By Tanya Weliky
Mona Das of Covington, Washington recently announced her plans to run for and win the Democratic nomination for Congresswoman representing Washington state’s 8th Congressional District. Ms. Das’s passion for working for positive change is fueled by the Bernie Sanders movement and the new energy it ignited. She is joining thousands of other first-time candidates across America who are responding to the call to stand up and serve by running for public office.
“I am honored and excited to be running for Congress from the 8th District and to represent voters in both eastern and western Washington. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option. Unlike the current representative, my voice will be powerful and inclusive,” said Ms. Das.
As a young child, Ms. Das immigrated from India to the rust belt of America with her parents who had $6 in their pocket when they arrived. Anchored by values of hard work, perseverance, and a commitment to education, Ms. Das launched her career with international and domestic software companies in the Pacific Northwest. Thirteen years ago she started her own mortgage company and built it into an award-winning lender in 50 states, serving a population of home buyers typically ignored by other lenders.
“My focus in business has been to reach out to underserved homebuyers, to educate them, and to champion their home ownership dreams. As a community leader, I advocate for those who need a strong voice—immigrants, women, and others in our communities who are often overlooked."
"Americans are dissatisfied with government. They want to see more unification, less division. In my travels around the District, I have been hearing that voters have had enough. Enough of absentee leadership. Enough indecisiveness. I am a listener, a consensus-builder, a fighter, and I intend to bring it all to this office on behalf of residents in the 8th District.”
What makes you a Nasty Woman?
I’m an immigrant. I'm a woman of color. I’m a business owner. I'm teeny-tiny at five foot and had to claw and scratch my way to get where I am, and that’s meant never taking no for an answer. I just ask a different question. And now, I'm running for Congress.
Share an experience that shaped your views or helped get you involved in activism.
I'd been thinking about running for a long time. I’ve always been in the service industry or customer service. I’ve always served, that’s just who I am. It literally is, if not me then who? I woke up on November 9th and knew it was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work by working to change Congress.
We know but don’t often say it – we women are often the glue holding our worlds together – having children, managing households, or battling expectations that we “should” _______ fill in the blank. It’s time we see more than just one of five representatives in Congress that are women. I’ve always looked at the House and Senate and never seen people that look like me. The first two Indian women in Congress got there in 2017, and I plan to be right on their heels!
What advice do you have for people who want to help enact change and push progress but don’t know how to get involved?
I know a lot of us woke up on November 9th at a loss and didn’t know what to do. Not everyone can run for office. Find your contribution. Support women who are running for office. Donate, volunteer on campaigns, find out how you can help. If you don’t have money to support candidates and issues you value, consider giving your time – because there are some things money can’t buy.
Another way to support me is to support my business. I employ three other women. If you ever wondered why Congress is full of millionaires, it’s simple: No one pays you to run. Campaigning is very time consuming and there’s no paycheck for it – only a promise to serve.
If you could look into the future, 10 years from now, and see that real progress has been made, what does that look like to you?
It looks a U.S. Congress and Senate that look like the people they represent. It looks like little girls dreaming that they can do whatever they want, and immigrants to this country knowing they are part of our American story.
Share with us a wine favorite. It could be your favorite wine, a favorite moment or memory with wine, or a favorite pairing.
Just like my personality, my favorite wines are bubbly! I love bubbles.
I've had my mortgage business for 13 years, and I started at Pinchot in 2009. Ever since then, I've adopted it into the everyday culture of my business. My experience at Pinchot changed the way I talk to clients, the way I communicate with and manage my team. My team and I now have check-ins at the beginning of every meeting.
When speaking about my experience at Presidio, I always say that it made me a better version of who I already was. It made me a more conscious leader, and a more integrative, collaborative person.
I think this school is ideal for people who are wanting to make change, but are not sure how. I always say we attract people who want to be bad-ass change-makers and realize that learning the language of business and government is critical towards making those changes.
It's for people who are open, it's for people who want community, it's for people who are searching for like-hearted people and a community that they haven't found anywhere else. When I'm recruiting people, I can tell if they are going to be a good fit. If they say they want to go to Wall Street and be an investment banker, then they're not a good fit for us. However, we do have a lot of recovering investment advisors in our community, and they go back to change those financial systems.
So it's really for people who are looking to change the systems that they currently work in or leverage their career to pivot into a new career. I've seen both of those things happen, and in my case, I stayed in the mortgage industry. I thought I would leave it, but I was able to just change how I did business, and now I'm using that as a foundation and a platform to run for Congress.
