SATYAGRAH SOULS is a monthly political series presented by Bay Area’s community leader Rishi KUmar in highlighting the community involvement and success of role-model Indian Americans. This series seeks to inspire each of us in giving back to our local community. Indian Americans are going through a transitional evolution while getting entrenched in a new world, exerting zealous work ethics, supporting the American economy as entrepreneurs, high tech geeks, doctors, lawyers and more.
We are definitely imposing the positive intentions and good citizen values upon this fantastic country. But can our involvement run a bit deeper with issues near and dear to our hearts, within our local city with the local public school that our children attend? Do we sometimes hear your conscience imploring us, “Am I doing enough?”.
Yes we can get involved just a bit more, push our comfort zone and enhance the learning and involvement. Our involvement can simply start with developing a healthy curiosity in our local community, instead of being ‘busy’ bystanders. Once we get involved, we will quickly discover, how easy it is for us to make change happen and how receptive everyone around is to leverage our skills for the betterment. There are leaders waiting to be discovered, why not take that first step? More importantly, how freeing and energizing the experience is; personally rewarding and transformative at the same time.
There are many who have made their mark in doing just that. With this monthly series, we want to highlight these SatyAgrah souls who are showing us the path. Here is a SatyaGrah soul, who has found the calling:
Yogi Chugh is Managing Director for S5 Advisory Inc. a Corporate Real Estate Advisory and Brokerage firm. Yogi leads S5 Advisory’s National and International practice. He is responsible for developing new clients and directing the right resources to remedy complex real estate challenges locally, nationally, and internationally. He brings to S5’s team extensive experience gained over 25 years in various executive roles for Fortune 500 companies such as Sony, BCG and JCP.
In his career Yogi has also been involved with various roles in local and quasi legislative governmental boards and commissions. Yogi has been involved in local community issues. He currently serves as Commissioner on the Fremont Economic Development Commission. He has served as a City of Fremont Planning Commissioner, Past National President of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, Board member for Drivers for Survivors and Fremont Education Foundation, two local Silicon Valley non profits. He also served as the Chair of the Tri City Democratic Party and as member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. He is the co-host of an award winning weekly radio talk show Voice of Indo-Americans, Jai Ho! where they tackle some of the most grappling issues of the day.
‘Get involved politically at every level’
Yogi, you were on the Fremont Planning Commission for two terms, 8 long years. Why did you become a Commissioner and what has been the learning?
Serving my community has been very important to me. My parents were always involved in our local community back home in New Delhi, India. They gave selflessly to the non profits and our local temple. And they instilled in us the value of giving back and selflessly working on initiatives that will make long lasting impacts. When I moved to the United States in 1986, I quickly got involved in various non profits in my local neighborhood in Fremont. Over time I served on a few non profits and our local Indian organizations but wanted to make a larger contribution to Fremont.
I was then honored to be appointed Commissioner by the Fremont Mayor and City Council. I went on to serve two terms.
Serving on the commission was a gratifying experience. Attending public hearings and allowing the citizens of Fremont to make their viewpoints heard on issues that were on the agenda was a humbling experience. While we accomplished much on the Commission during my tenure, such as critical massive projects across Fremont and drafting of Fremont’s General Plan, our Downtown revitalization project, our Innovation District where Tesla is now located; there was much we had to do to balance the differing viewpoints and perspectives of the citizens of Fremont.
It meant ensuring that we upheld our local ordinances but still balanced against the need of the community and neighborhoods. What I have learnt is the need to listen, be open to multiple perspectives and be balanced and fair.
What I have learnt is that people may not agree with your vote or decision but they will appreciate forthrightness, honesty and your willingness to listen. It’s a life lesson that I have tried to emulate in my daily life as well.
I see a string of recognitions that have come your way recently. Small Business Award by State of California Assembly and Senate recommended by Assemblyman Kansen Chu; Assemblymember Kansen Chu’s Annual Community Hero; Appointed as Commissioner on Fremont Economic Development Advisory Commission. When you think back to your journey involving decades of pushing for political empowerment, are you happy with where we are heading?
It was humbling to receive some of the awards and accolades. This has only been possible due to the
support of many leaders and folks in our community who always responded to our call to action whenever we needed to mobilize around a cause or an issue.
When I was honored as Community Hero for Assembly District 25 by Assembly Member Chu, what I appreciated the most was seeing the number of awardees from the South Asian community who were honored as well. When I was getting started in my foray into community service and politics, it was just a handful of us. Overtime the number of people getting involved began to increase but not nearly enough. In the last 5-10 years I am proud to see that the community is beginning to recognize the need to engage in our communities and get politically involved.
When I look back, during the 80’s and 90’s our immigrant journey was begging to mature but we still lacked either the interest or motivation to get involved in politics or our local communities. As our community has begun to mature there is a greater impetus to engage deeply with our communities. Equally heartening is seeing the 2nd generation of Indian Americans to whom political engagement comes naturally.
When I was the National President of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, we travelled the country encouraging Indian Americans to register to vote, develop Political Internship Programs for high school and college going students hoping that we could inspire a new generation of Indian Americans who would get politically involved either as staffers in legislative offices or run for elected office. The work of IAFPE and countless other National and local South Asian organizations such as IALI, IACI, NFIA, FIA, GOPIO, AAPI, AAHOA has paid off and we are seeing a greater level of engagement including people running and winning elected offices. I believe that the pinnacle of success for our community has just begin, in other words we are just getting started.
