It’s very rare to meet someone who exudes positivity, confidence, and class simultaneously. This week, I had the chance to speak with Emerge Vermont alumna Kanika Gandhi for our Friday Feature. We spoke via car-bluetooth as she moved herself to Vermont’s state capital after a moving company cancelled on her last minute. Even in this most stressful of situations, Kanika gave me her undivided attention as I learned a little bit about the outstanding work she’s done in her professional career and with Emerge Vermont.
Although Kanika entered Brown University as a Biomedical Engineering major, a semester abroad in Italy her sophomore year completely opened her eyes to a new path in policy and politics. The town and people of Bologna proved to be very politically engaged, and Kanika’s time there led her to finding new passions: activism and public policy. She listened to her gut and changed her major to a double major in Public Policy and Italian. It was that following summer when Kanika fell in love with the state of Vermont. Spending the summer in Vermont opened her eyes to people and values that she had never experienced in Manhattan—the city she grew up in. After completing her studies in Brown’s undergraduate program, Kanika continued at Brown to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Affairs with a particular attention to food systems and nutrition. Her many passions proved to be beneficial, and she quickly found herself employed by the Federal Trade Commision as a policy specialist in Washington D.C. While her work with federal policy was a great career start, Kanika describes the next job she was offered as her “dream job.” Her position at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in D.C. was a seamless combination of her interests in public policy, activism, and food systems. However, after two years at that job working on the federal Farm Bill, Kanika couldn’t shake the feelings she had for the state of Vermont. Following this instinct, she packed up her things and moved from Washington, D.C. to northern Vermont. She had remote research work lined up with a former professor, and soon after was offered a position as a lobbyist for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). It was through this job when she first got involved with local and statewide politics. Getting exposure to legislative sessions and working with state legislators helped her to learn more about how the system works and the work that’s being done to make Vermont a better place. She was the Clean Energy and Environmental Advocate at VPIRG from 2018 until just two weeks ago, when Kanika started a new job as the State’s Pesticide Program Director at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture (VAAFM). With a passion for farming and agriculture, Kanika is ecstatic to work with Vermont farmers and be a representative in regulatory and legislative work.
Kanika is a graduate of Emerge’s 2020 signature program, and she credits her introduction to the organization to one of our board members, Shaina Kasper. Shaina is the State Director of the Toxics Action Center, and the organization shares some of its work space with VPIRG. The two became acquainted when Kanika was working at VPIRG, and Shaina knew Kanika had the desire to run for office one day. Kanika had also heard a number of praises about the program from elected officials, like Kathleen James, who had been through the program themselves. She embarked on the six month long signature program, and in February of 2020 completed her training. I asked Kanika about some of her most valuable takeaways from the program and she kept going back to one common theme: the Emerge network. In addition to the great friendships she’s solidified over the past few months, Kanika talked about a support system from her fellow Emerge alumnae that follows her outside of the training program. She admits that seeing familiar faces at the Statehouse and connecting with women about a shared Emerge experience gives her a sense of belonging to a sort of “women’s club.” The sort of training the women go through together is unique to Emerge, so being surrounded by Emerge alumnae—even if she doesn’t know them personally—gives Kanika the feeling of being part of something bigger than herself. This is a common theme I’ve heard as I continue to do the Friday Feature, but I think it’s a testament to how strong a women’s network can be. A sort of invisible common thread among Emerge alumnae gives them an extra boost of confidence which can make an impactful difference when it comes to running for office. As for Kanika, she has her eyes set on running one day, she’s just waiting until the timing is right. She hopes to hold some sort of statewide position, and she knows that when the day comes, she’ll have nothing but support from her Emerge sisterhood. As her close friend Molly Gray continues with her campaign for Lieutenant Governor, she’s seen countless Emerge alumnae supporting her on the campaign trail. Kanika is confident that when her time is right, she will see the same kind of support.
We wrapped up our conversation by talking about the elephant in the room—COVID-19. Kanika and I agreed that during times of crisis, we tend to see the flaws and cracks in our society. These flaws become even more apparent from the current administration in the White House. We agreed that during these times, the need for women leadership becomes very clear. Speaking from personal experience and recent conversations, Kanika admits that there is a notable difference in the way that women approach times of crisis. Women focus on how we can fight the virus as a unified group rather than taking the individualistic, “every-man for himself” approach. The feminine energy that is applied during situations like this is very loving and communal, and we as a society need the level-headedness that comes from female leadership in order to get through this. It is programs like Emerge and people like Kanika who can give us that. Reflecting back on our conversation, I am still in awe of Kanika’s ability to make someone feel so comfortable and listened to. In the midst of a moving-crisis, Kanika still made the time to speak with me as she moved herself across the state. As I mentioned before, Kanika is someone who is poised while still being relatable, confident without being cocky, and positive while still being a realist. As she’s already demonstrated in her impressive professional career, I know Kanika will continue to do amazing things for the state of Vermont in more ways than one.
Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.