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Podcast: Equity and Engagement with Manisha Paudel, Des Moines, IA

Posted on September 15, 2020


Manisha Paudel - GovLove

Manisha Paudel

Manisha Paudel
Equity Coordinator
City of Des Moines, Iowa
LinkedIn | Twitter


Inequity eliminator. Manisha Paudel, Equity Coordinator for the City of Des Moines, Iowa, joined the podcast to talk about implementing racial equity work and engaging with the community. She shared her career path doing equity and engagement work as well as how she works to normalize racial equity concepts and identify inequities in the City.

Host: Ben Kittelson

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Episode Transcript

Message

You can register right now for the ELGL Oktoberfest. ELGLs annual conference will be entirely digital this year. And to help avoid that Zoom burnout, we spread the conference out over the whole month of October, you know, hence the Oktoberfest theme. We have sessions on Equity and Anti Racism, Efficiency and Happiness plus two summits on Creative Placemaking and Innovation and Strategy. To get you even more excited, here are a couple of our amazing speakers. Amethyst Sloane from the City of Fort Worth, Texas for joining us, Mariel Beasley from Common Cents Lab, Ashley Traynum from the City of Asheville are all speaking. The best thing about this digital conference is that you can customize your registration and pick the sessions that either you’re most interested in or work best for your schedule. You can learn more at the ELGL website and register for the best conference of the year by going to ELGL20.org. That’s ELGL20.org to learn more.

Ben Kittelson

Hey ya’ll. This is GovLove, a podcast about local government brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittelson, consultant at the Novak Consulting Group and GovLove co-host. We’ve got a great episode for you today. We’re going to talk equity in local government and we’re going to take a trip to Des Moines, Iowa. Before we get into today’s episode, just a reminder that the ELGL annual conference is coming up. We did reschedule it to October and it will be a full month of events, digital events. We are calling it ELGL Octoberfest. One great way to support GovLove is by becoming an ELGL member and attending ELGL events. ELGL is all about engaging the brightest minds in local government. GovLove is also looking for your feedback. You can go to govlovesurvey.com to tell us a little about you and what you think about the podcast. Knowing more about you helps us make GovLove better. That’s GovLovesurvey.com. Now, let me introduce today’s guest. Manisha Paudel is the Equity Coordinator for the City of Des Moines, Iowa, also known as the inequity eliminator. She’s been in that position for almost three years and prior to taking on her current role, she worked as a Senior Policy Analyst for the City of Tacoma, Washington, and previously in the City of Dubuque and the City of Davenport, both in Iowa. She works to help the city develop strategies to advance and promote equity in local government, as well as establish and strengthen relationships with community members and organizational partners. With that, Manisha welcome to GovLove. Thank you so much for joining us.

Manisha Paudel

Thank you so much for having me Ben. Appreciate it.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. So we have a little bit of a tradition on GovLove to help our guests get warmed up and get to know you a little better. So we’ve got a lightning round with some more personal questions for you. So my first one that I that I need to know about, what book are you reading?

Manisha Paudel

Um, you know, I am not the greatest book reader. But I also have a dream of writing a book. [Laughter] So my good friend, Stephanie sent me a book called Good Talk. It’s by Mira Jacob. Umm, it’s a graphic memoir of her conversation with her son, you know, talks about a lot of issues, including being a first generation American and it’s very close to my heart, to my experience. So that’s what I’m sort of, you know, flipping through the pages because it’s a it’s like a comic book, but, but a lot of context and content and in depth. And it’s funny, so I highly recommend if anybody’s looking for a good book.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. Since you mentioned it, what what do you want to write a book about?

Manisha Paudel

My experience about how I’ve successfully and unsuccessfully navigated stereotypes. Its tough being a brown immigrant, female, in the Western world. The book is going to be called the Walking Curry. Being a South Asian person, you know, the stereotype is, you know, curry means, right, like chicken curry or whatnot. And there’s been a lot that I’ve dealt with as a kid and even as an adult now and I hope that I can take it. Hopefully it will be similar to Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. That’s the inspiration I’m going with. But it will be mostly about navigating stereotypes and, and how I’m still learning to do that.

Ben Kittelson

Very cool. All right, so my next question for you. Are you watching or bingeing any TV right now?

