Making Their Mark: Indian Diaspora Leaders Impacting the Non-Profit Industry

Making Their Mark: Indian Diaspora Leaders Impacting the Non-Profit Industry

July 1, 2022 | Author: Shalaka Laxman

As we reflect on Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the United States, we highlight the contributions of Indian-origin leaders who uniquely contribute to and influence the non-profit industry within the country. The leaders profiled below are strong advocates for their specific causes, and their organizations will undoubtedly impact the world in 2022. 

Saket Soni: Strengthening human resilience with Resilience Force 

Climate disasters are now a recurring reality in most parts of the world, from India’s ongoing deadly heatwave to historic flooding in the southern US. Disasters are changing all our lives, and the people helping us prepare, respond, and recover will be a critical workforce in our immediate future. Resilience Force is a national initiative to transform the USA’s response to disasters by fortifying and securing the nation’s Resilience Workforce, i.e. the millions of people whose commitment and expertise enable sustainable recovery from disasters. 

Saket Soni is the founder and executive director of Resilience Force, with over a decade of experience helping disaster-affected communities. Saket founded Resilience Force to develop a new recovery process where all workers, including immigrants, are recognized, awarded, and supported as they help rebuild the country after disasters. Saket designs the organization’s outreach and media strategy and provides strategic counsel to government officials and advocates. Before launching Resilience Force, Saket co-founded the New Orleans Center for Racial Justice. This organization led and won significant legal battles for both U.S.-born and immigrant workers engaged in the reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Saket is a labour organizer and human rights strategist and is considered a national expert on post-disaster economies, immigrant rights and the future of work. Profiled as an “architect of the next labour movement” in USA Today, his advocacy efforts have been featured on NPR, Time, and on the front page of The New York Times. Saket began his career as a community organizer in Chicago and is originally from New Delhi, India.

Ananya Tiwari: Improving girls’ lives with SwaTaleem Foundation

Child marriage violates human rights and places children at high risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. Child marriage affects both girls and boys, but it affects girls disproportionately. Estimates suggest that at least 1.5 million girls under 18 get married in India each year, making it home to the most significant number of child brides globally – accounting for a third of the international total.

SwaTaleem Foundation works with underrepresented adolescent girls in government residential schools designed to educate girls from minority groups in India. Co-founded by Anaya Tiwari in 2018, the Foundation focuses on increasing girls’ decision-making, capacity building, and foundational skills by using a systems approach and working with teachers, families and young women leaders from the community.

Ananya was named one of Google’s global non-profit leaders to watch in 2022 and was the first recipient from the Asia-Pacific region. She is a doctoral student in the Education Psychology program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she was also a recent Global Intersections awardee. Ananya has previously worked as a teacher in rural schools in India and worked with Corstone, an Indian non-profit organization, on resilience-based interventions. 

Rakmi Shaiza: Upskilling refugee women with Stitching Change

Experts have been voicing concern about the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on women workers and the possible long-term consequences. A recent report said that more than 31 million women could lose their jobs due to the COVID-19 slowdown, equating to a decline in global GDP of $1 trillion. With that in mind, employers are renewing efforts to close persistent gaps in workforce participation between men and women. But an inclusive recovery isn’t just about ensuring all genders have equitable access to job and upskilling opportunities; one must also consider the pandemic’s cascading effects on women of colour, refugees, and immigrants. 

Stitching Change is a Kansas-based social enterprise focused on empowering refugee women by nurturing their talent and creativity. Founded by Rakmi Shaiza, Stitching Change brings women together to work collaboratively, market their products, and gain supplementary income. They also work to repurpose surplus and scrap fabrics into attractive, handcrafted products, keeping them out of the landfill and reducing pollution. The organization believes all women should have the opportunity to express their creativity while contributing to building a better society. 

Rakmi founded Stitching Change to help empower refugee women and be part of the change she wants to see happening in the community. She firmly believes that when women are empowered and creative, the community becomes more robust. Rakmi was born and raised in Ukhrul, situated in Northeast India near Burma. As a young girl, she witnessed the difficult times that the Hao (Tangkhul) tribal community experienced due to military occupation and addiction, which resulted in much social and political unrest. Rakmi eventually moved to the United States in 2000 and committed herself to community-building efforts in Kansas. 

This article is part of a new series, Indiaspora Features, which commissions journalists to write about topics of interest for the global Indian diaspora.


Shalaka Laxman works as a Product Manager in London, focusing on developing sustainable financial products for large corporates. Before moving to London, she previously lived in New York and graduated with a B.S. in Commerce from the University of Virginia in 2014. Outside the day job, she writes a weekly newsletter with the latest developments in the sustainability space and runs By Shax, her own independent, conscious art and homeware brand. Shalaka grew up in Dubai before heading to the U.S. for university and enjoys reading, travelling, and all things cat-related, alongside time with family and friends.