The following blog post was written by Nancy Yap, Director of Development at LEAP
Each year, 16 participants receive 80 hours of leadership development training and 6 hours of executive coaching as part of LEAP's Emerging Leaders Program for Nonprofit Staff (ELP). In addition to tangible leadership skills and workforce tools, participants become part of a unique cohort of Asian and Pacific Islander nonprofit professionals. With Southwest Airlines' support, LEAP is able to bring a diverse group of individuals together in Los Angeles and New York. Participants who had not been able to travel for leadership training are now able to learn from other Asian and Pacific Islanders across the country. This national perspective has inspired creative solutions and professional opportunities.
Since the program, 2016-2017 Emerging Leaders Program participant Kendall Kosai was promoted to Deputy Director of OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates and encouraged participant Sina Uipi to accept a fellowship that supported her pursuit of a career in policy advocacy. Kendall Kosai and Sina Uipi share their post-program experiences:
As an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) in the nonprofit space, it’s rare that you have the opportunity to interact with individuals who not only have the same passion as you, but also look like you. The ELP was an opportunity that brought a diverse set of individuals from all around the country to not only learn key skills in workforce readiness, but also about their identity and what it means to be AAPI. Many of the bonds that were formed over the days that the program convened were unique and strong. We created relationships that could give support, challenge, commiserate, and provide opportunity.
Following the program, I continued to stay in touch with many cohort members, including Sina Uipi, who was working at the Tongan Community Service Center. Her passion for the Pacific Islander community was evident in our conversations and I realized she could be a much-needed voice in Washington, D.C., where there were so few Pacific Islanders. When the Civil Rights Fellowship became available at OCA, I encouraged her to apply. I knew it would be an opportunity for her to broaden her work experience and learn the national policy advocacy landscape. This knowledge would make her an even stronger advocate for the Pacific Islander community.
The ELP has reinforced my dedication to strengthening the leadership pipeline in the AAPI community and given me an opportunity to build a national network of AAPI leaders. I am eager to see where all of our careers take us!
The ELP program challenged me to think about personal and professional next steps. I gained a close set of colleagues and friends I could relate to, who understood me, and encouraged me to push myself beyond my limits. ELP was a transformative experience for me, as I began to crave growth and change throughout the sessions. By the third session in New York, I was eager to ask my ELP cohort about career possibilities. One night at dinner, Kendall and I discussed possibilities in D.C. and he suggested that I consider moving to D.C. because of the lack of Pacific Islander representation.
In August 2017, I was finishing up my last week at the Tongan Community Service Center in Los Angeles, and unexpectedly got a call from Nisha Ramachandran, a fellow ELP alumnus. She told me about the opportunity to apply for the Civil Rights Fellowship at OCA. I took it as a sign, that this was my chance to step into the change I had been craving. I followed up with Kendall about it, and he encouraged me to apply. To be honest, I was nervous to apply for this fellowship position because, as much as I wanted change, the thought of actually moving to the other side of the country, scared me. I never thought I'd leave California, but I wanted to at least try because I knew I would regret it if I didn't. I shared these concerns with Kendall and he assured me that the AAPI community in D.C. would look out for me. I trusted him, submitted my application, and hoped for the best. The application led to an interview and the interview led to a call from the CEO, Ken Lee, with a fellowship offer.
I was so happy, and the fact that the CEO called me made it feel even more special. I had a few days to decide and, after sharing the opportunity with my family and friends, I realized everyone was supportive, including my parents, which was all I needed to take the offer. It was extremely hard to leave my family, but this was the fruit of their labor and sacrifice. As I transitioned to living in D.C., I imagined how hard it was for my parents to leave their homeland and families an ocean away. They did not know when they would be able to return and didn’t see their families for 30 years. I have the privilege of staying in the same country and can go home at any time.
My family has come a long way, and we have a long way to go. My willingness to challenge myself will not only help me, but also my family, as I advocate for the needs of the AAPI community through my work in D.C. My experience as an OCA Fellow has been wonderful and it all began with ELP. ELP introduced me to great folks like Kendall, who I'm proud to call my colleague. I know I can always turn to him and my fellow cohort for anything, and I would do the same for them.
Through Southwest Airlines’ support, we are able to help Asian and Pacific Islander leaders uncap their talent and reach for possibilities without being challenged by distance. These opportunities help individuals to think bigger and have a network that expands beyond their local communities.
LEAP is a national organization founded in 1982 with a mission to achieve full participation and equality for Asian and Pacific Islanders through leadership, empowerment, and policy. With original programs in leadership training, public policy research, and community education, LEAP raises the impact and visibility of Asian and Pacific Islanders in all sectors. For more information visit www.leap.org.