President Barack Obama announced Sept. 24, he plans to appoint several Indian-Americans to his third Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a body entrusted with bringing together religious and secular leaders as well as scholars and experts in fields related to the work of faith-based and neighborhood organizations.
Among those to be appointed are former New York State Solicitor General and Obama adviser Preeta Bansal, Nipun Mehta, founder of non-profit ServiceSpace; and Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defence and Education Fund.
The Council has a broad mandate to focus on steps the government should take to reduce poverty and inequality and create opportunity for all, including changes in policies, programs, and practices that affect the delivery of services by faith-based and community organizations and the needs of low-income and other underserved persons.
“I am confident that these outstanding men and women will serve the American people well, and I look forward to working with them,”the President is quoted saying in a press release from the White House.
Bansal, an early Obama supporter who also served as general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget from 2009 to 2011, is currently a lecturer at MIT’s Media Lab and a Senior Advisor at MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines, positions she has held since 2014.
She is also President of Social Emergence Corporation, a newly-formed non-profit founded in May, which aims to empower human networks and community relationships. From 2012 to 2013, Bansal served as a Global General Counsel for HSBC Holdings. Before joining the Obama administration, Bansal was Partner and head of the appellate litigation practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP from 2003 to 2009.
During the George W. Bush administration she served as a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2003 to 2009, and as Chair of that commission from 2004 to 2005. She was Solicitor General of the State of New York from 1999 to 2001. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Bansal clerked with United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. She is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace, a non-profit organization established in 1999. From 1998 to 2001, he was a software engineer at Sun Microsystems. He is a member of the Advisory Circle of the Seva Foundation, the International Advisory Council of the Dalai Lama Foundation, and the Advisory Board of the Greater Good Science Center.
He has received numerous awards for his community work, including the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the President’s Volunteer Service Award and Wavy Gravy’s Humanitarian Award. He earned his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.
Singh’s appointment comes in the wake of a seeming rise in the number of hate crimes against Sikhs and the higher visibility SALDEF and other organizations have tried to muster to raise awareness about the Sikh faith and hate crimes against its members. Singh has served as executive director of SALDEF since 2012, and earlier as the organization’s associate executive director in 2009. Prior to joining SALDEF, Singh worked at Deloitte & Touche as a Senior Consultant from 2007 to 2009 and as a Consultant from 2004 to 2007. He has a B.S. degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Singh founded the Sikh Students Association at the University of Illinois, and served as its president from 2000 to 2002. According to the SALDEF website Singh has been a “leading voice” for the Sikh American community.
He is credited with building strong relationships with the national leadership since 2009, giving testimony to Congress and providing presentations on racial profiling, employment discrimination and community challenges to audiences including the US Assistant Attorney General, FBI Director, TSA Administrator, metro police, and EEOC Chairman, the website says.
Singh was instrumental in organizing national media attention for both the Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara shootings in 2012, when 6 devotees were massacred by a white supremacist, and in other instances of hate crime. Singh has been on the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Faith-Based Initiative and the Executive Committee of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.