Manisha Paudel

Um, after a long hiatus, we hadn’t watched TV, just finished the Indian Matchmaking series on Netflix. [Laughter] Recognizing that I’ve internalized patriarchy to a whole different level than I thought I did. And, you know, I was born in Nepal, which is just a bordering country of India. And there’s a lot of similarities and a lot that I was familiar with, in terms of arranged marriages. But you know, I don’t want to give you a review of that. But I did binge watch that that all eight episodes.

Ben Kittelson

It’s very entertaining. [Laughter] My wife and I have been watching that too.

Manisha Paudel

Oh, yeah.

Ben Kittelson

All right. What was the first concert that you went to?

Manisha Paudel

Um, I don’t, it’s it’s funny. I don’t remember. So I’ve not gone to like a massive concert with hundreds of people. The one that I can remember, from 2015 I think was, it’s a band from I believe they’re from South Africa. It’s called Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, or maybe they are from Sierra Leone. And they had a very small concert in Chicago, and I went to that one, just because that’s the only one that I can remember. And I have not been to a concert like intentionally purchased tickets and went to a concert since then.

Ben Kittelson

Oh wow. Ok. My last lightning round question for you, where do you go for inspiration?

Manisha Paudel

I’m out in the nature, I love to go on hikes. And also, you know, where children are, not in a creepy way, just you know, I I am very inspired and constantly motivated when I see children and their curiosity for the world and the world that I want to create for them, or contribute to creating for them. I’m very much inspired by both nature and children.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. All right. So we, you’ve given us a little bit of your background and I gave a little bit bio kind of at the beginning. But I’m curious, how did you end up in local government? What was kind of your career path to the position you’re in today?

Manisha Paudel

It was very accidental. I had an I did not want, I did not see myself working in local government. I didn’t know people that looked like me. Or I didn’t even understand local government. Government to me was just federal government, or DMV. As you know, in grad school, I went to grad school in at DePaul University in Chicago. And one of my projects was to work with Chicago Fire Department for their strategic planning. And that’s when I learned the amount of involvement just fire department had other than putting out fires and how local government operated and after that really gave me a interest in learning more about local government. I still didn’t see that as a career. I wanted to work internationally. I did have some experience with UNICEF. And that was the path that I thought I had to I wanted to take. But for personal and family reasons I was back in the US. And as I was looking for opportunities, I found one at City of Davenport in their Parks and Recreation Department and for doing a management accreditation work, which was very much about that is, you know, internal operations and accountability and transparency, meeting, engaging with the community. And I felt that this you know, passion of mine wanting to work for the UN or human rights and then blending that to the local government and seeing how human rights at home is just as important. I started to sort of feel that my passion my passion really is in local government and in local policies and practices. So, yeah 2012 was really when I accidentally ended up in local government and have loved it ever since.

Ben Kittelson

So was there something in that in that first job that was like that was scratching the itch that you thought you would get from doing kind of international work or like, I don’t know, if there’s an example or something that you got to work on that was like this, I can do what I’m interested in, you know, at the local level for cities and, and rather than having to go, you know, to the UN or something?

Manisha Paudel

Yeah, yeah, I, I mean, one was, I was kind of confined to, you know, I was limited to just being in the country. So that sort of created that narrowed my path a little bit, knowing that I have, you know, I had to live in Iowa for the time being. But then this idea of wanting to create capacity within a community, ensuring that people are not constantly reliant on government or reliant on this, another big, you know, party or the specialist to really survive and to achieve their full potential, I felt that the role that I was in, didn’t necessarily have that direct interaction with people. But I felt local government did have a lot of influence over the quality of life and the way people access opportunities and resources within their community. So the more I learned about the influence local government had, I began to recognize the power that I had, even as an entry level staff at the time to really listen, recognize and also utilize my position to, I don’t want to say human rights, bring human rights at home, but to a degree, ensure that people had this in at the time equal access to what was available. Because there was, it was very clear that a lot of people that were used to like utilizing the Parks and Recreation system, were Caucasian, middle class, well connected in the city, well connected with some of the leaders in the city. And so seeing that and knowing my own experience and people that I was connected with not you know, they didn’t even rent a park facility for birthday parties, for example, knowing that it was only $25. They would go book a venue at a hotel and pay a lot more money, just because they didn’t have that information. I think those, some of those personal experience as well as seeing what I was seeing in terms of who was accessing services and who was not, really gave me the inspiration and motivation to work in local government and not just in parks and recreation department. I wanted to, you know, be more organization wide involved, or, in this case, city wide.

