Jakara Movement co-founder Naindeep wins James Irvine Leadership Award


Indian American youth leader is among the seven Californians chosen to receive The James Irvine Foundation’s 2022 Leadership Awards, announced Feb 7.

The James Irvine Foundation said the awardees were chosen from a competitive pool of 419 nominees for advancing solutions on important issues facing Californians such as civic engagement, crime prevention, health care, support for foster youth, wildfire prevention and workforce development.

“This year’s Leadership Award recipients are an incredible group of leaders that represent the best of our state,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a press note. “These Californians show exceptional community leadership and innovation – exemplifying how we can solve some of our most pressing challenges.”

Naindeep Singh, who calls himself simply ‘Deep’, is a founding member and executive director of the Jakara Movement, a youth leadership development organization focused on Punjabi Sikhs. Asked when he first heard he was in contention, he said The James Irvine Foundation has an elaborate internal process of vetting for the award.

“I was told I was a finalist late last year,” he said, “and they made the announcement public with the address by Irvine Foundation president Don Howard and Governor Gavin Newsom Monday, Feb 7.”

On receiving the award, which carries a grant of $250,000, the Sikh leader told indica, “The award is testament to the tenacity, perseverance and commitment of the Jakara Movement to the Sikh youth and community across California.

“For over two decades the Jakara Movement has been committed to building community power, lifting the voices of those most marginalized, and working with our neighbors, communities, and families from all communities to build a California for all.”

He said the grant amount would be used to further the mission of the movement, expand services into new regions, and find greater ways to serve the community.

Growing up a Sikh in Central Valley, Naindeep Singh lacked opportunities to engage with peers and the broader community about issues that were important to him. So, in 2000, he became a founding member of the Jakara Movement, a youth leadership development organization focused on Punjabi Sikhs and anchored in Central Valley.

Led by volunteers for the first 10 years, the organization educates Sikh youth about their heritage, explores challenges facing them like gender equality and caste, and prepares them to be leaders in their communities.

Now, with 70 registered high school clubs and 25 college chapters across 15 California counties, the Jakara Movement has a paid staff of 41, including Naindeep Singh, who has served as executive director since 2009.

Representing roughly 500,000 Californians, the movement has accomplished several goals, including expanding language access to voting material, contributing to high vaccination rates among underserved communities, and securing protections for tenants and agricultural workers.

The movement has also helped to build confidence, leadership skills and civic engagement among thousands of youth participants, many of whom have encountered bigotry and harassment in their lives.