2017 a banner year for Indian-American women

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Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley presents her credentials to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Women: From the President’s right-hand person at the United Nations, to his fiercest critic in Congress, Indian-American women have stolen the limelight on the national scene in conspicuous measure in the year ending 2017.

Top Five

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, listed in Gallup poll’s World’s Most Admired Women of 2017, and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, are the two ends of the political spectrum of women who have made a name for themselves by their stands on issues of importance to the American people.

But equally important is the possible Democratic presidential candidate who could be running against Trump in 2020 – Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California. Very important to the nation’s healthcare system is Seema Verma of Indiana, President Trump’s pick for Administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency with an FY 2017 Budget estimate of $1.0 trillion in mandatory and discretionary outlays, a net increase of $26 billion above the FY 2016 level.

Pramila Jayapal

Several others made our list for being critical to the political and social landscape as it unfolds in the coming year – when former Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for King County, Washington state, anti- domestic violence advocate and community leader, Manka Dhingra was elected to the Washington State Senate in a key race that turned over control o the Upper House to Democrats; Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs at the State Department Manisha Singh. She is the first woman appointed to the role and is responsible for advancing American prosperity worldwide, the State Department noted. Even though Singh was confirmed late in the year, Nov. 22, she has years of expertise under her belt as former deputy assistant secretary and as aide to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. She leads a team of more than 200 employees in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

Even though Haley was one of President Donald Trump’s first nominees, and first Indian-American to hold a cabinet-level position in history, she carved out a space and held her own amid the buffeting policy positions and pronouncements from the White House, from Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sexual harassment accusations against the President where she said the women must be heard, to announcing U.S. cuts to the tune of $285 million in the United Nations budget. Haley was included Foreign Policy magazine’s Global Rethinkers list, “For trying to preserve America’s traditional vision of international affairs.” Contrary to White House positions, Haley pushed to keep sanctions against Russia, championed human rights, and advocated renewed commitment to NATO, which “smacks more of traditional Republican (and, arguably, traditional U.S.) policies more closely in line with Ronald Reagan than with the current president,” the magazine said, noting that the daughter of Indian immigrants and former South Carolina governor had made her mark, “In a cabinet stacked with decorated generals and multimillionaire moguls…”

Kamala Harris

Jayapal has been among those calling on President Trump to be investigated and worse. When a Congressman called Jayapal a “young lady” who didn’t “know a damn thing” the lawmaker from Seattle became a cause celebre not just in her own state of Washington, but around the country. A high-octane Congresswoman who takes on issues of sexual harassment, immigrant rights and the future of Dreamers or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, hate crime, Jayapal takes the lead on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Sen. Harris is on the Democratic Party’s short-list of presidential candidates for 2020. She made headlines for her prosecutorial questioning in June, of former Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. Attorney General, and before that, leading the charge at the women’s rally in Washington, D.C. the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

Harris topped the Foreign Policy magazine list of “Global re-Thinkers” “For giving the Democratic Party hope in the Trump era”.

“Suddenly, California’s 53-year-old junior senator has become an early favorite to challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential election,” the magazine noted.

Not to be forgotten is former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, who in the latter half of 2017, became head of the U.S.-India Business Council at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Manka Dhingra

Outside The Beltway

Indian-American women continued to make their mark in civil society and the business world in 2017. Vanita Gupta, President Obama’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, left in January to take over the largest umbrella organization for rights groups, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.Over the year, she used her podium to call out President Trump and his pronouncements as well as policies on justice matters as well as ongoing investigations into Russian interference in U.S. elections.

Reshma Saujani, once a candidate for Congress, and deputy public advocate for New York City, now heads an impactful non-profit, Girls Who Code, an organization she founded to minimize the gender gap in technology, starting early at the middle and high school level, by encouraging and mentoring girls to go into Scienct, Technology, Engineering and Math fields. “I’ve always felt that, as a woman, and particularly as a woman of color, it’s important to pay it forward,” Saujani recently told Atlantic Magazine when asked why she spent at least 25 percent of her time mentoring. Forbes magazine listed Saujani among the 2018 women founder of enterprises to keep an eye on.

Vanita Gupta Tuesday, March 21, 2017 in Washington. (Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks)

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, continued to make waves. From being on an advisory panel for President Trump, to deciding along with a number of other business leaders, to breakaway from the U.S.-India Business Council, and form the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum in 2017. She made it to Number 2, in Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women of the year in September. She has been on that list in 18 of the 20 years that the magazine has published it. Nooyi took over the helm at PepsiCo in 2006, and Fortune recognizer her as an industry leader who early on identified the need to rethink the company’s portfolio away from sugary drinks and salty snacks.

Nooyi, who gets little sleep and answers the pings on her phone every hour of the day or night, predicted in her interview in Fortune that in an industry that has seen an unprecedented pace of change and disruption, “You’re going to have consolidation, disruption, and a shakeout in the industry. You’re going to see the emergence of new players.” And she plans to go with the flow and ahead of the curve.

Manisha Singh