Ben Kittelson

Well, that’s a really good point. Like your city or your organization could be providing a great quality of life, but not everybody, if not everybody is accessing it, then it’s not, it’s not as good as a quality of life as it could be. Right?

Manisha Paudel

Exactly. Mm hmm.

Ben Kittelson

So I want to talk about your current position, but I know you spent some time doing maybe this is being presumptive on my part, but similar work at Dubuque and Tacoma. So, can you talk a little about your roles there and kind of what what you guys work on? And it sounded like it was a human rights department in the City of Dubuque.

Manisha Paudel

Yes. Yeah, so, um, so in Dubuque, you know, it was human rights department. So that was closest to what I wanted to do, you know. The global human rights. It’s definitely different. This was it’s a human rights. It’s named human rights, but it’s a civil rights agency looking at complaints of discrimination and investigating that. Although when I went to Dubuque, the department was transforming into becoming more proactive and really look in preventing discrimination from even occurring. So my role as a human relations specialist there was to build, you know, sustainable relationship in the community, whether it was with individuals or groups, primarily historically marginalized groups. You know, when when I say that, there it was the immigrant refugee groups, the LGBTQ plus community, the communities that didn’t have access to resources already, or they were in neighborhoods that did not receive enough resources, black and brown communities, the Marshalese community there and other business partners, to really not just identify needs, but also bring that information to the city to say, hey, do we need to make any modification or adjustment in the services we provide because we’re still, we spend time, money and resources to create and offer services to our residents. We want to make sure that they’re fully enjoying that. Otherwise, it’s just a waste waste of your resource, right? So focus heavily on that relationship building and sort of dismantling the apathy that existed in the community. And I also got very involved in the equity profile effort that City of Dubuque at the time was going through, which is when I began to learn more about equity, racial equity and what it means for government to lead the work of equity. And then, so then when I went to Tacoma, that I actually got to see that in action, whether it was workforce equity, you know, creating an immigrant task force into a commission, because Tacoma Washington actually has one of the immigration detention facilities. So there’s a lot of challenges and issues of you know, the city having you know, the Immigration Detention Facility being on the city limits. And so the idea of, you know, oftentimes when we talk about immigration, or immigrants, it’s mostly language access issues, right. But in Tacoma, I really had to learn more about how these community groups are advocating, and really making systemic changes. So I got invested more into the equity and institutionalization of equity within local government, in Tacoma during my time there and looking at policies and practices and really, in bringing everyone together to make those changes versus being that one person, you know, making policy recommendations or advising on policy changes, that what I learned and what I was able to do was hat you know, work with a group of people that were invested in learning and being curious and seeing how to do things differently, just so that the outcomes were equitable across the board. So very similar but more progressive in terms of my own learning and ability to navigate equity within local government.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. So, because I think we often hear from, you know, the King County’s and the Multnomah County, the Tacomas of the world about kind of this this issue, and then they are like, you know, further along maybe on the continuum or the timeline for kind of equity work. How, like, how would you kind of maybe compare the work you did in Dubuque, and in your current role, with kind of where Tacoma is at? Is it like, you know, we’re kind of getting started and getting everything kind of set up, or is it is it or I guess, yeah, I don’t want to put words in the mouth, but like, what, what how would you compare maybe, you know, these organizations we’ve heard a lot about versus maybe the cities in Iowa that are less nationally known for kind of racial equity work?

Manisha Paudel

Yeah, I think you know, we’re still at the normalizing phase and I’m very comfortable being there. I think we do want to make sure that we’re not trying to compete and be, I don’t want to say compete, but like sort of be where King counties and Asheville North Carolina’s of the world are or even Tacoma right. But where Iowa, we are at the normalizing stage and I also want to recognize the culture of Iowa Midwest, you know, everybody’s nice, everybody wants to not be seen as a bad guy. But then you know, it’s hard to say hey, our system is not the best, so you did change it. You don’t have that conversation. What you say is, and then the language I’ve been using around this is continuous improvement. Yeah, we’re you know, we’ve done great but there’s so much better that we can do and reason why I put the inequity eliminator in my title is because it’s the inequities that we’re eliminating, you know, coordinating equity is next step. So right now it is really about even saying, you know, my role initially was created with a lot of that relationship building, connecting with the community, ensuring, you know, maintaining sort of that good relationship and, and somewhat making some changes internally and then it’s over time, and by now, there’s a lot of internal work that we’re doing. There’s a lot of self assessment that we, we when I say we, the City of Des Moines is beginning to look at it and recognizing, you know, saying, well, you know, as you can be, you can, you can, I’m not a good singer, but I’m really good at identifying who’s bad. Right. So now what I’m saying, wait a minute, are you how good I was singer, are you? Um, so that we’re at that stage of normalizing and saying, okay, well, I just suck at singing and I’m not that great. And so let me see what my talents are and how I can improve on that. I just use a lot of metaphor. So

