Debadutta Dash • Courtesy Photo
Debadutta Dash • Courtesy Photo

Now in its 23rd year, the International Examiner continues to recognize the outstanding achievements of the Asian Pacific American leaders through the Community Voice Awards.

This year, Debadutta Dash will be honored with the Entrepreneur of the year award for his leadership in promoting entrepreneurship within the API community, advocating for more trade and commerce between the state and India, and his continued service to the API community.

The International Examiner caught up with Dash to talk about the issues he advocates for and why he’s running for city council.

International Examiner: What are the issues you devote a lot of your time to and why are they important to you?

Debadutta Dash: Honestly speaking, there are so many long-standing issues ranging from human services to the economic development, which impact our life on a regular basis. Sometimes it is very overwhelming. But in a broader spectrum, I feel most concerned about the growing number of homeless and hungry people in our community. On the other hand what concerns me the most is our city’s affordability getting out of reach for most of us. The lack of affordability in housing (to rent or own), the disparity in income, lack of access to capital for starting a business, and the uncertainty of any permanent or long term solution to these problems are very uncomfortable to live with.

IE: What problems do you still see in the community that needs to be addressed?

Dash: The representation of API community is still very low in the decision/policy making level in all spheres of life be it public, private, or non-profit. This makes it very difficult for the API community to bring its issues and concerns to the forefront at the decision making level for a fruitful discussion and finding a long-term solution to the problems. Part of this problem is due to the lack of civic engagement (not participating in a civic process) in the API community, which needs to be addressed right away. Without a strong voice in the corridors of power, we cannot address the existing legislative, policy and service gaps that stand in the way of addressing critical social needs.

IE: You will be awarded with the Entrepreneur of the Year award. Can you talk about the entrepreneur work you’ve done in Seattle and the effects of your work?

Dash: I didn’t own any business to make profit for myself. However for the last 10 years, I had two important roles to play: One, as an advocate for promoting entrepreneurship among API and minority communities. Second, to advocate for more trade and commerce between India and the Washington State. This is when I have been working full time with the Starwood Hotels & Resorts (The Westin Bellevue). I worked closely with many Asian Pacific American communities throughout the state and stayed connected with the local chambers of commerce, federal, city, county, and University institutions. I continued to explore possible opportunities for small and medium business owners in the Asian Pacific American community to expand their presence in the global economy by coordinating with various state agencies, chambers of commerce, and international trade organizations and CAPAA.

As a result of this advocacy effort, we got two MOUs for international collaboration signed between the North Seattle Community College and two colleges in India in 2010. We also got the first sister-port agreement between the Port of Seattle and the Dhamra port in India actualized in 2011. The first U.S.-India trade summit was organized during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Seattle Center in 2012. Since then many trade delegations from India have visited Seattle and many Indian companies have opened their offices in the Greater Seattle region. Last year, a presentation was made to the City of Seattle for a proposed sister-city relationship between Seattle and Gurgaon. You will be glad to know that the City of Gurgaon in India (closer to the capital city of Delhi)  has the presence of more than 350 of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S.

IE: You’ll be running for city council. Why is this the right time for the next step in your career?

Dash: Thanks to a city charter amendment the Seattle voters approved in 2013, we now have a partially districted city council. This means that instead of all nine city council members being elected by people all over the city, just two of them will be elected this way. The other seven will be elected by voters in the area of town where they live. I am excited that every part of the city will have a tribute in city hall. I have been living in the Olympic Hills neighborhood for last 14 years. While working in many non-profit boards and organizations in Seattle I have also been building bridges across communities to foster the greater good. This has given me a deep understanding of the concerns and needs of many people in our community. Therefore I have decided to run for Seattle City Council representing my district 5 (North Seattle).

IE: How does your previous work apply to a job with city council and if you get the position, what can the community expect from you?

Dash: My previous work with the community will be a tremendous asset for me. The community can certainly expect many positive outcome from me. I won’t let them down.

IE: Let’s say it’s a Saturday: What would you most likely be up to?

Dash: Most of my advocacy or community-related works take place during the weekends. It rejuvenates myself. I seldom go on a vacation.

IE: Any advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?

Dash: Never give up. Make as much connections as you can, genuinely. Please don’t be afraid to ask. Remember, you don’t get it if you don’t ask for it.

IE: Is there anything else you would like to say that hasn’t been covered?

Dash: We claim that youth are the leaders of tomorrow. However, we have not given our youth a chance to understand and effectively participate in our society. It is important to instill civic values in them before they become eligible to vote. Our youth in the community need to have a platform (beyond résumé building internships) where they can understand the issues and concerns of their community, be encouraged to give creative input and know their input is appreciated.

Each week the International Examiner will catch up with the 2015 Community Voice awardees leading up to the awards dinner and fundraiser on Thursday, May 21, 2015.

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