Leaders for Education, Advocacy and Democracy

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Leaders for Education, Advocacy and Democracy: Leadership: Caring + Skills + Action

San JoseSan Jose
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

LEAD, a program of AACI, builds a pipeline of future leaders who understand that empathy drives the most powerful change. High school youth receive skill-building curriculum, mentorship, and internship experience that fosters caring; students then take action on a final community project.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if every youth knew how to work with an elected official, partner with a business, and organize a neighborhood? What changes would we see?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The American “empathy deficit” keeps potential leaders from fully engaging in community issues. Instead, apathy or cynicism sets in. A 2010 Harvard Institute of Politics poll found that only 27% of college students say they are politically active, down from 48% in 2005. Youth are a valuable resource for underserved communities and losing their civic participation limits creative possibilities to problem-solve for local issues in the Bay Area.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Students complete 13 workshops aimed at helping them cultivate a sense of caring about community needs such as employment or health. Workshops challenge youth to critically examine local issues, not for objective truth, but for possible solutions. Weekly workshops also provide youth with skills such as community organizing and public speaking to address multiple stakeholders. Complex issues require careful engagement and through a rigorous curriculum, LEAD helps youth approach issues thoughtfully and use their new skills to collectively create a solution to address community needs. Through the program, LEAD students learn to engage their peers, leverage new community partners, and work alongside community members to make change.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Caring and empathic understanding are only starting points. LEAD equips students with skills in public speaking, project management, personal and professional development, community organizing and networking. These tools help students work with their communities, understand cultural and linguistic sensitivity, and develop solutions that improve lives. In 2011, students led a campaign in Santa Clara County to help implement the County Green Business Program which teaches businesses to take small measures to significantly protect the environment. Students outreached to small ethnic businesses, educated them about participation benefits, and helped diminish fears of costs; in the end, students enrolled 89 businesses into the program.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The LEAD program (a program adopted from Vision New America) has created this impact to date: 1) 11 scholarships provided with plans to add 15 in the next year, 2) 11 alumni from the past 3 cohorts went to work for elected officials, 3) 83 different government offices and community organizations participated and continue to support as host offices, 4) 535 students successfully graduated and each completed a comprehensive internship program at an elected office or community organization, 5) 60,000+ hours served by students in civic engagement, community organizing and public service. Many students carry the value of working for community forward in their lives. One alumnus from 2012 led a community campaign to raise funds for a peer whose father suffered paralysis. With concern for his peer and equipped with new skills, the student started a small fundraiser that raised over $25,000.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

For lasting impact, LEAD will transition the annual group project into a multi-year project that successive classes build upon. The 2014 LEAD class created a campaign, #WhyIVote, to motivate and mobilize their peers to become informed voters and active community members. The campaign is designed to engage everyone that becomes connected to the project. But change isn’t completed in one year. The project will be developed and strengthened by future LEAD cohorts to ensure continuous youth engagement in the Bay Area.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The LEAD program is secured with 3 years of funding from three private donors. Additional financial and staff support is provided by Asian Americans for Community Involvement. LEAD also has strong relationships with corporate donors and parents of alumni who become invested in the program. LEAD’s cultivation of the alumni network and partnerships with businesses will build its donor base to reflect a diverse funder and program portfolio.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The APAPA and CORO Programs are similar to LEAD in that both have youth civic engagement programs aimed at producing future leaders. However, LEAD focuses solely on working with high school students to ensure a pipeline of leaders into college and beyond. LEAD interns also receive government and nonprofit experience. LEAD taps into youths’ desire to make a change in their world and leverages the strength of peer-to-peer influence. Through collaborative work on a community project, students listen to, learn from, and work alongside their classmates, friends, family, and communities.

Founding Story

The original mission for LEAD began in 1996 in conversations among local leaders who recognized a shortage of civically engaged Asian youth in Silicon Valley. Wanting leadership to reflect the diverse demographic of the area, they came up with a collaborative solution to bridge the gap of youth involvement. Thus an intensive youth program developed that focused on combining empathy, skills, and action. Through the years, the program has recruited diverse cohorts that reflect Santa Clara County. LEAD was adopted from a program of Vision New America where it began in 2000. In 2013, the program was transferred to AACI. The goal moving forward is to reach potential youth leaders and provide them the necessary skills to create change.


