AAPIP Voices

Conversation with 25 Leaders in Action: Surjeet Ahluwalia


To commemorate AAPIP’s 25 years of building a more democratic philanthropic sector, we asked you to help us identify 25 leaders who are making a difference in your local community and/or nationally. The 25 Leaders in Action honorees represent a diverse group spanning a wide range of organizations, years of experiences, roles and sectors.  We invite you to learn about these outstanding leaders, their inspiring work and what keeps them going in our blog post series.


Surjeet Ahluwalia, Executive Director, Asian American LEAD

1. Why are you passionate about advocating for AAPI communities?

I believe in fairness and advocating for fairness.  As an Asian American, I am passionate about advocating for an under-represented community to which I’m most personally connected.  I can speak with authenticity about the ways in which AAPIs are under-served.

2. What do you believe are the most critical issues facing AAPI communities today?

I believe the most critical issues facing AAPI communities are the issues that low-income AAPI communities are facing.  Low-income AAPIs go under the radar in the mainstream, and often among other AAPIs.

3. In what ways do you strive to address the unmet needs for AAPI communities?

I have aimed to address unmet needs of AAPI communities through strengthening Asian American LEAD to do the most we can to support low-income AAPI youth.  I aim to get a seat at the table, and use it once I have it, particularly in discussions of how to allocate resources.

4. What keeps you inspired?

I am inspired daily by seeing and hearing about our youth discovering the power of their own voices.  Just recently, we have had high school youth lead workshops for middle school youth and both groups lead workshops for elementary school youth.  I love seeing youth discover that they can make a meaningful impact.

As a child of a white American mother and a Sikh father from India, Surjeet has had to work to define her ethnic identity for herself. As such, she relates to AALEAD youth’s struggles to do the same. Because of her parents’ backgrounds, Surjeet has always known that people live life in very different ways. She has been compelled to use the opportunities she has been fortunate to have to work toward equity and empowerment for others. Before joining AALEAD in 2010, she was Senior Project Manager for the Health Impact Fund–a proposal to increase innovation and access to life-saving medicines globally. She served as start-up Director of Operations for Teach For India, based on the Teach For America model. Surjeet was also a Project Manager with AmericaSpeaks, where she managed several large initiatives to engage citizens more directly in governance, as well as with the District of Columbia’s Child and Family Services Agency. Surjeet has a Master’s in Public Policy degree from Harvard Kennedy School and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Rochester. She is a 2014 National APA Women’s Leadership Institute (APAWLI) Fellow.