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Yet another Indian American in Obama administration

August 24, 2010 03:17 IST

Yet another young and talented Indian American with impeccable credentials in development work worldwide, has been appointed by United States President Barack Obama to a senior position in his administration.

Sohini Chatterjee has been appointed by Obama as Senior Advisor in the Office of Donor Engagement in the US Agency for International Development's newly created Policy Planning Bureau.

This new bureau is envisaged to consolidate policy-planning functions within USAID and evaluate what natural disasters, civil unrest outbreaks or refugee crises are most urgently in need of the agency's limited resources.

The USAID, which is under the puview of the US Department of State, is headed by Dr Raj Shah, the highest ranking Indian American in the Obama administration and Chatterjee in her new role will work closely with Shah and another Indian American, Nisha Desai Biswal, who was recently appointed by Obama as the Assistant Administrator for Asia in the agency.

Chatterjee, born in Rourkela, Orissa, and raised in Cary, North Carolina, prior to her appointment in the administration, which took effect on August 16, worked in the Development Economics Prospect Group at the World Bank on the issues of migration and remittances.

Before her stint with the World Bank, she spent five years as an associate in the Washington, DC office of Steptoe & Johhson LLP, a top-notch law firm, where she was a member of the Regulatory & Industry Affairs Department and the International Department.

Here, she provided legal and strategic advice on expanding access to foreign markets with a specific focus on access to the Indian market, and US trade and civil litigation, which included working on the first ever international trade case to reach the US Supreme Court.

Prior to joining Steptoe & Johnson, Chatterjee worked on European Union regulatory and tax matters for the global firm of Linklaters LLP, in their office in Brussels, Belgium.

Throughout her career, Chatterjee has also provided pro bono representation to individuals in the areas of family law, domestic violence law, children's law, and human rights law, and for years served as a volunteer attorney in family law for the Legal Aid Society of Washington, DC -- a non-profit organising serving the indigent and the poorest of the poor of the DC community.

In an interview with rediff.com, Chatterjee, elated over her new appointment, said, "I am deeply committed to working in development and to the priorities of this administration, and I look forward to serving the president and his staff with fortitude and humility in the years to come."

She said, "I am honoured to be in the company of other Indian American appointees, and in particular to be working with Dr Rajiv Shah."

Chatterjee said she believed her "diverse experience in international legal matters and development will provide me with an innovative perspective, which I hope to use in furthering the goals of the newly-created Policy Planning Bureau."

"I am grateful for the many months I have spent in India, especially in its more rural parts," she said, "because they have formed me both as a person and as a professional."

Thus, Chatterjee said, "I approach this position with empathy and understanding for the priorities of those living in poverty, and with a strategic and legal eye towards creating and maintaining sustainable development."

Reminiscing about her visits to India, she said, she remained extremely close to Kolkata and her relatives in West Bengal and spoke of the many fulfilling months she spent in 1996 working with Mother Teresa in Kolkata, where she taught English and mathematics to street children and volunteered in the tuberculosis war of a Kolkata orphanage at Kalygut's Home for the Dying and Destitute, both facilities managed by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.

Chatterjee, who speaks fluent Bengali, and is the daughter of political and community activist Swadesh Chatterjee -- the first Indian American recipient of the Padma Bhushan for Public Service - and Dr Manjusri Chatterjee, a physician, who live in Cary, North Carolina, said, she still travels to India at least once a year to visit relatives in Sonamuki and Kolkata.

She is an alumnus of Columbia University, from where she received her BA in Literature, The Johns Hopkins University from where she received her MA in International Relations and International Economics and Duke University School of Law from where she received her Juris Doctor.

Before attending law school, Chatterjee worked for the US Department of State's Mission to the United Nations and for The Protection Project, a legal human rights research institute, where she focused on the issues of trafficking and child slavery in South America and Africa.

Aziz Hannifa in Washington, DC