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Lokvani Talks To Nalini Sharma On Youth Lead

Nirmala Garimella

Youth LEAD (Youth Leaders Engaging Across Differences) will honor Raj and Nalini Sharma for a decade of dedicated service at the Fund a Better Future Gala on Thursday, December 6 at 6:30 p.m. This event will be held at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge and will be emceed by Byron Barnett, WHDH-TV 7 reporter and host of the weekly Urban Update program.

The Sharmas have been instrumental in Youth LEAD’s growth from a local program to a nationally recognized model. Inspired by their daughter Meara’s experience in Youth LEAD when she was in high school, Raj and Nalini established the Board of Advisors, a committed group of major donors, and Nalini serves on Youth LEAD’s Board of Directors.  In addition, the Sharmas have acted as ambassadors for Youth LEAD throughout Greater Boston and have provided strategic guidance during Youth LEAD’s expansion. All four of the Sharma children have participated in Youth LEAD.

Nalini Sharma shares her thoughts on her involvement on the Board of Youth Lead:

What prompted you to join the Youth Lead cause? When did you get involved?

 We first learnt about Youth Lead from our daughter Meara when she was in high school. On her own accord, Meara got involved with YL and was leading and participating in discussions on subjects such as anti-Semitism, race, culture, nationality etc. Of course, we were impressed by her passion and desire to promote understanding and tolerance. Meara carried her passion to Brown University and she is currently in India producing a series of radio pod casts on major social issues.  Meara was clearly the catalyst and standard bearer in our family, and she inspired her three siblings to join YL.

Raj and I got involved with YL over a decade ago and our goal was to strengthen the organization so they could start similar programs in other communities. We were instrumental in building their board of overseers and this has now created a good funding base for YL.  In 2009, I joined the board of directors of YL and working with fellow board members,  help steer the steer the growth and direction of this dynamic organization.

 What has been your experience with your own children? How has it changed them?

The impact of YL on our children has been undeniably positive and perhaps even transformational. It has provided them a sense of social purpose and a drive to promote understanding, empathy and tolerance in our diverse, multi-cultural, pluralistic society.

What’s your advice to today youth when it comes to getting involved in organizations like Youth Lead?

 I think YL is a wonderful conduit for young people and provides them exposure to ideas and attitudes different than their own. It opens their eyes to the possibility of harmonious living in our complex society. It also teaches them the skills of listening and respectful dialogue that can lead to a better appreciation of differences.

Any other thoughts on being honored by Youth Lead on December 6th?

This honor is not about us.  It is really about creating a better tomorrow for our children and contribute to an environment of respect and understanding.

Youth LEAD provides high school age teens with the skills and support to be a catalyst for bringing people together across differences. Youth LEADers address fear, misunderstanding and polarization, enabling communities to build new social networks among diverse groups and creating a platform for collaborative problem-solving.  In 2012, Youth LEAD was recognized by the Pluralism Project at Harvard University as one of two promising practices nationwide focused on youth.  Youth LEAD is currently working with Massachusetts teens in Sharon, Boston, and the North Quabbin region, and will expand to additional communities in 2013. Youth LEAD Oklahoma City is also scheduled to launch in 2013.

The Sharma’s eldest child, Meara, a graduate of Brown University, shared her thoughts on how she was enriched by Youth LEAD while doing grant-funded work in Rwanda in 2011:

“I am using the skills I learned through Youth LEAD in a very tangible way, especially in my work with a micro-grant organization that facilitates community-led development initiatives.  I know how to organize a group of people around a particular idea, how to facilitate discussion, how to ask questions that create a space of openness, how to broach topics that are sensitive but necessary, and how to flesh out problems while remaining angled toward solutions.”

In addition to their work with Youth LEAD, the Sharmas both serve as Trustees of The American India Foundation, and Nalini serves on the Board of MITHAS.  Raj is Managing Director, Investments and head of The Sharma Group at Merrill Lynch, one of the leading private banking teams in the country.  His team has been ranked among the top 100 advisors in the U.S. for nine consecutive years and as the number one team in Massachusetts for the last four years. 

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