The Advocacy Manager (F/T) has 5 years experience in policy and project management. She is a dedicated advocate for the Asian community, testifies at local and statewide hearings, and is adept at building partnerships with local offices to ensure expansion of the program. The Program Coordinator (P/T) delivers impactful curriculum that is developed through his deep knowledge of youth leadership, teaching, and political structures.
About You
Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI)
About You
First Name

Asian Americans for Community Involvement

Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI)

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

United States, CA, San Jose

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States, CA, San Jose

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals, Foundations, Businesses, Customers.

Supplemental Information
On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):

Santa Clara.

How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

Barack Obama characterizes the biggest challenge for Americans as its “empathy deficit”. Leaders for Education, Advocacy and Democracy (LEAD) nurtures high school students to become leaders who use the power of empathy to enact change and understand issues through the eyes of those most deeply affected. Students go through a 6 month program to connect to the needs of their local community, build their skills to be changemakers, and then design a viable solution that can tip the scales toward change. In 2013, students launched a project, Immigrant Narratives, that highlighted immigrant contributions to local history. Students drafted a County resolution calling for school curriculum to include diverse local histories.


LEAD seeks more community service internship partners for its high school youth.


LEAD offers internship assistance to community organizations and government offices in Santa Clara County needing extra support.

Tell us about your partnerships

The program partners with government offices and community organizations that will host students for summer internships. Partners focus on helping students gain hands-on experience in programming, advocacy, and administration work. Partners include government offices (eg. State Senator Jim Beall), community organizations (eg. LGBTQ Youth Spaces), and health offices (eg. Kaiser Permanente).


A challenge that LEAD staff face is guiding coversations about leadership away from being a résumé building activity to one focused on thoughtful engagement and genuine concern. Furthermore, staff must ensure that workshops help students understand that grassroots movements are not insular, but benefit from collaborations with elected officials, businesses, and community members. LEAD believes that leadership training should cultivate the best caring in individuals so they become lifelong contributors to improving communities.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

creating a safe space, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, storytelling, immersion, collective problem-solving, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)



More of just a question and not a suggestion, do you plan to keep this contained within Silicon Valley?

As a community member and active volunteer for our community, I have seen this program develop over the years and seen youths and coordinators grow in making the program better. I hope that with this grant, our youths can get the opportunity to grow as individuals whether it be for the community or for themselves. AACI has been around for 40 years and has made such a huge dent in this community.

This is a great program! Information about how participants beliefs or attitudes change after graduating from the program would really strengthen your proposal. If the youth have filled out surveys or shared stories of shifting their perspective on how they can create change and impact the world, I would love to see it. Great work!

Jashoda Kashyap's picture

This project will have a significant impact. It looks like it will have a potential for great change and will foster leadership for youth.

Wow! I love that this project places youth in internships in different government offices, community organizations, and health centers. When youth get to serve constituents and residents, interacting with folks from different backgrounds, that's a transformational opportunity to activate empathy.

Deb Levine's picture

This is a really interesting project. You should have your team members fill out their Changemaker profiles, add pics, and all that to showcase your strengths and community involvement. The fact that you used grant monies to provide scholarships to expand your student base is excellent. It would be good to spend some more time on deepening your financial plan and sustainability.

Wendy Ho's picture

LEAD is a fantastic program that helps develop leaders of tomorrow. I have had the good fortune of hosting LEAD interns at my nonprofit and have witnessed firsthand the impact that this program has had on its participants. The project teaches a variety of "soft skills" that are so critical in the workplace and the real world. I have seen how the program transforms participants' world views and teaches them to be thoughtful community members and leaders.

Danielle Duong's picture

Having worked with LEAD, I've seen the depth of passion these students have to make a difference in their communities. Students walk into the program excited to gain hands on experience in policy, non-profit, and community work. They finish the program with an improved skills and competencies to be motivated young leaders. More importantly, they walk away having developed a strong sense of empowerment and empathy to serve collective goals. We need to continue building the foundational strength and capacity of LEAD. LEAD is a model program that has growing abilities to effectively develop young leaders from diverse populations.

This is a great program designed to engage youth in community engagement build long-term change!

I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing this year's incoming LEAD class, and I was amazed by the talent that shone through the students' skills in team work and in individual responses. Through the interviews and my interactions with LEAD alumni, I can tell that the program has and will foster and develop leadership skills for future leaders in the community. As an educator within an underserved community of Santa Clara County, I would love to see the achievement of this project's goal. It is my hope that one day, my students will be able to apply to the program and receiving the funding possible to support their endeavors.

I am very impressed with this project. It will not only serve to strengthen our community, but educate and create proactivity among youth. Information and the promise of hope are the first steps towards action that will create a lasting impact.