You have been hosting Voice of Indo Americans, Jai Ho today 3-4pm on KLOK 1170AM. It is a strong testament to your commitment. How did the idea come about and how do you see this impacting our Bay Area community?
Community engagement and activism has been very important to me. We launched our radio program Voice of Indo Americans, Jai Ho! to elevate the level of dialogue and debate in our local communities. My co-host and I feel that an engaged community is vital in ensuring that we are never taken for granted. We need to respect differing viewpoints but our contrarian viewpoints on the radio program will often challenge the caller or guest on the program.
By speaking on burning issues of the day, highlighting human interest stories, talking about community events that are doing great work and interviewing different individuals who have a story to tell, we are able to cover a wide variety of topics to keep the listeners engaged. Our hope is the topic, or listener or comment on the program will spark a conversation amongst the listeners in their homes, their works or during their commute.
A seat on the table – why is it important for us as an Indian American community to aspire for that seat?
A seat at the table is very important for an immigrant community. We cannot be marginalized and the only way is to ensure we are involved in the decision making. It is important that we have the opportunity to provide our input on various issues. While we must strive for consensus and be open to differing viewpoints, it is important that we participate in formulation of policy and issues that impact us.
I have always felt that we need to be involved in our local communities, serve on School PTAs, Chamber of Commerce, Community Task Force and Advisory boards and Commissions. If possible, individuals should also consider running for elected office. I have felt that communities are enriched when we serve in elected offices and partake in issues and topics that have vast implications in our daily life. Simple things as what our children learn in our schools, what we pay for our healthcare, public safety, cost of our utilities, etc are political decisions.
Holding elected officials accountable is only possible when the community is watching, engaged and willing to participate in meetings to question the decision making. In its simplest form, the most effective method of getting a seat at the table is to vote on election day and become the margin of victory for either a candidate’s victory or loss. It’s amazing how elected officials start taking you more seriously when they know that the community turns out and votes in droves. I was reminded by the statement that “Democracy is not a spectator sport”. It’s most effective when the citizenry is paying attention.
Is political empowerment important for the future of our Indian American community in this country?
Political empowerment is vital and necessary. We can become quickly marginalized if we do not get politically involved. But no one will empower us, and we have to do it ourselves. That’s why it is important that we participate at every level possible. While it is important to support candidates financially for their elections and continue to write checks and host fundraiser if we are capable of doing so financially but we need to walk neighborhoods, make phone calls on behalf of the candidates that we support. And then we have to ensure that we can get our friends and others to vote on election day.
Communities that are able to turn out the vote are always taken more seriously. I was reminded by a Congressman when he keynoted our IAFPE Convention in Boston, that he could always ignore and offend a political donor who was irritating or demanding favors but he could never afford to do that to a voter in his district. In other words while money is important for a candidate, it’s the voters that define the outcome.
However having said that I don’t want to discount the need for fundraising dollars in any election. Till campaign finance reform truly occurs, Money is and will remain the mother’s milk of politics. So we need to register to vote, mobilize, organize and turn out in massive numbers on election day.
Yogi’s name is often mentioned as one of the dynamic leaders from Bay Area to run for office. What are your plans?
I have always been involved in our local community and am a firm believer that we need to get involved politically at every level of government and our legislative branches. I have never ruled out anything in my life and in due course will decide on what the future will hold for me politically and whether I will run for elected office. I always explore various options and timing is everything so stay tuned. For now the focus continues to be on work and family!
What advise do you have for young Indians who are excited with community service. Where and how should they get started?
To believe in the potential of community service, nothing is more endearing to know you have made a difference or you have made an impact. Make it your calling. Focus on schooling, get the best education possible, explore a myriad of opportunities till you find something that makes you proud of being a part of. The opportunities are endless, in your cities, your schools, your local elected officials’ offices, local non profits, etc. Serving on local commissions and non profits is always the easiest and schools provide a list of organizations that you can volunteer at. And if the organization motivates you, increase your level of commitment and time. Eventually serve on the board of the organization. If you find a deficiency in your community and there is an unmet need, launch your own non-profit or organization with a very specific goal and inspire others to be a part of your activism. But the key is to be involved even if for only a few hours a month. It will be a rewarding experience.
Yogi thank you! We wish you success with all future endeavours.
Do you have a story to share? We invite you to introduce us to folks in your community who are making a difference – we would love to profile them. Are there similar stories you are familiar with locally. The ones who helped address a simple issue in the community to make life a bit better. Perhaps someone you know decided to make a run for school board, was appointed to the planning commission. Provide us your insights on Indian Americans locally and nationally who are making things happen. These perspectives will help construct roadmaps for our community to empower ourselves, to hopefully ignite a desire in all of us to represent our local communities as doers, leaders, establish and entrench ourselves in this glorious country of America and help make it a better place
ABOUT RISHI: Rishi is Silicon Valley’s community worker seeking to make a difference in his local community. As an elected city councilmember in Saratoga, CA and politically active in the state of California, he continues to follow his passion for community service, seeking to provide services to his citizens cheaper, faster and better. Rishi has community outreach and engagement a key focus for his political leadership. As Saratoga’s community organizer, Rishi is host of many community events in Saratoga, many of which are free and always inclusive usually addressing a need or a cause.
Rishi’s day job is as a Silicon Valley hi-tech executive but his zeal for community service effervescent. Rishi is also the President of the Bay Area Indian American Democratic Club (www.baiadc.org) whose charter is to further the interests and values of Indian Americans, work towards political empowerment and advance ethical standards in the political system. You can reach him via his website www.RishiKumar.com.