Clinton Fellow

SPPD Graduate Earns Clinton-Orfalea Fellowship

By Cristy Lytal

Smita Satiani Smita Satiani, MPP ’10

“I really am a true believer that economic and financial literacy is the first step to empowering women — not just in the U.S., but internationally as well,” said Smita Satiani, a 2010 graduate of the master of public policy program at USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development. This coming year, she’ll put these words into action as a USC Clinton-Orfalea Fellow working at the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Since 2007, the one-year, post-graduate fellowships have enabled recent graduates from SPPD, the Marshall School of Business and the Gould School of Law to work for the New York-based Clinton Foundation on issues ranging from global climate change to HIV and AIDS in the developing world to childhood obesity. The fellows receive stipends from the Orfalea Family Foundation, a non-profit that funds educational and youth-oriented programs.

Satiani will be working with the Clinton Economic Opportunity Initiative, which strives to increase financial literacy for individuals, promote mentorship programs for entrepreneurs and stimulate businesses in underserved communities. In addition to doing policy-oriented research about economic development on the national level, Satiani will travel to local offices and work directly with underserved populations, including women who are starting their own businesses or trying to increase their financial literacy.

“My interest in working with the Economic Opportunity Initiative really came from my interest in empowering women and underserved communities,” Satiani said.

The daughter of an Indian mother and Pakistani father, Satiani grew up bearing witness to the opportunities her parents received through attending college in the United States and making north Orange County their home. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Satiani majored in criminology and law with the intention of becoming a lawyer, but she became increasingly intrigued by her minors of political science and women’s studies.

“I completed a training to become a certified sexual assault counselor for the state of California and began working with victims on a 24-hour hotline,” she said. “I became really involved in the violence against women movement.”

After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the National Organization for Women, for an anti-sexual assault organization and on Capitol Hill.

“All of these experiences really crystallized my interest and passion for women’s rights and the importance of women’s voices and participation in the world,” she said. “So I came to USC for my MPP because I wanted to gain more insight into the economic effects of social policy, and it really connected everything for me.”

LaVonna Blair Lewis, teaching associate professor at SPPD, considers Satiani “a rare jewel — an advocate for multitudes of people without a voice, intelligent, compassionate and a woman of integrity. She works hard for herself and for the benefit of others.”

Satiani plans to keep up the hard work during her fellowship year and beyond.

“Women’s empowerment and gender policy is the field where I see myself working forever, and it’s become not only a career of mine but a life passion,” she said. “I’m hoping after this, I’ll be able to work at another NGO or the government, or go back to school to get a Ph.D. I’ve dedicated my life to empowering women, and I really believe that no matter where I am or what I do, that’s going to be the focus of my career.”