Born and raised in the Bay Area, I know from personal experience the impact AACI has and the need to grow the LEAD program. LEAD creates empathetic young leaders, thoughtful about every aspect of the community. In a country often blinded by self serving needs, the students from this program are exactly the kind of thoughtful leaders our country needs!

I am a student from the LEAD program this year, and honestly, it's been one of the most eye-opening and empowering programs that I've ever had the privilege to be a part of. I used to be slightly depressed about my personal life, but LEAD has taught me that every 'struggle' I'm facing is nothing compared to the suffering going on in our community and around the world. Through looking at current events from all angles, LEAD has taught me to appreciate what I have, and that we as youth have the power to change these horrible conditions. My internship placement has also taught me so much about the situations of constituents in this area, effective communication, and how the state government works. I've become so much more passionate for and engaged in community issues because of this program; I can't help but think of the positive change we'd see in public policy in the future if all youth went through LEAD.

Ishan Sharma's picture

Many youth today aren't as civically active, politically-aware, and consciousness of their ability to make a positive change in their community. Being an alumni from LEAD, Leaders for Education, Advocacy, and Democracy, I can personally say that LEAD has changed my life by helping me be more active in our community and teaching me lessons I would never forget.
I joined LEAD last year with just a strong will to learn about our community – otherwise, I had little experience with local government, social advocacy, and professional attire. From Day 1 of LEAD, I learned a plethora of useful life skills such as how to properly dress yourself in a corporate environment, the levels of our government (from local, state, to federal), and even learned more specific things such as how to deal with constituents if we were to be placed in an elected official’s office, how to organize, collaborate with other people, run a community event and much, much more! Being a selective program, I was also surrounded with bright minds like me, and was able to positively influence and be influenced by my peers. To this day and on, I am using a majority, if not all, the valuable skills learned from LEAD and still work with people I have networked with during the LEAD Program!
Starting with a unique part of LEAD’s program – placement as interns into elected officials’ offices – I was able to get a first-hand immersive, experience of how our local government works. As an intern placed into Senator Jim Beall’s office, I was able to watch and work on issues in my own Senate District. Although LEAD had ended and had only required you work 99 hours over the summer with the elected official, I currently have worked over 250+ hours with State Senator Jim Beall’s office setting up community events, going to gatherings with other elected officials, and more! I do not plan to stop – my steadfast joy of helping our community was sparked from LEAD’s unique program. In addition to interning with Senator Beall, with the help of networks I made through LEAD, I was also able to expose myself to other political people and campaigns such as: Organizing For America (Obama’s grassroots organization) , Mike Honda for Congress, and more.
The skills I have acquired from LEAD have also helped my community on a more personal level. Every class during LEAD is required to hold a community event, and the year I was at LEAD, we spearheaded an event on the importance of immigration to our country at De Anza College with about 100 people attending. Using the skills I learned from LEAD, when my best friend’s dad was paralyzed from an accident and needed help paying off a $25,000 wheelchair he needed to move around again, I was more than capable to help my friend and his family. Making a video explaining the situation – similar to what our LEAD team did the year before, leveraging social media, hosting an event, and crowdsourcing online, we were able to raise over $32,000.
As shown by how LEAD has affected me, it is undoubtedly an amazing program that is capable of serving its purpose – enlightening America’s future generations and empowering students. The leadership of the organization, curriculum, experiences you learn, and the people you meet make this an outstanding, life-changing course.

I was a part of LEAD (formerly known as VNA) two years ago and I can confidently say that it was one of the most fulfilling, positive experiences. Not only did I get the opportunity to hone my leadership skills and build new perspectives on what it means to be a change in the community but I also met phenomenal people in the process. I had the privilege of interning at AACI through VNA and I am so thankful for having the chance to work in such an amazing organization with some of the most hardworking, kind-hearted, and inspirational people I have ever met. To this day, I am still in close contact with many of the people I have worked with and I cherish these relationships dearly. It makes me so happy to see how much LEAD has grown and I know that the sky's the limit from here on out!

Currently, I am a student and a member of the LEAD program this year. LEAD taught me to be a great leader in the community, and definitely opened my eyes to many issues that I was not aware of. Every training lesson on Saturday, I learned something new; topics ranging from historical events, current political issues, our personal lives, and new ways of thinking. Through this training, I grew to be mature, focused, and confident. I cannot even put into words how thankful I am for LEAD and how much it has changed and impacted my life. Funny, wherever I go now, I want to talk to everyone and solve everyone's issues. LEAD not only taught me to be an amazing leader, but I grew such a strong bond with all the members there. Cheesy as it sounds, I wish LEAD never ended. I had such a blast with everyone in LEAD.

