Sonal Shah (economist)

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Sonal Shah
Born (1968-05-20) May 20, 1968 (age 50)
Mumbai, India
Nationality United States
Education Economist
Alma mater University of Chicago,B.A.
Duke University Masters
Employer White House
Known for Promoting private sector philanthropy
Title Director of Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation
Term April 2009
Predecessor none
Political party Democratic
Awards Henry Crown Fellowship Aspen Institute (2006)
Next Generation Fellow, The American Assembly, Columbia University (2007)
India Abroad Person of the Year (2003)

Sonal R. Shah (born May 20, 1968), is an American economist and public official. From April 2009 to August 2011, she served as the Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House.[1][2]

Shah is the founding executive director of the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University.[3] Previously, Shah was a member of the Obama-Biden Transition Project and was the head of Global Development Initiatives, a philanthropic arm of[4]

Early years and education[edit]

Sonal Shah was born in Mumbai, India. She moved to the USA in 1972 at the age of 4, and grew up in Houston, Texas.[5] She graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in Economics in 1990 and received a master's degree in Economics from Duke University.[6]


Public service[edit]

Shah held a variety of U.S. Department of Treasury positions from 1995 until 2001. She was the director of the office overseeing strategy and programs for sub-Saharan Africa, which included debt relief, development programs and World Bank/International Monetary Fund strategies. She worked with the Ministries of Finance in Bosnia and Kosovo to design the post-war banking system. During the Asian financial crisis, she served as a senior adviser to U.S. Treasury officials who were coordinating the U.S. response.[7]

Private sector[edit]

From 2001-2003, Shah served at the Center for Global Development as Director of Operations and Programs, helping set up all aspects of the strategy, infrastructure and operations.[4]

From 2003-2004, she worked at the Center for American Progress as an Associate Director, advising current and former Congressional and government executives on a wide variety of issues including trade, outsourcing and post-conflict reconstruction.[8]

In 2004, Shah joined Goldman Sachs as a Vice President, focusing on their environmental strategy and implementation. She worked on green initiatives, which included informing clients and bankers on alternative energy opportunities and advising them on how to implement environmental, social and governance criteria for all investments.[9]

In 2007, Shah joined as the head of Global Development Initiatives, and worked closely with Executive Director Larry Brilliant in guiding global economic development efforts.[10] She also worked extensively on the growth of small and medium sized enterprises in partnership with the Omidyar Network and the Soros Foundation.[11]

Return to public service[edit]

On April 2009, Shah was appointed director of the newly created White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.[12] The objective of this office is to coordinate governmental efforts to aid innovative nonprofit groups and social entrepreneurs to address pressing social problems.[13] Shah is also working with the National Security Council to bring a global perspective to these efforts.[12]

Hindu activism[edit]

In 2001, Shah worked with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) of America, a Hindu organization, as the National Coordinator during the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.[14] Later that year she co-founded the non-religious, non-profit Indicorps which recruits young people of Indian origin from all over the world to volunteer in India working for Indian NGOs.[15] Indicorps volunteers have worked in the areas of education, health and sanitation, rural development, tsunami relief, and microfinance.[16] She gave the key note address for the Ekal Vidyala Foundation of USA in 2004, talking about her work with Indicorps. When she was appointed to the President Obama's transition team, RSS and VHP leaders issued a statement calling her a "proud member of the VHP, the daughter of Ramesh Shah, a very senior VHP leader."[17] After her appointment to Obama's team, Shah disassociated herself from the VHP and condemned its role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.[18]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Papers and articles[edit]

  • Guiding Principles and Design of the MCA[22]
  • Trading Views[23]
  • Served on Commission for Weak States and National Security, Center for Global Development.[24]
  • Social Finance: A Primer, Center for American Progress[25]


  1. ^ Springer, Richard." Sonal Shah Heads Obama’s Office of Social Innovation" Archived April 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., "", accessed August 3, 2009.
  2. ^ Perry, Suzanne."Leader to Step Down From White House Social-Innovation Office", "", accessed May 5, 2012.
  3. ^ New Social Impact and Innovation Center Funded With $10 Million Gift, February 10th, 2014
  4. ^ a b People Sonal Shah."Sonal works for Global Development" Archived April 19, 2013, at, "", accessed August 3, 2009.
  5. ^ Indiacorps publication."India Abroad" Archived August 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., December 19, 2003.
  6. ^ Bahree, Megha."Offshoring Aid", ", May 8, 2006, accessed August 3, 2009.
  7. ^ Lecture Series on South Asia."Sonal Shah, Founder of Indicorps and Anuja Khemka ’02", Watson Institute for International Studies, "", February 1, 2007, accessed August 3, 2009.
  8. ^ Thaindian News."Obama picks Indian American Sonal Shah as adviser", "", November 7, 2008, accessed August 3, 2009.
  9. ^ Ferdinand, Andrea."Goldman Sachs VP Says Corporate Responsibility Part of Strategic Plan" Archived October 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., McCombs School of Business, Univ. of Texas at Austin, November 7, 2006,accessed August 3, 2009.
  10. ^ Brilliant, Larry."New team members for", "The Official Google Blog", April 6, 2007, accessed August 3, 2009.
  11. ^ "Sonal Shah's Resume", "", January 30, 2009, accessed August 5, 2009.
  12. ^ a b Global Philanthropy Forum."White House Social Innovation Office to Have Three Goals", The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "", accessed August 3, 2009.
  13. ^ PTI Houston."Sonal Shah to head Social Innovation Office in Obama administration", "", April 23, 2009, accessed August 3, 2009.
  14. ^ VHPA Update."Service To Humanity Is Service To God", "vhp-america", February 3, 2001, accessed August 3, 2009.
  15. ^ Indicorps."Program Overview","", accessed August 3, 2009.
  16. ^ Indicorps."Our Projects", "", accessed August 3, 2009.
  17. ^ Prashad, Vijay (2012). Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today. The New Press. ISBN 1595588019. 
  18. ^ Sonal Shah renounces VHP affiliation, The Hindu, 12 December 2008.
  19. ^ 2006 Great Xpectations Class."Henry Crown Fellowship List of Fellows", "",accessed August 3, 2009.
  20. ^ National Assembly."Opening panel speech", "", May 16, 2006
  21. ^ India Abroad."Person of the Year 2003","", accessed August 3, 2009.
  22. ^ Center for Global Development. "Guiding Principles for Design and Implementation of the MCA
  23. ^ Podesta, John."Trading Views", Center for American Progress, 2004
  24. ^ Commission Report."On the Brink: Weak States and National Security Center for Global Development, June 2004, accessed August 3, 2009.
  25. ^ Social Finance: A Primer, Center for American Progress, November 5th, 2013