Born in Nagpur, India, Swati Dandekar, is a political trailblazer for South Asians in the American political sphere. Though not the most commonly known name of this contingent, one that involves big names such as Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, Dandekar can lay claim to a pioneering role in getting Indian-Americans into public office.
Despite her role in civil service, a look at Dandekar’s early life shows that the path to this field was not quite as direct as one would imagine. Having completed her undergraduate B.S. in Biology and Chemistry from Nagpur University, she went on to complete a graduate diploma in dietetics from the University of Mumbai.
As soon as she completed her studies at the University of Mumbai in 1972, Dandekar moved to the United States with her husband, Arvind, in 1973. Settling in Iowa, Dandekar’s interests began to shift from her scientific background. A strong believer that investment in education was akin to investment in the state’s future, Dandekar registered over 100 hours of community service by 1982 and was involved in the Linn-Mar Booster Club, the Phoenix Club Leadership Team, and the Boy Scouts America Hawkeye Area Council.
Her shift from science to public service was solidified in 1996 as she was elected to serve on the Linn-Marr Community School District Board; reelected to serve a second term in 1999, Dandekar’s commitment to service did not go unnoticed as she was appointed the Vision Iowa Board, “which provides financial incentives to communities for the construction of recreational, cultural, educational and entertainment facilities”, in 2000 by Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack. This appointment was a springboard to a lengthier political career as Dandekar built on her momentum to win an election to the Iowa District House 36 in 2002.
Following 6 successful years in the Iowa District House, during which she helped advance initiatives on economic growth, transportation, and education, Dandekar made a historic breakthrough. On November 4th, 2008, the same day that another minority figure was historically elected, Swati Dandekar was chosen by the Iowan electorate to serve in the Iowa State Senate. This marked the first time that an Indian America was elected to their state legislature, building on a legacy started by the likes of Dilip Singh Saund, and opening doors for future Indian American public servants. Dandekar’s election was also representative of a deeper social shift that showed evidence of reversing the anti-South Asian rhetoric that was rife post-9/11, this was a new trend of “two-way acceptance: not just of South Asians participating in American public life, but also an acceptance of South Asian Americans by the American electorate at large.”
Dandekar followed up her stint in the State Senate with a position the Iowa Utility Board between 2011 and 2013. Throughout her four years, 2009 to 2013, with the State Senate and Utilities Board, Dandekar “was a strong voice for job creation, working to bring advanced technology and skilled jobs to the state”.
This undying commitment to improving the public good has not gone unnoticed as Dandekar was recently appointed as the United States Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank by President Barack Obama, a position that was bestowed to her on account of “her talent for building relationships that lead to productive dialogue and initiatives.” Upon her appointment it was further noted that “Her enthusiasm for public service and willingness to take on new challenges and responsibilities are what the public deserves,” and that “The President and the Senate made a good decision in choosing Swati Dandekar to represent the United States in this capacity.”
Additionally, Dandekar has been publicly recognized by J.C. Penney, the Elliott School of International Affairs, the Fleming Institute, Waypoint, India Abroad, The Asian American Alliance of Iowa, and Asianweek with numerous community and public service awards.
Swati Dandekar is a living example for not only Indian-Americans, but for all Americans. Her passion for helping others transcended cultural divides and enabled her to become a public representative for thousands of people despite a tense political climate that was particularly harsh to those of South Asian descent. Dandekar’s life is an inspiring testament that goodwill is a universal unifier and can make the unthinkable a reality.
“Indian origin Swati Dandekar is named ADB director ” The Indian Panorama. November 20, 2015. Web. <https://www.theindianpanorama.news/potpourri/business/indian-origin-swati-dandekar-is-named-adb-director-53166.html>.
“Nagpur-born Indian-American Swati Dandekar in race for US Congress.” The Times of India. Sep 3, 2013. Web. <https://search.proquest.com/docview/1429254148>.
Rajan, Gita, and Shailja Sharma. “New Cosmpolitanisms: South Asians in the US.” Google Books. Feb 9, 2006. Web. <https://books.google.com/books?id=bKN1AAAAMAAJ>.
“Swati Dandekar.” Boallotpedia. Web. <https://ballotpedia.org/Swati_Dandekar>.
Swati Dandekar of Marion Confirmed for Asian Development Bank Position. Lanham: Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc, 2016. Print.
“Swati Dandekar ” USINPAC. March 29, 2016. Web. <http://www.usinpac.com/new_usinpac/candidates-supported-by-usinpac/swati-dandekar>.
“Swati Dandekar- Iowa State Representative ” Asian American Net. Web. <http://www.asianamerican.net/bios/Dandekar-Swati.html>.