by Tahir Bhat
SRINAGAR: In order to reach White House, Kashmir origin Sameera Fazili had to face what every second bright Kashmiri student continues to confront the issue of career. Daughter of doctors, she was under pressure to choose the family medical line.
“Sameera gave in and was admitted to one of the four medical schools that had offered her a seat,” Rouf Fazili, Sameer’s uncle said. “She gave two years to the medical school and then left it to join the Yale.”
Sameera was picked by Joe Biden to be the Deputy Director of National Economic Council. Mother of three, she will be focusing on manufacturing, innovation and domestic competition in the Biden administration.
She is the daughter of Dr Mohammad Yusuf Fazili and Dr Rafiqa Fazili. They migrated to the USA in 1970. Dr Yousuf, the first cousin of Dr Ali Jan, is a surgeon and Dr Rafiqa, a pathologist, is sister of Rouf Fazili, the former Executive Director of Jammu and Kashmir Bank. Both her parents graduated from Government Medical College, Srinagar.
Sameera, Rouf said is the second eldest of four siblings including three sisters. Of them two are doctors and one teaches.
“She was born in the US but she loves Kashmir,” Rouf said. “She has frequently travelled to Kashmir and has spent a lot of time here. Last time she came to attend her cousin’s marriage.” Rouf said she understands Kashmiri but feels a lot of difficulty in speaking. “My mother who nursed her as the kid would tell me that she used to tell her– Gatch Shoung (go and sleep now)”. Her mother and mother-in-law, both are Kashmiris.
During her Kashmiri visits, she has been extensively visiting Kashmir especially the downtown, the home of her parents. “She visited JK Bank headquarters countless times. She would also go to SKIMS quite frequently to see how the healthcare systems work,” Rouf said. “One year, she went to Bangladesh and studied the Grameen Bank structure for many months. She was into these things that nobody in her immediate family was interested because most of them are in the medical line.”
Ms Fazili has a law degree from Yale Law School and bachelors of arts in social studies from Harvard College. Ms Fazili started her career as a clinical lecturer at Yale Law School’s community and economic development clinic, where she helped start a community development financial institution (CDFI) Bank and a local anti-foreclosure initiative, and expanded the clinic’s work to international microfinance. Besides, she worked at ShoreBank, America’s first CDFI bank. Her work in finance has spanned consumer, housing, small business, and microfinance.
This is Ms Fazili second stint in the White House. In the Obama administration, she served as a senior policy adviser at the White House’s National Economic Council where she covered retirement, consumer finance, and community and economic development. Besides, she worked at the Treasury Department on issues of domestic policy ranging from community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to housing finance to small business finance, and then as a senior adviser to the undersecretary for the international affairs where she served as chief of staff. Her second stint at a senior position came after her stint at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta where she was Director of engagement for the community and economic development.
Born at Williamsville New York, the Fazilis’ were Buffalo-based immigrants. She later moved to Georgia with her husband and three children.
Ms Fazili, as already reported is the second Kashmir origin expert to get into the Oval Office as President Biden’s team. Earlier, Aishah Shah was picked by Biden for a key role for the White House’s Digital Strategy Team. She would work as a Partnerships Manager at the White House Office of Digital Strategy under Rob Flaherty, Director of Digital Strategy.
Raised in Louisiana, Shah previously served as digital partnerships manager in the Biden-Harris Campaign. She currently serves as an advancement specialist for the Smithsonian Institution. Prior to this role, Shah worked as an assistant manager on the Corporate Fund of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, supporting the first-ever expansion of a presidential memorial.