Thought Box



by Vinta Nanda March 5 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins, 49 secs

It is with great pride that I present to you Preeti Shridhar, who recently took charge as the elected representative in Woodinville, Washington, as a commissioner, writes Vinta Nanda.

When I ask about her journey in the US and how it has shaped her personally and professionally, she says it began with pursuing education, which was transformative. She left India in 1986 to pursue an MBA, embarking on a new chapter in a land vastly different from India. Despite initial challenges, including adapting to a different climate and culture, her determination and resilience propelled her forward. Her pursuit of advocacy for change began during her academic years, where she championed reforms to outdated graduation rules, reflecting her commitment to equity and justice.

Preeti began her career in Seattle, where she spearheaded the nationally acclaimed environmental, recycling, and conservation program. Her tenure in Seattle reached new heights when she collaborated with the mayor’s office and former Vice President Al Gore to launch Seattle's Climate Protection Initiative, positioning the city as a pioneer in climate action. "Later, in Renton, as the city doubled in population and underwent major developments, Preeti served as a deputy administrator in the mayor’s cabinet and played a significant role in Renton’s success. She is credited with establishing and leading the city's inaugural Equity, Housing, and Human Services Department.

She has led initiatives, from climate action to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, to economic development, which have been the milestones of her professional journey. She says, “Throughout my career from Seattle to Renton and back, spanning environmental initiatives, diversity, equity and affordable housing, and economic development, I have remained steadfast in my dedication to public service and community engagement”. Over to a conversation I had with her recently.

How does it feel to be an elected representative in Woodinville, Washington? What do your responsibilities entail?

Being elected as Commissioner is both a tremendous honor and a humbling experience. At my swearing-in ceremony on January 16, the Chambers were packed with supporters, and even my family joined in remotely all the way from India. As I solemnly uttered the words “I will faithfully discharge the duties to the best of my abilities,” I couldn't help but feel a surge of pride mixed with a touch of nerves. After all, becoming Commissioner isn't just a job—it's a tremendous responsibility! Water is life and my job is to make sure everyone always has safe, clean affordable water. But I promise folks, I'm here to tackle this noble calling with integrity, transparency, and maybe a dash of humor along the way. It's a big responsibility, but also incredibly rewarding.

What led you to participate in township activities and take the plunge to contest for this important position you hold today?

Well, Woodinville's buzzing with change, especially when it comes to water policy and planning. I’m not exaggerating when I say our entire future is at stake. We are negotiating a 60-year water supply contract as we speak, and I truly believe that I am the right person to be at the table for this! With three decades of living in the area and a solid background in the water industry, it felt like the perfect storm of circumstances.

Plus, seeing the challenges our community faces and realizing we needed more diverse voices at the table, I knew I could jump in and help navigate these changes. These two things really lit a fire under me. And when you've got endorsements rolling in from all corners, it's like a big neon sign saying, "Hey, diverse representation needed here!" So, naturally, I couldn't resist the call to step up and make a splash in local politics.

How long have you been in the United States and what took you there?

Can you believe it? I've been in my cozy Woodinville home longer than I've been anywhere else in the world! Let me take you back to the beginning. It’s 1986, and I'm fresh off the plane in Minneapolis, ready to get an MBA. Now, coming from hot, hot Chennai, let's just say I was in for a bit of a shock. Minus 37 degrees Celsius? I thought I'd stepped into the freezer! From sweltering heat to icy chills, talk about a temperature rollercoaster! 

Tell us about the long journey, personal and professional, that has made you the person you have become today. 

Rewind to 1986, landed in snowy Minneapolis with a suitcase and a scholarship. Despite frostbite, I did get an MBA and learned to adapt, faced challenges head-on. I even fought to change some outdated rules in school – gotta love standing up for what's right!

But hey, I'm not one to back down from a challenge. Fast forward to a wild café scene in New York. Those days NYC was in the clutches of gangs and crime and here’s a scene from my life where I’m dodging real life bullets like an action hero. Who knew environmental work came with such excitement, right?

That bullet got me all fired up and I took a big leap across the United States in 1992, trading Manhattan pizza for Seattle coffee and corporate America for the public sector. Seattle became my stomping ground, where I happily assumed the role of the green guru of recycling and conservation crusades. This was also my first foray into the world of climate change where I got to hobnob with the Mayor’s office and Mr. Al Gore himself. No typo - one of my proudest moments in Seattle was collaborating with the Mayor's office and former Vice President Al Gore to launch Seattle's Climate Protection Initiative, positioning the city as a pioneer in climate action.  

