• Vishwa Padigepati

WLP 2020 Week 4: An Ode to Everything from Community to International Organizing


As we reach the midway point of our journey with WLP, I think it’s fair to speak on behalf of our cohort to mark how important this experience has been in shaping our views and conditioning us to be comfortable in our identities as South Asian public servants. As the world of government continues to evolve with time, people, and circumstance, it increasingly feels like our onus as young people to stand up against bureaucratic stall and to fight for change.

Week Four was incredible. The speakers we’ve had have given my peers and me their valuable insight into how being South Asian can both be an asset and a struggle, how they are circumstantially dependent, and how to navigate situations in which our identity may pose a challenge. They’ve taught us how to negotiate the potential idiosyncrasies of public service with our own thoughts and career goals, and I feel indebted to the program for making all of that happen in a virtual space.

Week 4 of WLP was marked by incredible speakers who were driven for change in their respective platforms. Our first panel took place on Tuesday with the theme of community organizing. We heard from incredible organizers–Shikha Bhatnagar, Shekar Krishnan, and Anisha Singh–who taught us the importance of local organizing and the ethos of community service. They shared advice on how to reach out to the South Asian community, the importance of standing in solidarity with Black and Brown organizing, and the power of grassroots. Through their incredible words and experiences, we’ve learned the intrinsic sense of respect grassroots outreach and community organizing carries for its constituents–grassroots, we learned, puts constituents and people at the center of change as opposed to what can often feel like sclerotic structures or reluctant bureaucracies. I was inspired by their words to rethink how government can work and how we can potentially use our polity to center individuals in lieu of structures.

On Wednesday, we heard from the incredible Richard Verma, former U.S Ambassador to India, and Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. We were immediately struck by the warmth our speakers projected towards each other–seeing two Indian-American foreign policy officials interacting made me feel incredibly grateful for the trailblazers in my community who’ve normalized my South Asian identity in American foreign policy landscape. As someone who wants to enter the world of international relations, I saw–albeit virtually–the individuals whose shoulders I would be standing on in the future. Both panelists had rich insight, from the incredible diversity of regional politics and culture within India to the importance of being flexible with your career. What struck me was the humility of such accomplished members of government–both panelists affirmed the role of chance and luck in their careers in addition to hard work and merit. As Nisha and Richard recited stories of their trips to Iraq, Congo, and various regions in their careers, I became enamored with the vision of working in foreign policy and serving the world in the process of its discovery. Their stories of travel and adventure captured for me the romantic vision of working in this space and the true prospect of change that exists to be exploited still.

I’m also thankful for my incredible WLP friends. From movie nights to idle chats, the community our cohort has developed is so warm. Their kindness, openness, and humility has allowed us to form such a beautiful space for friendship, albeit virtually. I’m grateful for all of it and everyone who is a part.

The panels and experiences of this week taught me that change happens on various platforms and various levels of view on Google Maps. From hearing about hyper-local organizing in Artesia, California to hearing about journeys to the heart of Libya, I was heartened by the panelists’ warm disposition and optimism. Their commitment to change and hope for the future eased my worries that a career in government may lead to complacency or the ruse of solvency.

Vishwa Padigepati

Department of Commerce - ITA

Yale University

#WLP2020 #Commerce #Foreignpolicy

© The Washington Leadership Program 2017 by Shaunak Turaga