Board Director Chair Spotlight: Shevanthi Daniel-Rabkin

Shev’s Personal Journey to ReWA

Can you tell us about your journey from Sri Lanka to the United States and how your early experiences influenced your passion for equity and sustainable economic development?

I was born in Sri Lanka, where my early life was deeply influenced by the political and social unrest in the country. Witnessing the struggles of Tamil and Sri Lankan communities firsthand instilled in me a strong desire for social justice and a commitment to equity. Moving to the United States provided me with opportunities to pursue higher education and engage in community organizing, which further shaped my passion for sustainable economic development. The challenges and resilience I observed in both Sri Lanka and the immigrant communities in the U.S. have driven my dedication to creating inclusive and equitable systems that support the most vulnerable populations.

Professional Background

What led you to your role as the Senior Director of Programs at the Democracy at Work Institute, and how has your work there intersected with your involvement with ReWA?

My extensive background in community and labor organizing, and sustainable economic development naturally led me to the Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI). At DAWI, I provide strategic support on the organization’s program implementation and growth, focusing on cooperative business development and the expansion of our sector at a national level. My role involves collaborating with city municipalities, technical assistance providers, and business owners to promote employee ownership. My previous work at the Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, where I launched worker cooperative management programs and a city-focused cooperative education initiative, prepared me for this role. This work intersects with my involvement at ReWA by addressing economic inequities and fostering self-sufficiency among refugees and immigrants, both of which are central to our mission at ReWA.

Vision for ReWA

As Chair of ReWA’s board, what is your vision for the organization’s future, especially in supporting economically and socially marginalized communities?

My vision for ReWA is to expand our reach and impact by deepening our support for refugee and immigrant families. This includes enhancing our programs to provide comprehensive services that address not only immediate needs but also long-term empowerment. I envision ReWA as a leading organization, advocating for refugee and immigrant rights, fostering economic self-sufficiency, and deepening the resources and support needed for families to adapt and integrate into inclusive communities. As a board, we aim to leverage partnerships, community resources, and innovative strategies to create lasting change and uplift the voices of the communities we serve.

Challenges and Strategy

What are the primary challenges ReWA currently faces, and how is the board addressing these challenges to ensure continued support for refugees and immigrants?

ReWA faces several challenges. Although our services are well-established and supported through foundation grants and public funding, there is a critical need to diversify our funding sources to include individual and corporate donors. Such funding would provide unrestricted funds, granting ReWA the financial flexibility to invest in continued education and training for our staff, who are representative of the communities they serve. Our caseworkers, teachers, and caregivers bring deep cultural aptitude, multilingual skills, and subject matter expertise.

With the increasing demand for services and the evolving needs on the ground, our staff must remain agile and responsive to emerging needs. This necessitates capacity building and comprehensive technology that case managers and program staff can use to effectively provide wrap-around services and maintain connections with the communities ReWA serves.

To address these challenges, the board is focusing on strategic partnerships, diversifying funding sources, and building both individual giving and major donor engagement strategies. By strengthening our organizational capacity and community networks, we aim to ensure sustainable and effective support for years to come.

Inspirations and Influences

Who or what has been a significant influence in your approach to leadership and your commitment to social justice?

My leadership and commitment to social justice have been deeply inspired by the teachings of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Vandana Shiva, and Nelson Mandela, who all highlighted the importance of nonviolent resistance and the transformative power of people working together to achieve social and economic change. Additionally, my mentors and peers in the fields of community organizing and sustainable development have shaped my understanding of effective leadership. These influences have taught me the importance of solidarity, resilience, and the power potential in building community. My experiences in Sri Lanka and the diverse communities I’ve worked with in the U.S. have reinforced my dedication to the efforts made at ReWA.

Future Initiatives

Are there any specific projects or initiatives at ReWA that you are particularly excited about or believe will have a significant impact in the near future?

I am particularly excited about our upcoming initiative to expand our education programs, which encompass job training, financial literacy, and job placement support for refugees and immigrants. This initiative is designed to equip individuals with the necessary skills and resources to build sustainable livelihoods and make meaningful contributions to their communities. Additionally, another significant project focuses on our advocacy efforts, where we aim to strengthen partnerships with local and state institutions to collectively improve the lives of refugees and immigrants.

These initiatives are anticipated to have a profound impact by creating economic growth opportunities and enhancing the overall well-being of refugees and immigrants in Washington State. Given that Seattle/King County is one of the primary destinations for refugees, our state’s robust infrastructure and diverse community make it an ideal location for effective resettlement efforts.

Advice and Advocacy

What advice would you give to individuals or organizations looking to make a difference in the lives of refugees and immigrants, and how can they best support ReWA’s mission?

I would advise individuals and organizations to join us in our efforts. Building genuine relationships and partnerships with ReWA staff and community is crucial. Support can be provided through volunteering, donating, and supporting policies that protect and uplift refugee and immigrant rights in Washington State. To best support ReWA’s mission, I encourage reaching out to our program staff, joining us at our next event, and contacting me if you are interested in serving as a board member and amplifying our fundraising efforts among your friends, or at your workplace to create a broader impact.