Aishwarya with the Youth Leader Award, presented to her by the mayor of Jersey City for her participation with the Nepali American community.

Taking AAPI Leadership Into All Sectors

How one Summit has enabled me to conquer many more mountaintops

by Aishwarya Sharma

Advancing Justice | AAJC’s Youth Leadership Summit exposed me to the importance of community and collaboration, two pillars I have carried with me throughout my college and professional career.

As a business student at Rutgers University, I didn’t enter the Youth Leadership Summit with aspirations of dedicating my life to public policy or community work. But spending time learning about advocacy and civic engagement has undeniably influenced my work and activities today.

As an analyst at Accenture, I spend my days helping clients to interpret data and make sound decisions, and much more. Thanks to my experience with Advancing Justice | AAJC, I have a much better understanding of the role government plays with business initiatives, and can help others understand when there’s a hold up or a process that looks like an obstacle. That knowledge alone has been valuable. But beyond that, I carry much of what I learned at the Summit into my workplace: as a member of the board of the Asian Pacific American committee, I help make sure our identities are visible and validated. We hold events with Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders, where employees can meet inspirational figures in our field and hear how they’ve navigated issues surrounding identity — like stereotypes about Asian Americans — through their careers.

“Advancing Justice | AAJC made me feel like I needed to be involved — I needed to have a voice, no matter where I am”

We also create opportunities to engage with community members. One program that many people find especially rewarding involves aiding immigrants in crafting their resumes, preparing for interviews, and honing other materials and skills necessary for securing work through volunteering with an organization called Upwardly Global. Many of the individuals seeking this help were professionals in their home countries, but struggle to secure work in the U.S. because of the cultural differences in hiring processes. One woman I met had been a manager at L’Oreal — one of my previous workplaces as well — but didn’t know how to get through their system to even apply for an assistant position once in the U.S. By engaging AAPI workers in this kind of community service, we can acknowledge our own immigrant heritages and give back in a way that really takes advantage of our team members’ talents.

This is only one recent way that the Youth Leadership Summit has affected my projects. In my first year at Rutgers, I co-founded an organization called Rutgers University Business for Youth (RUBY). I directed an executive board of eleven other students to connect students from Elizabeth High School to mentors, networking opportunities, and professional workshops. Using these resources, our student participants were supported in making decisions about their post-high school plans, whether that meant applying to universities, community college, or joining the workforce. Through RUBY, I connected with a participant who was of Nepali heritage like myself. I personally mentored her throughout high school and assisted her in her in the college application process, and she received a full scholarship to Cornell. After attending the Youth Leadership Summit, I was able to introduce our participants to an even broader range of career opportunities, sharing my experiences in D.C. and encouraging them to look into opportunities with government and local government, or options related to immigrants, as many of them were first generation or immigrants themselves. Over a year after my graduation, RUBY continues to operate.

Thanks to Advancing Justice | AAJC, as well as the generous support of State Farm, I met a group of incredible, intelligent, and passionate AAPI youth leaders, and learned so much from our meetings in D.C. and on the Hill. More than anything, Advancing Justice | AAJC made me feel like I needed to be involved — I needed to have a voice, no matter where I am.

Learn more about Advancing Justice | AAJC’s Youth Leadership Summit.

Aishwarya Sharma is a 2015 Youth Leadership Summit alumna and 2016 Rutgers University graduate.