Sondra Youdelman MPA '00
Policy and Research Director,
Community Voices Heard
Profile by Martha King, MPA '05
There are two striking aspects of Sondra Youdelman's career: her extensive domestic and international experience and her commitment to social justice. She refused to be limited by educational or professional categories of domestic or international work and instead, unified her work around a theme that crosses all borders: social and economic justice. Sondra is driven to support people and organizations that are marginalized and written out of policy-making by helping them to achieve economic, social and political goals.
Sondra is currently the Policy and Research Director of New York City-based Community Voices Heard (CVH). CVH is a membership organization of low-income individuals, mostly women who have been recipients of public assistance, working together to build the power of their families and communities and low-income people. They use a multi-pronged strategy which includes community organizing, public education, public policy work, coalition building, leadership development, training low-income people about their rights, political education and direct-action issue campaigns.
After graduating from the Woodrow Wilson School in 2000, Sondra did not want a job that was focused on policy, but devoid of on-the-ground connections and action. Her work at CVH blends organizing and policy analysis and development. Her research, trainings, publications, and planning, support CVH's campaigns and she works with CVH leaders to provide them with the tools they need to influence legislators and other power players.
During her time here at WWS, Sondra spent the summer working for UNICEF in La Paz, Bolivia. While there, she investigated the impact of new legislation on adult literacy projects for indigenous women and offered recommendations regarding coordination and improving classroom instruction. She also worked for the YMCA International Camper Exchange Program, leading groups through Peru, Chile, Brail, Uruguay, and Argentina. She is quite familiar with working directly with youth. Before the YMCA trip, she worked for a study abroad program in Zimbabwe and taught two years of fifth grade through Teach for America in Compton, California. She is still involved with Teach for America and has found that the skills she gained there have been useful in other jobs. She said that "the teaching skills of facilitation and distilling complex concepts into things that make sense" have been important in many settings. She uses this skill all the time in workshops and trainings that she coordinates.
Talking about the fluidity of her career, Sondra said, "There are a lot of cross-learnings that get missed between the domestic and international spheres." Internationally, she has also worked for Mujeres en Solidaridad in Guatemala, Mrs. Chikomo's Children's Club in Zimbabwe, Women's Action Group also in Zimbabwe and the Kabiro Health Care Trust in Kenya.
Sondra acknowledged the internal ethical dilemma she faced when working abroad-whether someone local should be doing her job. However, she does think returning to international work might be in her future, provided her non-profit organizing experience in the U.S. would be of assistance to communities in another setting. Until then, she has found ways of infusing her local work with an international perspective, such as creating a Global Justice Committee at CVH. CVH has also sent seven members to the World Social Forum in the past three years, and increasingly the organization is looking to bridge the gap between local and international grassroots justice issues. Regardless of what position Sondra takes in the future, she is well-prepared to support grassroots initiatives anywhere and to help infuse policy with the perspectives of people normally unheard.
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