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. Alright. [Laughter]

Manisha Paudel

Self Assessment. So I wouldn’t say where were the other cities are at. But I also, you know, the challenge I have here is, as we get introduced to this, folks do want to move pretty fast, saying that we don’t know, we can’t wait any longer, which I totally understand. I mean, like of many people I too want to get to where other cities are at or other counties are at, but we’ve got to be effective you know where we go. And then make sure that we’re going without causing too much damage or too much unintended consequences on the community that we’re trying to serve.

Ben Kittelson

Well, and you kind of touched on a little bit but but in your role in Des Moines, and maybe maybe it’s not just your role, but kind of your whole office, what’s the balance between engaging with the community and working on maybe external equity issues versus taking a look at kind of internal and you know, at the city’s processes or at the city, how the city does business? What’s kind of that that split of of the work?

Manisha Paudel

Yeah, so I right now I’m housed in the Civil and Human Rights department, which traditionally and still does, you know, receives complaints of discrimination in the community based on protected class and then investigates that. So then my arm of the department is to do the work of equity. But, you know, as, like I said, like, so it’s transformed a little bit. So I would say, my time is probably 50% internal, you know, working with internal either internal committees or we have an internal equity core team. You know, that’s made up of all departments across the city organization, to really look at it, okay. Why does it matter for the legal department to be involved in this conversation as much as it is important for Parks and Recreation. Um, so that’s so that’s the 50% and the other 50% is, you know, the external and when I say external inequities, it’s still we’re still not at the stage of creating an equity profile or doing a sort of a mapping of inequities in the community. We’re still at the normalizing stage, participating in several committees, conversation, especially now with the pandemic, about, you know, as we’re talking about access to food, for example, right, that and the conversations that’s coming up about equity is how much longer? What does it mean to continuously provide, you know, a can of beans to a family in a family that maybe does not want beans and maybe wants a bag of rice? And what does that mean for them to continue to rely on food bank for a source of food. Is there a way that they could actually be receive other assistance or opportunities for learning or access to digital device and internet so that they can achieve their full potential, right, that’s the definition of equity for us is give access to resources and opportunities for people so that they can make that decision on their own while also supporting in the meantime, to provide rapid response and, and basic needs. So that’s, I would say, more of the 50% of my effort and involvement on the outside. And there’s some policy changes that we’re trying to implement internally that’s sort of guided by the community or proposed by the community. And then now we’re having internal conversation about what what does it mean to have a language access? What does it mean to have a workforce equity? And how do we make that happen? You know, when I say workforce equity involves several departments, if not all, to really think about what does this look like? What do we do about it? How much money does it cost? Who’s going to lead it? So, we’re at that stage of figuring things out.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah. It sounds like you’re, you’re drawing on those, like skills and experience of doing kind of engagement in your previous roles. I know, when I was kind of doing a little research for this interview that like you had done that work kind of in other roles and so you’re you’re having to kind of lean on that skill set to normalize this conversation in the community and then kind of learn about issues maybe that the city can enroll in or help address. Is that fair?

Manisha Paudel

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. Well, and and I know your position is pretty new at the city. Do you know at all like what led to the creation of it or kind of what what kind of got this this work started in Des Moines?

Manisha Paudel

Um, yes. So I you know, I do have to give, I mean, it is the department so the department. I’m sorry when I say department, Civil and Human Rights department, when it was, when it hired the new director, Joshua Barr, he, I believe went around different cities in the in the state to see you know how they operated the efforts that they were taking, which I commend that approach. And he came across my former role in Dubuque, and said, hey, we need that position here in Des Moines. So he advocated to create that equity coordinator role here in Des Moines. And I was in Tacoma at the time and I was already planning and moving back to Iowa for family. So my, my role when it was created was heavily focused on what my former role in Dubuque was, which was, you know, community focus, really work with build that relationship in the community, identify issues and, you know, hold dialogues and then you know, that cool community engagement basically. And then bring that back to the organization. So that was the creation process, I believe that started in 2016 and was formalized in 2017.

