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xx Sonal to Head Obama's Office of Social Innovation
« Thread started on: Apr 16th, 2009, 8:51pm »

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Sonal Shah Heads Obama’s Office of Social Innovation
By RICHARD SPRINGER April 16, 2009 02:20:00 PM

Sonal Shah, who formerly led Google Global Development Initiatives, the philanthropic arm of, has been appointed head of the new Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House, the Obama administration informed India-West April 14.

The naming of Shah follows closely two other high-profile appointments of Indian Americans in the Obama administration: Vivek Kundra, the nation’s first chief information officer; and actor Kal Penn, the new associate director for the White House Office of Public Liaison.

The Innovation office has until now been in what entrepreneurs call “stealth mode,” with few details forthcoming about what the office is charged to accomplish beyond broadly promoting innovative approaches to social issues.

Shah was a member of the brain trust that advised the incoming Obama administration on “innovation and civil society” during the transition period.

The White House Web site still calls the new office the “Office of Social Innovation,” so the civic participation emphasis is a new development.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported last month that Shah was in line to head the office, but the White House declined to comment at that time.

The Asian American advocacy group 80-20 listed Shah’s appointment in a recent e-mail, and Shin Inouye, director of specialty media in the White House, confirmed it to India-West.

Shah could not be contacted at press deadline April 14.

Diana Aviv, chief executive of Independent Sector, told members of the Council on Foundations in Washington, D.C., in late March that the office is considering giving money to new projects and helping nonprofits who have demonstrated success.

The office is also considering operating a Web site to promote worthy charities to U.S. donors, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported.

Many nonprofit leaders have been calling for federal initiatives to help entrepreneurial nonprofit groups expand their programs, the publication added.

Shah graduated in 1990 from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in economics and received a master’s in economics from Duke University. She worked in the Clinton administration’s Treasury Department and in the National Security Council for seven years, covering economic issues as director of African nations, responsible for all of sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2001, Shah and siblings Roopal and Anand founded Indicorps, which offers one-year fellowships to young expatriate Indians to return to India and work on development projects (I-W, Jan. 15).

From 2001-03, she was director of operations and programs at the Center for Global Development and from 2003-04 she joined the Center for American Progress as associate director, advising government executives on topics.

In 2004, Shah began working for Goldman Sachs, focusing on their environmental strategy and implementation.

Shah’s appointment to the transition team encountered vocal protests from two Indian American organizations who alleged she had ties to the Vishnu Hindu Parishad and the controversial government of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Shah denied the allegations in a press statement Nov. 10, saying she had never been involved in Indian politics, and did not intend to do so in the future (I-W, Nov. 14).

“I do not subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups, and never have. Ridiculous tactics of guilt by association have been decisively repudiated by the American people,” she said then.

She later amplified in a Dec. 5 statement that if she could have anticipated the role of the VHP in the outbreak of communal violence that swept Gujarat in 2002, she never would have associated with the organization (I-W, Dec 19).
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