Luna Ranjit *04, a Woodrow Wilson School MPA graduate and native of Nepal, began working with Nepali immigrants in New York City 10 years ago as one of the founders of Adhikaar, a Queens-based community organization that takes its name from the Nepali word for “rights.”
“Although our focus is the Nepali community, we’ve never called ourselves a Nepali organization,” said Ranjit, Adhikaar’s executive director. “We’re a social-justice organization which happens to serve some of the most marginalized groups within the immigrant community.”
Ranjit and her colleagues set their sights on a range of community needs, including workers’ rights and access to health care, while building a more prominent voice for one of New York’s fastest-growing immigrant groups.
In the last year, Adhikaar has made headlines for its community leadership in the wake of tragic earthquakes in Nepal and its advocacy on behalf of workers in New York nail salons — shining a light on health and pay issues that were featured in The New York Times in an in-depth investigative report and editorial last May. Adhikaar helped to catalyze change, including new workplace safety regulations in the state, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July, and a wage-bond requirement that went into effect Oct. 6.
“We’re very happy to see that the things we’ve been talking about since we started — and especially in the last four years — have come to the forefront,” Ranjit said. While the regulations are important, she added, the attention on working conditions seems to have created a shift in nail-salon culture as well, based on what Adhikaar has heard from salon employees. “They feel that the customers understand their situation more — the customers are treating them better, and their employers are treating them better,” Ranjit said.
Working at a grassroots community organization may not be the typical path for Wilson School graduates, Ranjit said, but the MPA program prepared her well: Analyzing different policy issues each week was valuable practice for the fast pace of her current work. And graduating debt-free — both from her undergraduate alma mater, Grinnell College, and the Wilson School — allowed her to pursue a career in social justice. “That is something I feel that is a blessing that I’ve been given,” she said. “I owe it to the world to give back. It sounds a little hokey, but I’ve been given this platform and it’s a wonderful opportunity.”