Ben Kittelson

What are some of those, like external, like either issues or kind of like topic areas that you are engaging the community on or kind of bringing the city to the table?

Manisha Paudel

So nothing, nothing significant recently, and I say not because it’s not happening. I think I’ve personally not been involved in community engagement efforts as much, obviously, because of the pandemic. But…

Ben Kittelson

Even like your time since you started.

Manisha Paudel

Yeah, yeah. I think as a, as a team, what we’ve worked on is, we actually went through a dialogue a deliberative dialogue process at the city called bridging the gap. And, you know, engage community members along with other stakeholders, influencers and decision makers, to identify solutions or ways to address issues that they’ve, that everybody’s aware of. Everybody knows that there is a, you know, there’s there are barriers, or people did not spend too much time on defining or, you know, explaining what the issues were. They were focused more on coming up with solutions or ideas to address the issue. So for example, you know, one of the groups talked heavily on the lack of representation, demographic representation of the city’s workforce. So their idea was to say, hey, you need to have a plan, so that you can begin to increase that representation in the city. You know, start with a better recruitment process, hire staff that are bilingual or multilingual. So that was the engagement process that we’ve spent over a year, planning and then also engaging conversations. And then we actually brought the participants and other community members back to vote and prioritize some of the suggestions that they had. We had over 200 suggestions, and then narrowed that down to nine. And asked community members to prioritize those. So that was probably the most extensive version of the community engagement work. But other than that, you know, I guess I shouldn’t say nothing’s happened now. I do sit on a lot of virtual calls where, you know, depending on which group is talking there, they’re really highlighting and lifting up some of the issues that they’re facing. So right now, you know, I don’t know if you’ve heard about the meatpacking factory issues here in Iowa. So some of the calls I sit on don’t even pertain just to Des Moines as a statewide issue. So then those, you know, issues that come up in these conversations, you know, I do my best to bring that to the city’s leadership or other folks that may be able to address that. So right now the engagement has been heavily on that listening part. I don’t know if you are familiar with the IAP2 spectrum, but that listen portion of the spectrum is really at play right now. And I feel like that has been helpful. Otherwise, we don’t really have solutions necessarily necessarily to even work with or consult with the community members on. So, that’s yeah, I would say that’s really it. The level of listening portion of the communication that I honestly have not done previously to a degree that I’m doing right now.

Ben Kittelson

So what is the like what is the the meat packing issue and kind of what do you do when you when you’re kind of listening at that and how do you how do you like keep your you know, you your bosses in the city kind of engaged in that that, I don’t know, problem issue area?

Manisha Paudel

Yeah. Um so you know lack of proper use of PPE or in the Meatpacking factories or workers being required to show up or being threatened to lose their job and a lot of these workers are immigrants or refugees. There’s that language barrier if there are safety, I don’t know what you call it, the safety procedure or protocols. They’re mostly displayed in English and a lot of the workers are you know, they don’t speak English as their primary language. So they don’t have access to that information to be safe, still getting that five minute or 10 minute bathroom breaks when they have all of the PPE gear gear, right. So there are a lot of internal operational issues that came up in these conversations. So you know, when you think about, you can’t quite think of what what is the city going to do about it. But then what the way I process that is, so these individuals are now coming home, they’ve potentially contracted the virus or are dealing in or working in environments that’s not safe for them, resulting in maybe spreading the virus within their homes. Now think of you know, someone’s working in a meatpacking factory factory. We can’t assume that they live in a four bedroom, five bedroom house with a big yard space, right? So they’re probably confined to a smaller space, if they are, especially within the refugee communities. So if they are sick at any point, you know, they don’t have a place to isolate. They may not have that extra bedroom, and if they are sick and at home and if they’re the primary source of income for home, where’s the family going to get food and other resources from you know, how are they paying their rent? What are children going to do? And so then that becomes a city specific issue because some of these workers may not work at a factory here in Des Moines, but they live here or they have family members that live here. So then that information is what gets shared with the leadership to think about, you know, as we get funding from either the state or the federal government, where are we doing the food distribution? Or who which organizations are we supporting to further support our residents? What does the rent moratorium look like you know, once it’s it’s lifted off? And how do we assist through financial resources? Are there conversations around providing digital access to all residents so that students or children can attend school or can continue learning? So that’s the conversation that’s the shift in conversation that I have from that listening, because sometimes your response isn’t directly to the cause, but it may be to the, or the response may not be to the, the symptoms, right. But it may be to the actual like disease or actual issue. And in this case, when I say symptoms of disease, I’m really talking about the barriers and the challenges and the issues in the community. That’s just an example of being on some of these calls and listening and, and waiting. And sometimes I don’t have any response. Sometimes, you know, the individuals that are on the calls, or these meetings or conversations are saying, hey, what’s the city doing? And sometimes I don’t really have a response. But I’m there. And one thing that I’ve learned about being a local government staff is just showing up, speaks volume. Sometimes we feel a burden to always have an answer and always be able to respond. And I think it speaks a lot if we just show up and we say, hey, you know, I don’t have an answer right now. I’ll find out or you know, sorry. And it’s so much easier now because all I have to do is log on, you know, not to say that I don’t listen. But the thing is, I could still multitask. And I don’t really have a reason not to participate, at least in the listening part of it.