I've been wanting to run for political office for 12 years, but it's not until I received the leadership foundation from PGS that I could truly propel myself to fulfill my dreams. I am excited that I announced my race for Congress on July 4th, 2017!
My sustainability superpower is personal sustainability. My mantra is to take care of yourself before you can take care of others, and I take that very seriously. I use the analogy of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first. I support others in doing this as well, whether it be exercise, eating differently, taking yourself to the spa, or pampering yourself in whatever way you need.
My other superpower is I am a super connector. I'm a firm believer that if you help others get what they want, you will get what you want. I'm watching that materialize as we speak. I like connecting people to jobs and I'm responsible for two marriages, so there is a pretty wide range of connecting that I do.
Now, I'm seeing the return into my business. 53% of my clients come from the PGS community, and now, as I'm getting ready to run for office, I'd say 90% of my donations so far, have come from this community. The support has also come from people volunteering to knock on doors or make phone calls, but also people who are willing to work on my team. This is also known as, Givers Gain – giving is something that I love to do, and now I am grateful to be receiving more than I could've ever dreamed possible.
That's a great question. All the areas of my life are connected and now I'm very embedded in the sustainability industry. I have a brain that catalogs people, so when people tell me their hopes and dreams, or anything about themselves personally or professionally, I can pull it out when needed. If someone says, "Oh, I really want to connect with somebody who is doing sustainable agriculture in the chocolate field," I immediately know three or four people in that industry to connect them with. I'm a 100% extroverted, people person and I'm all about meeting people and making those connections.
I love connecting people who wouldn't naturally cross paths. The difference between two people is very little. At the end of the day, we're all humans. We're all souls having a human experience and connection is really the way we help each other survive, thrive, and accomplish our dreams. Once you find common ground, you can do a lot together very quickly.
I try to use Presidian businesses as much as I can. I support them and in turn, they have supported me. As I mentioned, 53% of my clients come from the PGS community. I also tend to hang out with a lot of PGS folks in Washington, California, and Oregon. They are friends and part of my everyday life. The photographer that we're going to hire on my campaign is a PGS alum. My campaign strategist is a PGS alum. I really try to make sure they're involved in my community. I think one of the biggest professional advantages for me is I don't have to explain myself, or my values, or why certain things are important to me. I surround myself with people that 'get it.'
Some of the issues I care about deeply are inequality, inequity, women's rights, and the rights of those who are under represented. Anytime someone is not represented, not being considered or their voice is not heard, I am ready to jump into action.
Over the next three to five years I am going to lead with my strengths, and build a team that allows me to do so while supplementing my weaknesses. The reason I know I can run for office is because I've surrounded myself with a fabulous team with extensive experience in fundraising and politics. The three things I know I am really good at, which happen to be really beneficial for being a political candidate are, listening and rallying people around a common goal, networking, and fundraising.
There are also a lot of things that I'm not good at, so I am hiring the right people to help fill out my team, and a lot of those people come from the PGS community. I'm going to tackle running for Congress and I'm really excited about it, and I have the right team to help me win.
When I do a great job, somebody gets a new house. Somebody gets a dream house, someone gets their first house, somebody gets a second home, somebody gets an investment property for their future, or somebody gets to refinance and pull cash out of their equity and use it to leverage either paying off student debt or paying down their high credit cards, putting their kids through college, putting an addition on their home. What I do, and what my team does at MOXYMortgage, is help people leverage their biggest asset, which is their home, to create the life that they are excited about living. And that to me is so fulfilling.
The most fulfilling loan I've ever done was for a PGS alum, named Jason Puracal, who had spent his previous two years before he came to Pinchot University in a jail illegally imprisoned in Nicaragua for two years. He came home after that horrible experience, very positive, and decided to change the world in his way and attend graduate school. When I went to the closing for him, his wife and his children, and we were able to get him the keys to his new home, it was the most rewarding thing I've ever done.
In 2008, as you might remember, that mortgage industry collapsed, and that is the industry that I was in, so I went from making six figures to $30,000 in about one month, and that was pretty devastating. I was looking around and I knew that I wanted to do something different, and what I had come to realize at that time — I was about 37 — is that I could sell anything, and what I needed to do was sell something that I was passionate about and loved.
