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An interview with Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Executive Director, AAPI Equity Alliance

May 31, 2022

Headshot_Manjusha Kulkarni_AAPI_Equity_Alliance_by Myleen HolleroManjusha P. Kulkarni has served since 2017 as executive director of the Los Angeles-based AAPI Equity Alliance (formerly the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, A3PCON), a coalition of more than 40 community-based organizations working to improve the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County. In March 2020, Kulkarni, together with Chinese for Affirmative Action co-executive director Cynthia Choi and San Francisco State University Asian American Studies Department professor Russell Jeung, co-founded Stop AAPI Hate, which aggregates COVID-19-related hate incidents against AAPIs. Stop AAPI Hate was awarded the 2021 Webby Social Movement of the Year, and the co-founders were included among TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential Individuals of 2021.

Prior to joining the AAPI Equity Alliance, Kulkarni led the South Asian Network, which provides culturally and linguistically specific services to and advocates on behalf of South Asians in the areas of healthcare access, gender-based violence, and civil rights and civic engagement. She previously worked as an attorney at the National Health Law Program, which advocates, educates, and litigates at the federal and state levels to advance health and civil rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families.

PND asked Kulkarni about her organization’s priorities, the launch of Stop AAPI Hate to track hate incidents, the challenges the AAPI community has faced not only since the pandemic began but long term, her outlook on narrative change, and the role philanthropy can play in addressing racism and advancing racial equity for all communities of color.

Philanthropy News Digest: The AAPI Equity Alliance’s mission is focused on civic engagement, capacity building, and policy advocacy. Have your priorities shifted over the last two years?

Manjusha P. Kulkarni: I do think that there’s been a bit of a shift in terms of civic engagement. We’ve been focused for many years, if not decades, on ensuring a robust AAPI vote and representation. You can’t solve what you don’t measure, so with the census, we wanted to ensure a robust count—to know where our communities are, who they are—and with that data, to help ensure that they have a voice in our political system. And that is important now more than ever, given the rise in anti-Asian hate, as well as COVID-19 related impacts around poverty, health, and lack of access to health care. So this continues to be a very significant priority for us, and we’re working with our member organizations to see how we can ensure that representation. We’ve found too often that political parties don’t spend much time or effort in seeking AAPI voters, but now, it’s clear across the country—New Jersey and Virginia in 2017, Georgia in 2020, all sorts of races in California—that AAPIs can make up that margin of victory and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Policy advocacy and capacity building, too, have always been important. In fact, that’s been our role since we were founded in 1975 as the Asian Pacific Planning Council, a group of executive directors who met to discuss their communities’ challenges. At that time there was a burgeoning Asian-American movement coming out of the civil rights movement and the Chicano movement, and the executive directors were seeing trends and patterns in terms of the challenges their clients and community members faced. So A3PCON was there as a policy advocacy organization to advocate for systemic change and as a capacity-building coalition to help strengthen the capacity of member organizations to do the work they needed to do. And during the pandemic, we’ve seen how important our member organizations are in ensuring vaccine distribution, the disbursement of COVID-19-related funds, and state and local moratoria on rent....

Read the full interview with Manjusha P. Kulkarni, executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance.

(Photo credit: Myleen Hollero)

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