Ben Kittelson

Yeah, you don’t have to travel, you know, across the state or the city to get to a meeting anymore. Yeah.

Manisha Paudel

Exactly. Like there’s no walk to my car, parking lot, you know, like get stuck at the traffic, none of that. Not that there’s traffic here. But yeah.

Ben Kittelson

And what about internally? I mean, you mentioned some of the like, internal task forces and kind of equity groups that there are at the city. What is the internal kind of equity, you know, workforce, maybe? What are those efforts look like in Des Moines?

Manisha Paudel

Yeah, so we, our internal team is called Equitable Services Team. It’s, it’s created under the city manager’s direction. We’ve been meeting for a year and a half now. We’re still at the normalizing stage. You know, there are 23-24 individuals in this team from across different departments, and first city of Des Moines folks individually may have learned and been involved in the conversations around equity, but as a team that’s new for a lot of them, and a lot of them are very vulnerable in admitting that, hey, I had no idea, you know, a year and a half ago, I didn’t know that as so and so department staff that I was actually responsible to even learn about this. And now I get it. So internally, we’re just talking about, hey, how does it look like for finance, how does this look like for fire? And as a team, what can we do to ensure that the city has its programs, services, policies and practices in the way all of them are delivered equitable. So it’s a monthly meeting where we really discuss that and normalize. And what is also happening is independently a lot of the staff members that are part of the team are now thinking differently. One great example that I absolutely love is our IT director who sits on a lot of the IT, the technology calls right, and she’s she’s very involved outside of Des Moines outside of Iowa. And very recently, she was asked to sit on a panel and she encouraged this entity that was, that put the panel together, to really focus on equity and what does it mean to have digital equity. You know, why is it important for IT folks to focus on equity and, and ensure that their services are within this framework of racial equity or equity in general. And they did it. They, they said that, hey, that sounds great. We’ll talk about it and as the conversation went on, and she asked me to sit on a panel with her as well. But as folks were having this conversation, I was surprised that majority of them said that they hadn’t had this conversation within their jurisdiction and most of them were local government IT folks, and they said, hey, we want to create our equity team, we want to do this effort. I’m going to talk to my leadership about this. And so that’s just an example of how some of the department leaders or department, members of the equitable services team are incorporating it within their own work, in addition to working as a team to really create a shared language and potentially create an equity plan for City of Des Moines as an organization.

Ben Kittelson

Very cool. Um, are there any other kind of examples? I mean, you mentioned the one from IT, but that’s like a really great one is, is there other any other examples of like how maybe staff are using you know, this new language, this new approach, this new thinking, kind of in their day to day work or in rethinking their their services or, or how they manage their departments?