I started thinking about what I loved and what I cared about, and I realized that I really cared about recycling. I didn't know what that meant at the time, but I really, really cared about recycling. Later I realized that this my entry into sustainability. So I started talking to the right people, and I met a guy who had an employee that went to BGI, and he said, "You should look at BGI," and I remember literally laughing out loud because I never wanted to get an MBA and or any kind of a Masters degree.
I went to Portland's very first Go Green Conference, and I met six people that went to BGI, so when the universe starts to bang me over the head, I listen. I met one of the alums, Brian Setzler, who has a CPA firm, for coffee and I'll never forget asking him, "What didn't you like about the school? You told me all the great things, but what would you change?" He literally thought about it for 30 seconds or so, and then looked at me and said, "Nothing." I just remember the power of him saying "Nothing."
I didn't understand how you could have no criticisms of where you went to school, so I was really touched by that. Once I came to a residency, and I met the community, my heart opened, and I realized that it was the community I had been looking for my whole life.
That's the beauty of this school, if you don't like something we always say, "A complaint equals a commitment," so if there is something that you don't like about the school, then it is in your power to fix it. One of my favorite stories about the school, is when my friend Ram stood up in a circle and said, "Hey, why don't we have a study abroad program?" And the Dean at the time, Scott Schroeder, looked at him and said, "Did I just hear you say you wanted to start the study abroad program?"
Six months later, we had a study abroad program that Ram spearheaded, along with a team of fellow students. Ever since then, they've been traveling and I was fortunate enough to go to Cuba. So I would say that if there is anything that you don't like about the school, that it is in your power to change it.
That is one of the things that I love about going to such a small school. There aren't enough hands; there's not enough staff, there's not enough faculty to do all the things that we want to do, so they give the reins to the students as a learning opportunity.
I learned so much about leadership because when there was something that I wanted to get done, and that I was passionate about, I got to just do it. I learned a lot about being a leader at PGS.
If you resonate with the community, join it. What we always say is, "people come for the MBA and they stay for the community," and I find that to be 100% true. A lot of people want to know what they're going to do with their degree, a lot of people are way more calculated about that stuff than I am. I just knew that once I met the community, I wanted to be a part of it – I had to no matter what the result. This is not the MBA for everyone.
But mainly, I would say, if you want the future change agents and change-makers of the world in your Rolodex then this is your best option. I also will add, that when Pinchot and Presidio started we were the first and second to offer an MBA in sustainable business, and that was a unicorn.
Now many other schools are saying that they offer sustainability and you really do have to peel back the covers to understand what that means and what that looks like. I don't believe that other schools offer this type of community, support, leadership development, and authenticity. I can no longer be inauthentic, it's just not possible for me.
Leadership and Personal Development (LPD) is a track that we take for every quarter we're in school. If you asked 100 Pinchot alums what their top takeaway is, 99 of them will say LPD. It is the core tenet of the founders of Pinchot/BGI, Gifford and Libba Pinchot, that in order to be a true and effective leader, you have to know yourself.
What we teach is to take the baggage that we've been sweeping under the rug for decades, open up the rug, pull the baggage out, and then work to understand why it's there, when it showed up, and if it is still serving you. Often these things were developed in childhood, early adolescence, or as teenagers – even when they are no longer serving us, we still cling to them. It's allowed me to let go of the things that are no longer serving me and really become the person I am meant to be.
I'm not saying I'm perfect because I certainly am not, but it's allowed me to learn how to overcome my fears and how to overcome the obstacles that have been placed in front of me in the 45 years that I've been on earth. What I always say about our school and what we learned, is that LPD is the gift that keeps on giving. When you think you figured out a new thing that's holding you back or making you fearful, something else will pop up. But what I gained from PGS, were the tools to quickly figure out what those are and move past them. I'm no longer stuck in inertia or fear. And if I become stuck, I now have the tools to continue to propel me forward.
Yes, Mary Kay Chess was instrumental in my education along with Gifford and Libba Pinchot, and Jill Bamburg. I valued their openness and ability to lean in with their whole hearts to the program and the students. Mary Kay was my LPD teacher and she really fostered our growth and learning. She supported us 100% as we failed, and as we succeeded. The other thing that we learned is to fail fast and to iterate quickly – we did a lot of that.
We evolved and focused on our own personal missions and I always felt very supported. Simon Goland and Lisa Capa were also big influences in my life. As I now do work for and fundraise for the school these professors have become my peers and I cannot thank them enough for the transition that's happened to me since I met them.
Tanya Weliky is the Director of Marketing for Presidio Graduate School.
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