Apple Valley, MN — Neerja Singh believes that no public policy decision should be made without authentic community engagement. As a behavioral health leader in the Minnesota Department of Human Services, she wants those most impacted by policies and practices to have an active voice and power in making decisions. She also believes traditional and cultural sources of knowledge must be incorporated into decision-making processes. In her leadership role, she has led the design and implementation of successful programs to respond quickly to pressing community needs. To lead further change in the government sector, and in Minnesota’s mental health and addiction care service delivery system in particular, she will increase her skills in civic engagement and her capacity to initiate community-led reforms. She will learn from mentors who have challenged the status quo and seek training to better understand how to invest in communities that have the greatest needs.
What has informed your approach to leading change in your community?
Being born and brought up in India, my approach is informed by my life experiences growing up in a social system that did not value female children — even though I was valued and cherished in my own family. The simple fact of being born shouldn’t determine what happens to you in life. So, I believe my childhood drives my civil disobedience.
If you could have any animal as a pet, which animal would it be and why?
My childhood dream was to have an elephant. They are very powerful and very humble at the same time. I think that’s what real power is. It’s not loud or obnoxious. I think of an elephant smiling whenever I am frustrated.
What is your favorite quote or expression?
“Don’t fight the tide, just ride it.” It’s a quote from a children’s book written by Susan Collins. To me, this is what civic engagement is all about.