Manisha Paudel

Um, yeah, someone did share that. The city is trying to make all of the parking meters digital. I know we’re kind of behind but we still put coins in some of them and as they were thinking of making it digital, and if you know the meters are being replaced and changed, they hadn’t previously considered but now they’re trying they’re considered to make a few of them handicap accessible. And, and the individual who’s who’s an executive who’s at the executive level said hey, I wouldn’t have thought of this if I was not part of this conversation about equity because you know, when we talk about equity, even if we talk about racial equity, it goes up across the board of you know inequities in, based on people’s identities and their abilities. Parks and Recreation has now began to rethink, you know, do we, you know, if we want to replace this baseball diamond do we really want to do what we think is needed? Or do we actually want to engage in the community? There’s one area with a, you know, majority of the residents are refugees from Northeast Africa and most of them want like to play soccer. So do we put in a soccer field instead of multiple little, you know, sports? I don’t know. I’m not a, I don’t play sports. I don’t know what to call them. [Laughter] Baseball diamond and tennis court and something else. I played badminton, but that was that’s it. Um, so you know, conversations like that. Finance department is saying, hey, when we do procurement and contracting, what are the barriers that exist? And how are we perpetuating that and what does it mean for us to be equitable? And it’s not quite a best practice example. And maybe it is. A lot of them are now curious and asking the question of okay, am I doing this correctly? Or is there something else we can do? What are other cities doing? And to me that honest question of rethinking or thinking twice about what they’re doing and asking, hey, does this actually work? Does this actually benefit everyone, has been incredible. You know, and it’s, and sometimes it is internal operation. And I ask questions of, well, we typically, you know, talk about workforce equity and what our demographics are, but think of like, who’s your janitor, who’s your, who are you getting your printing paper from? Who do you often go to, you know, for lunch? And who’s actually around the some of these bigger companies with a lot of staff and how are we supporting these restaurants, which, you know, our economic development department recently, actually so that’s another example. So from Cares Act, the City of Des Moines was able to offer grant monies to our small businesses in the area. And, you know, they, I was well part of that team. And equity was very much a part of that conversation to say, hey, are these you know, it’s so it’s beyond that women and the program called women and minority owned businesses right. It was that the consideration wasn’t around. Lawn services were not qualified. But do we need to consider that because who typically owns businesses like that? Right? Cleaning businesses, and how are we perpetuating inequities by only giving dollars to restaurants and the typical Main Street businesses that we think with a storefront? So economic development department, kudos to them for thinking along that line, even during pandemic and really making sure that the city’s support, the financial support for small businesses went beyond what we typically think of as small business, and in this case, it was the main street small business. Yeah.

Ben Kittelson

And so your role in that is like acting as a resource and kind of supporting them as they kind of think through, you know, you know, incorporating equity or incorporating, you know, different different businesses into the PPP program, for example. Is that kind of where you fit into like them implementing or them them changing their practices?

Manisha Paudel

Yeah, yeah, sometimes resource and sometimes that I wonder person, you know, I say, well, I wonder what it would be like, and I wouldn’t have the answer. So then I would go back and like, look more at it, obviously, because I’m constantly learning too. But I say, yeah, I’m either the resource coach or I’m the I wonder person.

Ben Kittelson

Very cool. And what’s next, what do you have kind of on the horizon as we, I guess we’re, we’re several months into this pandemic. So maybe that put a wrinkle on your plans for for your for your work and the office. But what what’s what’s kind of next for you? What do you what do you want to next tackle kind of as an organization or in your position?

Manisha Paudel

I think as an organization, we’re hopefully going to adopt the equity framework. Adopt, meaning that Council will adopt that and then we’ll begin to work on our Equity Plan and for the organization, and, you know, look at equity workforce equity, language access policy. And also sort of, I hope to work one on one with individual departments and really look at, you know, one policy at a time or one practice at a time and then begin to shift that in and hopefully, long term. So that’s like the in the next one or one to three years, and then hopefully, in five to six years, we begin to do impact assessment, which is, you know, the conversation we want to start having now. So that’s like the long term and sort of the midterm plan or goals.

Ben Kittelson

Very cool. All right, we have a one one other tradition on GovLove. We let our guests choose the exit music for their interview. So if you could be the GovLove DJ for for today, what song would you pick as our exit music?

Manisha Paudel

You know it would definitely be Tupac. I just don’t know if I want Changes or Keep Ya Head Up. Um, I might go with Changes.

Ben Kittelson

Okay. Perfect. Oh man! Tupac. Nice, very nice.

Manisha Paudel

Yes, since 2002 I think not before that.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome, awesome. Well with that, that ends our episode for today. Manisha, thank you so much for coming on to talk with me and taking the time to share your expertise with GovLove.

Manisha Paudel

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was very fun.

Ben Kittelson

Awesome. And GovLove is, for our listeners GovLove is brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. You can reach us online at elgl.org/govlove or on Twitter at the handle @govlovepodcasts. The best way to support GovLove is by joining ELGL. Membership is just $40 for an individual and 20 bucks for a student. If you’re a super fan, you can also sign up your whole organization. Subscribe to GovLove on your favorite podcast app and go tell a friend or colleague about this podcast. Help us spread the word that GovLove is the go to place for local government stories. With that, thank you for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.


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