Home design and floor-area ratios may not be a subject that one would expect Kavita Tankha – philanthropist, women’s rights advocate and lawyer – to get excited about, but the Los Altos Hills resident has embraced her seat on the town’s Planning Commission as an extension of her skills at a local level.
“Rules and ordinances are very similar to law,” said Tankha, reflecting on her first term on the volunteer commission that spends hours reviewing applications for building permits. “Working with people and thinking critically are skills similar to those used in a court of law.”
The Los Altos Hills City Council reappointed Tankha and Richard Partridge to four-year terms on the Planning Commission last week.
Although Tankha lived in many parts of the world during her early legal career, it was her move to the Bay Area nine years ago with her husband that unearthed her calling to work full time on international girls and women’s rights advocacy and political philanthropy. Citing the region’s relaxed vibe, opportunities for intellectual stimulation and support for partnerships, Tankha felt at home.
The scope of Tankha’s charitable work is broad. She speaks passionately of her volunteer work supporting girls’ access to education through the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Girls Learn International. Through the program, girls from Bay Area high schools raise money to buy computers for girls in partner schools across the globe. For Tankha and the participating students, the legacy of their work is greater than the value the technology offers to recipients.
“Girls from the United States don’t realize how privileged they are until they meet girls in sister schools,” said Tankha of the relationships cultivated through the organization. “Many of the girls continue advocacy work as they go to college and make this part of what they do in life.”
While Tankha’s interests in reproductive rights and education for girls are global in nature, she decided to take a more proactive role in domestic politics when she moved to the area.
Tankha participated in her first political campaign when she worked on Kamala Harris’ successful run for California attorney general in 2010. By the 2012 election cycle, she was raising money as a member of President Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee. As successful as she proved as a fundraiser, Tankha wanted to effect change on a smaller, more grassroots scale.
“That’s when I realized that all politics is local,” she said. “It’s about making communities better, more vibrant.”
In addition to her work on the Planning Commission – the city council appointed her to a four-year term in 2012 – Tankha sits on the boards of the El Camino Hospital and Foothill-De Anza foundations.
While not yet ready to say whether she would take the next step and run for elected office – she is mother to four children – she likes to think that her local leadership is setting the stage for her efforts to engage more women in political leadership locally and nationally.
“I’m really committed to getting the next generation of women to run,” said Tankha, who serves on the board of Emerge California, which trains women leaders for public office. “Women bring a different perspective. They are great role models.”