Amanda Koonjbeharry2021 Rising Alumni

Amanda Koonjbeharry

Amanda Koonjbeharry is director of public policy for the Citizens League (CL), a nonpartisan nonprofit that empowers Minnesotans to engage in civic life and public policy. She is focused on CL’s long-term goals to better serve aging populations, recruit and retain skilled workers, and partner with all levels of government. She also oversees civic leadership efforts to engage people from different backgrounds, parties, and ideologies. Previously, she led Hennepin County’s No Wrong Door program and co-chaired a statewide committee that supported sexual exploitation victim services, outreach, and enforcement in advance of Super Bowl LII. A second-generation American Guyanese, Amanda grew up in Savage and understands the difficulties individuals may encounter embracing their inner worth. Overcoming domestic violence, racism, and sexism fueled her passion for social justice, equity, and diversity in our communities.

Current Job

Director of Public Policy, Citizens League

CEHD Degree

Bachelors of Science - Family Social Science, Masters of Social Work (School of Social Work U of M), Masters of Public Policy (Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs)

Please list any professional accomplishments you wish to mention.

I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Family Social Science at the age of 19. This was a huge accomplishment for me as I was the first person in my family to obtain a four year degree and the first person in my family to obtain two master’s degrees. Some of my most notable professional accomplishments are:

What is your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

There are so many great memories that I have at the U of M but my favorite memory is of the Jazz Man! I would ride his connector bus from one campus to the other and his energy, enthusiasm, and love for what he did just made my day.

What was the impact and benefit of your educational experience in CEHD?

I’ll never forget my orientation day – I had done PSEO during high school so when it was time to register for classes at the U of M I had to declare my major that day. I knew from a young age that I wanted to serve my community and give back but being the first person in my family to go to a University I didn’t know what my options were, or what the right path was for me to be able to do that. I remember reading about the Family Social Science program and thinking “yes” this aligns, this is exactly where I need to be, and it was the best decision I made because that program laid the foundation for everything I’ve done since.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

Relationship building and nurturing – relationships are everything. I could not have accomplished anything in my career or life without others. However, relationship building is only one step, being able to authentically nurture relationships is what really matters - really taking time to get to know people, being genuinely interested in who they are, and understanding what they care about is critical to creating change.

Empathy – Being able to understand someone else’s experience and applying that understanding to policies, systems, and other levers of change is critical.

Flexibility – Things are changing all the time and new information is being shared constantly – it’s important to be flexible in your thinking (it’s ok to change your mind, especially once you get new information), to sit in the ‘grey area’, and to be able to hold multiple truths at once.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

I love going for walks around my neighborhood and listening to music. I’ll often turn on music between meetings – it’s such an important practice to nurture my soul and mind, especially during long days.

How do you describe yourself?

I describe myself as loving, joyful, diplomatic, strategic, thoughtful/intentional, and compassionate.

What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

This question was too hard to answer, so I’m sharing several books that are top ones for me: Becoming - Michelle Obama; Untamed - Glennon Doyle; It's Okay to Laugh: (Crying Is Cool Too) - Nora McInerny Purmort; Born a Crime - Trevor Noah; Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates; Decolonizing Wealth - Edgar Villanueva

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

Maya Angelou – she is a symbol of resilience, of not letting others define you by your trauma or past, she is a true inspiration and icon, and I am so grateful for the gifts she’s left us all.

What gets you excited about work?

I get really excited when I’m able to dream big, create without boundaries, and innovate with others.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My ancestry goes back to India so I grew up watching a lot of Bollywood movies and because my passion is Indian dancing (classical and Bollywood) which there is a ton of dancing in Bollywood movies, I wanted to be an actress in Bollywood movies!