The two commanding officers of Obama's new volunteering era

30 Aprile Apr 2009 1343 30 aprile 2009

Sonal Shah and Maria Eitel are the two women who will head the new Obama volunteering initiatives; respectively filling the roles of head of the new White House Office of Social Innovation and Chief Executive Officer for the Corporation for National and C

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Sonal Shah and Maria Eitel are the two women who will head the new Obama volunteering initiatives; respectively filling the roles of head of the new White House Office of Social Innovation and Chief Executive Officer for the Corporation for National and C

Sonal Shah, the first head of the new White House Office of Social Innovation, was up until recently the head of Global Development Initiatives, which is the philanthropic arm of Google.org.

Born in 1968 in Mumbai India, Shah, now 40, moved to the US at the age of 4. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in Economics, and received a Master's degree in Economics from Duke University.

Shah held a variety of US Department of Treasury positions from 1995 until 2001. She was the director of the office overseeing the strategy and programmes for sub-Saharan Africa, including debt relief, development programs and World Bank/IMF strategies. She worked with the Ministry of Finance in Bosnia and Kosovo to design the post-war banking system. She also served as a senior advisor to the Secretary and Under Secretary on the US response to the Asian financial crisis.

From 2001 to the present , Shah has joined a succession of organisations adapted to her skills, which will have also given her invaluable experience for her new job. She was Director of Operations at the Centre for Global Development, then Associate Director of the Centre for American Progress, advising on issues such as post conflict reconstruction and trade. Then followed a three year stint as Vice President of Goldman Sachs, where she focused on environmental strategies, as well as green initiatives for investments. Finally, two years ago, Shah joined Google.org as the head of Global Development Initiatives. She worked closely with Executive Director Larry Brilliant, guiding global economic development efforts. She has also worked extensively on the growth of small and medium sized enterprises in partnership with the Omidyar Network and the Soros Foundation.

In 2001, Shah helped co-found a non-profit initiative called Indicorps, a non religious, non political US based non profit organization that offers fellowships to Indian-Americans working on development projects in India.

Ms. Shah was furthermore a member of the Obama transition project's advisory board and co-chair of a transition group that made recommendations about technology and innovation, including "innovation and civil society".

Shah has now been appointed as the head of the newly created White House "Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation". Her role as head of the office will be to promote government efforts to help innovative non profit groups and social entrepreneurs expand successful approaches to tackle pressing social problems where both the private sector and government have failed.

Maria Eitel, 45, who is to fill the post of Chief Executive Officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service, was up until very recently the President of the Nike Foundation and a Vice President of NIKE, Inc.

Eitel was born and raised in Everett, Washington. She graduated with a BA from McGill University, Canada, and an MS from Georgetown University. She is a graduate of the Executive Program at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Eitel's earlier career experience was as a reporter and producer in commercial and public broadcasting.

From 1989 to 1992, she served in the White House as deputy director of media relations and special assistant to the president for media affairs.

A fluent French speaker, she then served as European corporate affairs group manager for the Microsoft Corporation in Paris and held positions with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and MCI Communications Corporation.

She started with Nike as their first vice president for corporate responsibility and is credited as having played a pivotal role in restoring the company's credibility after it was criticised for its labour practices. Among the changes and measures she created while she working at the corporation, has been the so-called "girl effect". This entailed giving wider attention to the social and economic benefits a country experiences when girls are better educated, and therefore refocusing the organisation on assisting adolescent girls in developing countries.

She has not given up on her media background however and is a regular blogger on the on-line Huffington Post, where she writes about her philanthropic efforts, which include gender equality, poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

The corporation she will be heading at the White House manages the country's national-service programmes, which are set to grow significantly under the Serve America Act that President Obama signed on April 21.

In an official statement, Obama declared "Maria brings a unique blend of skills and management experience that will help her successfully lead the corporation during our administration's bold expansion of national service programs".

In response to the announcement of the intended nomination, Eitel described the present situation of service advancement a "historic moment to redefine citizenship in this country", adding "I look forward to helping make President Obama's vision a reality for everyone".

Follow this link for the Serve America Act background article.