Then it was off to Renton, land of Boeing, where I wore the hat of deputy public administrator to the Mayor, juggling every crisis, major growth and development, and issues related to social justice and equity. And let's not forget my grand finale back in Seattle as the Mayor's Deputy Director for the Office of Economic Development, where I worked on post-pandemic, economic analysis and downtown's comeback.

Through it all, I've always been one to turn challenges into opportunities. From championing equity, fighting to protect our environment, and creating jobs and affordable housing - it's been a wild ride. And guess what? I'm not done yet! So, this journey is far from over.

Your roots in India: share your memories of growing up years in India and the places that you lived in, what they contributed to your personality? 

Reminiscing about my Indian roots is like flipping through a scrapbook of diversity and adversity! I spent my childhood ping-ponging between seven cities and went to 12 different schools. And United States is not the only the country that has a patent on discrimination – a South-Indian growing up in North India! The short dark “Madrasi”, who didn’t bring parathas to school had her share! I've collected enough resilience badges to fill a trophy case!

But those experiences helped me appreciate different cultures. They sprinkled in a healthy dose of adaptability, a knack for negotiation, and a genuine love for people coming from all backgrounds. Growing up in the tapestry of Indian culture taught me to embrace diversity like it's going out of style. And it lit a fire under me to stand up for the underdogs, to be their voice in a world that sometimes forgets to listen.

My Indian upbringing didn't just shape my personality – it's the secret sauce behind my advocacy and collaborative spirit! They also made me a great listener and negotiator. And all of it comes in handy as a Commissioner!

What are the most important things you want to do during the time that you hold this position as the commissioner at Woodinville? 

Water, water everywhere! Water for the next sixty years and safe, clean affordable water! It's about ensuring a reliable water supply. Negotiating a deal that shapes our water supply, quality, and rates is no small feat, and this is my biggest responsibility. And, let's not forget about the importance of clean water. Keeping our water safe for consumption and supporting our precious ecosystems is at the heart of what I do.

Community! I can’t say enough about how important this is. My mantra is inclusion, excellence in customer service and making sure everyone feels heard and valued. And collaboration is the name of the game. Partnerships with key local and regional partners, investment in infrastructure, with environmental protection as the main course. And when we say people, let’s not forget to recognize the hardworking people who make all this happen – the employees behind the scenes who work tirelessly.  

Beyond that, I'm committed to making Woodinville a welcoming place for everyone.

Being of Indian, South Asian origin in the United States what are your thoughts?

Being of Indian descent in the United States is like being part of a delicious international potluck – masala dosa with hamburgers and French fries and let’s add some spicy butter chicken for extra flavor!

An Indian-American in the United States brings certain complexities. There's history, cultural differences, and personal experiences that shape everything. The South Asian community has grown so much, but we still face hurdles. I see firsthand how important it is to have diverse voices in leadership, especially to address longstanding inequalities.

As a South Asian Indian woman of color, the need is even more acute, especially when you talk politics and the public arena. It's not just about representation; it's about making sure everyone's story is heard and valued. There are hurdles to jump over, but like I’ve said before – every hurdle is an opportunity. And I've never been one to back down from a challenge.

But here is my perspective: In the political arena, being a woman of color means I've got a secret weapon, the power to make real change.

And trust me, I'm not afraid to use it. From bridging diversity gaps to advocating for inclusivity, I'm all about shaking things up and giving a voice to those who need it most. So, bring it on, obstacles – this woman of color is ready to make some waves!

Being a woman of color in the United States. Compare that with being a woman in India. What stands out?

When you compare the experiences of women, all women, in the United States and India, it's like looking at two sides of the same coin – there's progress, but there are also some “in your face” challenges that just won't go away. In India, we've seen women rockin' it in education and careers, but there's still this lingering vibe of traditional gender roles and social expectations. It's like trying to break free from old habits while juggling a bunch of new ones. Meanwhile, over in the United States, there's this whole different vibe. Women have more freedom to do their own thing and they've got this growing support network cheering them on from all directions. It's like being part of this big, diverse family where everyone's got your back. But hey, let's not forget, now you have Roe v/s Wade being overturned, atrocious #MeToo headlines that wreak of gender discrimination, and domestic violence being one of the number one killer. Whether you're in India or the United States, there's still work to be done to smash those gender norms and create a level playing field for everyone.

So, as I have said before and I will say it again, the biggest inequity in this world is gender inequity, with and without color!.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.