Interview with Kiran Ahuja
In March 2011, Kiran Ahuja was interviewed on her thoughts about NAPAWF’s founding, what it means for us to be celebrating our 15th anniversary and what she sees in store for our next 15 years.
Kiran Ahuja’s start with NAPAWF began at the grassroots. As a founding member and leader of the DC chapter in 2001, she moved on to the National Governing Board, eventually co-chaired the board, and then became the Executive Director and first paid staffer.
Now, with a bit of distance, Kiran looks back at the organization’s critical founding moment in history. “It was very democratic at the time, focused on building a base, fairly decentralized, and people were very committed. I think we all had hoped and wanted there to be longevity — the question was, what would it look like and what did it need to have in place.”
When asked about what it means that NAPAWF is celebrating our 15th anniversary, Kiran applauds NAPAWF’s longevity. “It speaks to the important role that it plays in the broader women’s movement; it speaks to ensuring that Asian American women have a voice at the table. One of the benefits that longevity provides,” said Kiran, “is that organizational partners in the women’s movement will take you seriously.”
In her look back at NAPAWF’s beginning, Kiran credits the Founding Sisters with providing mutual respect. “They were extraordinary mentors, and gave a lot of space to the younger leaders,” said Kiran, who noted the difference between NAPAWF and other women’s organizations. “We didn’t have a cadre of leaders who had been in their roles for 20-30 years, where there was little space for younger women to come up through the leadership. We were very young, in our 20s and early 30s, while our counterparts in senior leadership around the table were, in most cases, 20 years older.”
According to Kiran, NAPAWF in its early years embodied energy and youthfulness; relationship building among members and chapter development, and a solid sense of community. “I always said what you are working on is just as important as the experience you are having doing it.”
Harkening back to her own organizational roots, Kiran supports doubling or tripling the number of chapters around the country. “Sometimes it is not the easiest thing to fund because it takes time, and because you don’t see the immediate effect of that, but bringing so many voices to the table is a powerful thing.”
With a strong grassroots base, Kiran believes that NAPAWF’s advocacy efforts will be more successful. “I think that it is a lot easier to have a national organization just focused on policy, and you become good at that, and certainly those kinds of organizations exist and have an important purpose. But when it comes time to move something that is important to the community, you need organizations like NAPAWF to catalyze the movement from the bottom up.”
In addition to all of the advocacy and policy work that NAPAWF undertakes, Kiran values most the relationships amongst the community of Asian American and Pacific Islander women. “As much as we function on an intellectual level about why advocating for women’s rights is important work, the connection we established with each other was based on an emotional connection – you definitely need to have a track record of making progress and not being static, but it is also those relationships, and how you relate to the community, that are key.”
Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director on the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.*
*The views expressed in this interview are Ms. Ahuja’s personal views and not the views of the WHIAAPI or the Department of Education.
Thanks Kiran. We couldn’t agree more and we honor your critical leadership in helping us get to this point today.