As an alumni of the LEAD program, I can undoubtedly say that it has taught me so many useful, applicable things. By taking part in LEAD, I have learned to become a leader in my school, as well as a part of the community.

During the LEAD program, I had the privilege of interning for Assemblymember Paul Fong. Through this internship, I gained real work experience. Although some say interns just do boring jobs like filing papers and inputting data (though there was a little), I had the opportunity to attend luncheons, write constituent letters, and answer constituent phone calls.

After LEAD, I learned to take initiative. I started a successful DECA chapter at my school. Starting DECA has helped me decide where I want to go in my life and possible career paths. LEAD had a direct impact on my major decision and entire future.

LEAD taught me to take part and make a difference. After partaking in LEAD, I ran for student government the next year, and won. As next year's Senior Class Vice President, I will be leading my class next year in our endeavors.

Finally, LEAD taught me to care. I am now taking a bigger part in my community and volunteering. I am a tennis coach for Operation Smile, which works toward curing underprivileged kids with cleft lip. In addition, I am part of a committee that works toward improving instruction, assessment, curriculum, organization, culture, and student support at my high school.

LEAD has greatly affected my and many others mentality, values, and future. The teaching methods and curriculum of this program empowers and enlightens many students. LEAD has the power to make a long-term world-changing impact. It has a made an impact on many many lives, and it will continue to do so in the future. The experiences I gained and the skills I learned - I wouldn't trade them for anything.

As a current student of LEAD, I can definitely commend this program for the amount of lessons it has taught me. From my instructors who cared deeply to instill values of cultural, social, and political awareness in me, to classmates who helped me realize the true meaning of selflessness, cooperation, and leadership, this program has been a vital part in my transition to becoming an adult this past summer.

LEAD offered me a chance to grow and became aware of my community, country, and even intentionally in a pace that no other program could have done so. By teaching us values of leadership, community service, public speaking and many other skills necessary for the "real world", I can sincerely say that I have changed for the better. Comparing myself from before this program to after this program shows me how much I have truly grown, both as a leader and as a person.

I hope that the program will continue for lifetimes to come because it is a truly enriching experience that every student should have the chance to go through. These past few months with my LEAD instructors and fellow peers have been phenomenal and I can not fathom a better way to have spent my time. I give heartfelt gratitude to this program and all that it has done for me.

Being a current student at LEAD I am very privileged to say they have brought me many opportunities. I honestly don't think I would have such a motivation for my future if it was not for LEAD who brought me in through a scholarship.

Going home from the LEAD interview, I was thinking of my interviewer asking me questions about being in an office which I was very confused by. I had no idea within a few months I would be placed in Supervisor Cindy Chavez's office. Before being placed in District 2's office, LEAD defiantly prepared me as I learned about resumes, professionalism, attendance and interviews. My knowledge and skills continued to improve in District 2's office where I have learned about how the county works, the importance of communication, and of course the opportunity to help introduce a new policy.
LEAD has supported me tremendously and has given me the opportunity to be so much closer to my future. I thank Kenneth, Rabiah, Desun along with guest speakers who have given me a great amount of guidance and support.

I wish that this program can continue to empower youth and offer guidance because I honestly would not know what I would do , or where I would be !

Not everyone may know what it is that they want to do with their life. Having the opportunity to explore different fields of work on a professional level provides an opportunity for youth to fine tune their interests.

I would never had considered working in the public sector had I not gone through this program.

As a 2014 LEAD student, I can say that the time spent in this program has been very uplifting for me because I learned so much about myself and my place in the community.

Before, it was hard to imagine what one person, out of the millions and billions out there, could change for the world. But now I can see that it's not about thinking big and making a difference in just one stroke, but it's about the little things I do, the little things I believe in, and the little things I say that make that big impact later. Through the 8 hour trainings and summer internship, I've discovered how much power there is when a community comes together and shares their voice. I've learned that every person has strengths that only need to be discovered and polished. Everyone matters and every little action counts.

This program shook me out of comfort zone as I practiced my skills in public speaking and debating; expanded my knowledge through discussing news articles and current issues in society and learned more about the work done at non-profit organizations. Of course, I cannot forget the valuable advice I received on how to create an effective resume, how to improve my interviews and how to present myself appropriately according to the occasion.

There are many things I want to say about this program and many people I want to thank, but LEAD is not over yet! I hope that this program continues to empower youth as it is empowering me.