to recruit, train, and support candidates.”

“Given everything that’s at stake, it’s no surprise that there is renewed interest among historically underrepresented communities — women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks — in running for office. Our job is to harness that energy to expand our ranks in the halls of power,” Timmaraju said.

Raghavan said that “Impact is entirely focused on engaging Indian-American leaders at every step of their journey —from thinking about running for office to managing a campaign to serving as an elected official.”

Asked if Impact has already made a list of Indian-American candidates making a bid for public office that it would support, Deepak Raj told India Abroad, “This year, we will work to re-elect all of our incumbents — the four members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ro Khanna, as well as state and local elected officials like Kumar Barve, Jay Chaudhuri and Manka Dhingra.” He said Impact will be closely monitoring dozens of new candidates and will endorse a small group “to expand our ranks in Congress as well as at the state and local level.”

“This work will require a long-term strategy to invest in leaders in our community,” said Raj. “If we’re successful, we will ensure that future generations have every opportunity to run, win, and lead.”