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The 2 Raj Shahs America is talking about

By Monali Sarkar
January 06, 2017 14:22 IST
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One Raj Shah has been the top Indian American in the Obama administration, points out Monali Sarkar, the other Raj Shah is poised to play a key role in the Trump administration.

HLRaj Shah

IMAGE: Dr Rajiv Shah, left, is now the president of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Raj Shah, right, is now a Trump administration appointee.
Photographs: Morgana Wingard for USAID/ and Raj Shah/

Raj Shah. That's a common enough name.

What is not so common is two Indian American Raj Shahs being in the news at the same time.

On January 4, former United States Agency for International Development head Dr Rajiv J Shah -- more popularly known as Raj Shah -- was named president of the Rockefeller Foundation, one of America's largest and most influential philanthropies, becoming the youngest person and the first Indian American to lead the group.

The same day, United States President-elect Donald Trump appointed the other Raj Shah -- who, as Republican National Committee research director, played a leading role in the Republican Party's anti-Clinton campaign during the polls -- as deputy assistant to the President and deputy communication director and research director.

Meet the 2 Raj Shahs who have everyone confused.

Dr Raj Shah, the healthcare economist and foreign policy leader

Dr Rajiv Shah

IMAGE: As USAID Administrator Dr Raj Shah, left, had to hit the ground running with the Haiti earthquake of 2010.
Photograph: Dennis J Henry Jr/US Air Force

Dr Raj Shah, an alumnus of the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and the Wharton School of Business, was the head of USAID from 2009 to 2015.

He was the highest-ranking Indian American in the Obama Administration then.

He had previously served as Undersecretary and Chief Scientist in the US Department of Agriculture, where he created the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and spent eight years at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

When he left USAID in 2015 he had told, "I am the second longest-serving Administrator of USAID in its 53-year history. I started with the Haiti earthquake in the first week and then the floods in Pakistan (in 2010), and I oversaw the largest rebuilding of this agency in its history. I feel very proud of what we've accomplished, including the extraordinarily successful fight to eliminate Ebola from West Africa, which we have been leading in the last months."

"I had actually intended to transition earlier, but because of the Ebola effort, it made sense for me to extend my time."

Shah then joined Georgetown's School of Foreign Service faculty as a distinguished fellow.

"In terms of what I'll do next," he added, "I will spend some time thinking that through, but in addition to a likely academic appointment, I will probably work on areas that represent the intersection between emerging markets, investment opportunities and science and technology. I'll probably be involved in financial services and private equity types of areas where we can see that the potential for private capital investment in emerging economies can both be commercially successful and can continue to make a difference to helping countries develop."

"Someday," he said, "I'm sure I'll be back in public service because I am so inspired by our capacity to contribute."

Shah's appointment to the Rockefeller Foundation as its 13th president will make him, as The New York Times put it, one of the 'most powerful forces in charitable giving.'

'Raj was the unanimous choice of the Trustees after a very competitive search process,' Dick Parsons, the Rockefeller Foundation Board Chair, told the press. 'We can think of no better person than Raj Shah to lead the cutting-edge work of this institution going forward.'

'For over a century,' Shah added, 'The Rockefeller Foundation has been at the forefront of providing solutions to the world's most pressing challenges. I look forward to charting a course for The Rockefeller Foundation to engage with partners to promote the well-being of humanity, and to take on the challenges of today and tomorrow both in the United States ;and around the world.'

Raj Shah, the Republican political operative

Raj Shah GOP

IMAGE: Raj Shah, right, at the 2006 White House Christmas Party with then President and First Lady, George and Laura Bush.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Raj Shah

Raj Shah, who had in the past served in the George W Bush administration, was appointed as the Republican National Committee research director in February 2015.

The Cornell University graduate had previously worked on Senate and Presidential campaigns, including serving as a deputy research director at the Republican National Committee during the 2012 Presidential election cycle.

He had also served as co-founding partner and managing director of America Rising LLC, where he developed the organisation's Hillary Clinton opposition research book.

He played a leading role in the Republican Party's anti-Clinton campaign during the polls, and had told, "Americans cannot afford a third term of the Obama administration, but that's exactly what we'll get if another Democrat wins the White House in 2016. RNC Research will ensure that the American people will be informed of the facts, the failures of Democrat leadership, and the Clintons' long history of lies, shady dealings and distortions."

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Monali Sarkar /