Satyagrah SOULS: Indian Americans Making A Difference
SATYAGRAH SOULS is a monthly political series presented by Silicon Valley’s community leader, Saratoga Councilmember Rishi Kumar, in highlighting the community involvement and success of Indian Americans in the United States. This series seeks to inspire us in giving back to our local community.
We Indian Americans are going through a transitional evolution, as we get entrenched in a new world, embracing new culture, 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 and making a huge impact.
But can our involvement run a bit deeper with issues near and dear to our hearts, perhaps within our local city, or with the local public school that our children attend? Do we sometimes hear our conscience imploring, “Am I doing enough?” Yes we can get involved just a bit more, push our comfort zone and enhance the learning and impact our 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 progressive change happen and how receptive everyone around is, to leverage our skills for it.
There are leaders waiting to be discovered, why not “me”, by taking that first step? The give-back experience can be freeing, energizing – 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:
Software expert working to unite Indian-Americans
M.R. Rangaswami is a software executive, investor, entrepreneur, corporate eco-strategy expert, community builder and philanthropist. Recognized as a software business expert, he participated in the rapid expansion of the Silicon Valley software industry during his tenure as an executive at both large and small software companies. In 1997, he co-founded Sand Hill Group one of the earliest “angel” investment firms and was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. He produced the prestigious Enterprise and Software conferences that were held in Silicon Valley. He was also listed on the Forbes “Midas” list of investors. M.R. is the publisher of SandHill.com a leading website for entrepreneurs, VCs and CIOs.
In 2007, M.R. embarked on a new venture as the founder of the Corporate Eco Forum, an invitation-only membership organization for Global 500 companies that demonstrates a serious commitment to environment as a business strategy issue. CEF’s mission is to help accelerate sustainable business innovation by creating the best neutral space for senior business leaders to strategize and exchange best-practice insights. Members represent 20 industries and have combined revenues exceeding $3 trillion.
In 2012 M.R. founded Indiaspora (a non-profit) in 2012 to unite Indian Americans and to transform their success into meaningful impact in India and on the global stage.
Indiaspora acts as a catalyst to transform the success of Indian Americans into meaningful impact in India and on the global stage. By sharing insight, hosting events and connecting people, Indiaspora aims to unite the professionally, geographically and religiously diverse Indian American community toward collective action. Indiaspora is committed to supporting the Indian American community at all levels.
Start young, take risks – it is OK to fail
MR tell us how does it feel like to finally find yourself in the midst of a Diwali and post offices are handing out fabulous Diwali stamps. Who’d a thunk it?
This was a big win for the community. The project was a 15 year effort where many different folks had tried their best but had not seen success. We helped bring this across the goal line so it felt really good!
Now we have to get the word out to the 3 million strong Indian American community so that they can use the stamps during the Diwali and holiday season. The link to buy the stamp on-line can be found at http://www.diwalistamp.com
How difficult or easy was to make this happen? Would you recommend your readers to embark on similar purposes? What is the advice?
This was a three year effort! It involved so many activities. The first was to ask President Obama in person, and he was very enthusiastic and committed. We then walked the halls of Congress. This was a time-consuming undertaking. I made several trips to DC, and the HAF (Hindu American Foundation) partnered with us in this effort. We also co-hosted a Diwali in DC
event at the Library of Congress where 50 senators and congressmen came to celebrate Diwali with us last year, along with 1,200 Indian Americans from DC and surrounding states.
The community also made hundreds of calls to their senators and congressional representatives.
And the biggest action was to get thousands of people to write letters and postcards to the USPS urging
them to release a stamp. The USPS gets 4,000 requests a year and only approves 25 – daunting odds indeed. According to postal officials, the thing that clinched the deal was the outpouring of letters they received.
Being from the Bay area I am an optimist and used to taking risks – finally on October 5th the stamp became a reality!
I think this win could motivate other efforts – maybe in school districts where there is a major Indian population we can see if Diwali could be a holiday.
MR, as a high-tech executive, to angle investor, to an activist and founder of a non-profit blazing a different kind of trail, walk through our readers on some key components of your success?
My path has been non-traditional for sure. I am an entrepreneur at heart and so I am curious about new ideas and on what impact they will make. I always try to learn about the industry from experts and people in the know. I get these individuals as advisors or partners. I look to make an impact and when I start something whether it is in tech, sustainability or in the non-profit space I also make a 10-year commitment. It always takes more time than you think.
Why Indiaspora? What prompted you? What are some of the highlights over the last few years?
We have always seen great stats about Indian Americans – 3 million
strong, 1% of the population, highest earning demographics etc. but we don’t have the political or social clout. I discussed and strategized forming an organization with my nephew, late Dr. Srinivas Aravamudan, who was the Dean of Humanities at Duke University. The result was Indiaspora, an “uber” organization that connects people in different professions (doctors, lawyers, techies, politicians, academics and artists) throughout the US and India. We now have a powerful network that can make things happen. We have had three amazing annual forums, taken delegations to India and held major events like Diwali in DC and now the upcoming Indiaspora Ball for the next President in DC.
What are the key Indian American issues you are seeking to address over the next few years?
We need more Indian Americans in Congress – we could actually have 1% next year with Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ro Khanna being elected. We will also have representation in the US Senate with Kamala Harris.
We need more people on the next administration to continue the trend of President Obama – this means lobbying with the transition team of both candidates.
And we need our people engaged in their local communities. We need to foster a strong relationship with India and most importantly we need to give back more!
Do you see the Asian American community or the Indian American community in particular engaged
with local and national issues? If not, what is holding them back? Is it important for them to engage?
We are a young community and we need to learn and mature. Look at how well the Jewish Americans have done – we can certainly learn a lot from them. We are starting to get more visibly involved in politics and public service. We need more successes and examples to inspire the next generation.
Indians have been notorious for photo ops with political leaders but not asking for anything. We do have a list of issues that we can discuss – immigration, taxes, education. So the next time you go to a fundraiser please be vocal. Learn to ask for what is due to you.
Parting advice for the young reader who reads your profile and has this flaming desire to make it like “MR did”?
Start young, take risks – it is ok to fail. Though it is hard to do, jump back up and try again! It is better than not trying.
MR thank you! We wish you success with all future endeavors.
Dear Readers, 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 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 constituents cheaper, faster and better, seeking to truly make a difference. 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.