News India Times took a look at the boards of directors and top staffers at some of the most important foundations in the United States, and found some which included Indian-Americans at decision making or influential levels. These foundations, some historic, are at the heart of American giving for art and science, and building a membership base on their boards could be an important way to exert influence and engage with power-brokers and policy makers in the nation. More so for a minority that considers itself among the most successful economically and socially. Absent that exclusive membership, highly successful Indian-American entrepreneurs have set up their own foundations like Kiran and Pallavi Patel Family Foundation in Florida, the Sanju Bansal Foundation, or the Deshpande Foundation in Massachusetts, one of the oldest, set up by Jaishree and Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande; individuals have taken up causes on their own; millennials have created online giving organizations, among them, Kiva.org by Premal Shah and numerous others at the grassroots springing up, created by youth even at high school levels, not to be discounted.
Someone who broke the glass ceiling at a hallowed mainstream American philanthropic institution, was Rajiv Shah, appointed president of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2017. The former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID), also served in top posts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Today, the Gates Foundation does not have any Indian-American in its leadership positions, but it does have several managing its major divisions, such as Girindre Beeharry, and Gargee Ghosh, both directors of its Global Policy & Advocacy division; and Bindi Lassige, director of its Operations Division.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a private, family foundation helping to advance social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world, has Kavita Ramdas, a globally recognized advocate for gender equity and justice, as a Trustee.
The extremely influential thought-leaders think tank, the Aspen Institute has as one of its trustees, Arjun Gupta, graduate of St. Stephens College, Delhi University, founder and ‘Chief Believer’ at TeleSoft Partners. Gupta is also president of the eponymous AG Community Foundation.
The Harvard Endowment Fund, made up of more than 13,000 funds with gross value of $56.37 billion, is managed by the Harvard Management Company, whose CEO is Indian-American N.P. “Narv” Narvekar, and the Co-chief Investment Officer of its Millennium Management fund is Robert Jain.
Meanwhile, the Food Bank of New York City just appointed Hari Vutukuru as its director of operations starting July 24, where Robin Sirota-Bassin of HDFC Inc., was already o the Agency Advisory Committee and Annie Mohan is chair of the Junior Board of the Food Bank.
Another leading mainstream philanthropy, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation boasts Usha Ranji as associate director, Women’s Health Policy, and Rakesh Singh as VP Communications.
The Yale University Investment Fund which has gross assets of around $28.32 Billion has Nilesh Vashee and Shuba Raghavan serving in various capacities at the top.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute with gross assets of more than $18 Billion, has no Indian-American trustee or board member, but two serve on its Scientific Review Board, Aravinda Chakravarti, director, Center for Complex Disease Genomics and Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Dr. Vishva Dixit, vice president and staff scientist at Genentech, Inc.
The Columbia Investment Management Company which manages the University’s endowment funds of $13.63 Billion, employs Sanjeev K. Daga as COO, and Anil A. Jaisinghani and Vikas Shah as directors of operations.
The Carnegie foundation of New York has no Indian-American at the top levels, but Ambika Kapur is program officer of the National Program where she oversees grant-making aimed at engaging parents, communities, teachers and policymakers in understanding and demanding changes in education that ensure that all students develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions they need for future success.
The Kresge Foundation based in Michigan, a private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grant-making and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services and community development in Detroit, has some 105 staffers, of which one, Neesha Modi, is the program officer, Detroit.
The David & Lucille Packard Foundation – focused on improving the lives of children, does not have any Indian-American on the board but its staff includes Meera Mani, director of the Children, Families, and Communities (CFC) Program; and Silpa Pericherla serves as managing director, focusing on Global Equities, both public and private.
The Brookings Institution, policy think tank in Washington, D.C. includes on its Board of Trustees, Aditya Mittal, Group CFO and CEO, ArcelorMittal Europe; Laxman Narasimhan CEO PepsiCo Latin America; and Krishen Sud, founder Sivik Global Healthcare, Inc. It’s Senior Trustees include Rajan Bharti Mittal, Vice Chairman Bharti Enterprises Limited.
The National Endowment for Democracy has on its Board of Directors Ambassador Richard Verma, vice chairman and partner at The Asia Group.
The California Endowment – a health foundation established in 1996 to address the health needs of Californians. S. Karthick Ramakrishnan, PhD, professor and associate dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside, joined The California Endowment’s Board of Directors in August 2016.
The renowned MacArthur Foundation‘s board of directors includes Professor of Economics at Harvard University and a Cornell Tech Fellow Sendhil Mullainathan.
Sadly, one of the most influential research think tanks, the Pew Charitable Trusts has no Indian-American either on the board or in the administrative or research staff.
The Institute of International Education has on its Board of Trustees Mahboob Mahmood, CEO of Knowledge Platform, a leading Asian learning solutions company, with a presence in Singapore, China, India and Pakistan, and partners in the Philippines and Thailand.
The influential Trilateral Commission, a non-governmental, policy-oriented forum that brings together leaders in their individual capacity from the worlds of business, government, academia, press and media, and civil society, has no Indian-American, even in its North American Group or Asia/Pacific Group.
But at another influential funding institution, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, Rakesh Rajani has been a board member since 2012. And Suresh Bhat is CFO and treasurer.
Rajani is also the director, Democratic Participation and Governance at the Ford Foundation in New York.
This research could not find any Indian-American on the board or high level staff of the J. Paul Getty Trust, a cultural and philanthropic institution considered the world’s wealthiest art institution with an estimated endowment in 2017 of $US 6.9 billion.
The Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation which fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the San Francisco Bay Area, has no Indian-American at the top but a few in administrative positions.
A surprising finding was the near absence of Indian-Americans on the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, whose stated mission is to advance innovative philanthropic solutions to challenging problems, based in an area where Indian-Americans have played a big part in the economy.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust which aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives, does not have Indian-Americans on the board or as trustees, but some important staff positions are occupied by members of the community, viz.
Shefali Soni, program officer, Crohn’s disease; Punit Kohli, director of financial planning and analysis in the Finance department; and Meena Lakshman, director of strategy and research in the Investments division
The John Templeton Foundation has no one on the board, but one person of South Asian origin, Rashid Dar, as program officer, Global Strategies.
The Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative funding body, has no Indian-American on its board or staff, according to sourcewatch.org.
Not to be missed is Shefali Razdan Duggal, board director at Emily’s List, a national organization which supports political candidates with a progressive agenda; Seema Agnani, the executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD), a coalition of more than 100 community-based organizations in 21 states and the Pacific Islands; Sachin Chheda on the board of directors of the National Abortion Rights Action League, the leading pro-choice organization in the country which also has a foundation.
(Research included websites of the various philanthropic organizations mentioned in this list, as well as nptrust.org, and Businessinsider.com)