Overcoming Partisanship in Washington, DC

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

How do we foster big, creative ideas to solve our most urgent problems? President, CEO and co-founder of First Book Kyle Zimmer and award-winning DC restaurateur Ashok Bajaj join Billy and Debbie Shore to discuss their philosophies on giving back and outlooks on our social and political culture. Zimmer worries that today’s partisan divide is fostering an environment where social problems are outpacing solutions. “In the non-profit world, we all have that white-knuckle death grip on our steering wheels and we’re not given the bandwidth to really think of creative, great big solutions,” she says. As a person dedicated to hospitality in today’s hyper-partisan Washington DC, Bajaj wants his restaurants to be seen as non-partisan sanctuaries and is dismayed by recent news of restaurants refusing service based on politics. “Sharing food, sitting in a social setting, brings us together. How do you know [a person coming into a restaurant] is not trying to change her mind and something good comes out of those two-hour conversations?,” says Bajaj.

Bajaj sees the increased need from underserved communities in the sheer number of requests for help that he receives every day. “There’s no set formula, we do as much as we can,” he says. Zimmer – who has been supporting underserved communities through First Book for more than 25 years by getting 175M books to kids in 30 countries – sees the ripple effect these programs create. “The kids get self-confidence. They get employable skills. It’s good for our democracy. When a community solves these fundamental issues, the community is more stable,” she notes.

Listen to these guests discuss overcoming partisanship and why their passion for giving back is part of their secret to success.

Resources and Mentions:

Kyle Zimmer

President, CEO and co-founder of First Book, the nonprofit social enterprise she co-founded to ensure that local schools and community programs across the country serving children from low-income families would have a steady supply of the brand-new, high-quality books they so desperately need. Under Zimmer’s leadership, First Book has built the largest and fastest growing network of schools and programs serving children in need across the United States and Canada. Her commitment to innovation and collaboration has earned her a reputation as a social sector leader. She currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., which is responsible for protecting and overseeing the integrity of Dr. Seuss books, properties, licensing and related products, and of the Board of Directors for Ashoka, which works to support the finest social entrepreneurs in more than 70 countries. She also serves on the Youth Venture Board of Directors and as a member of the board for James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead. Zimmer is a passionate advocate for social entrepreneurship, educational equity, and the importance of literacy to further economic competitiveness and global understanding. Among her awards are the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefitting the Disadvantaged (2016), Peggy Charren/Free to Be You and Me Award from the Ms. Foundation for Women (2016), the Campaign for Grade Level Reading Pacesetter Honors (2016), the Library of Congress David M. Rubenstein Prize (2015), the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award (2014) and the National Education Association Foundation’s Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education (2013). Kyle was featured in the opening plenary on stage at the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America, and was also featured onstage by President Bill Clinton at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative

Ashok Bajaj

Has owned and operated award-winning restaurants in London and the United States for over 25 years. Born in New Delhi, India, Bajaj founded Knightsbridge Restaurant Group in the nation’s capital in 1988. He has opened several highly successful landmark restaurants in DC, including the polished power dining oasis, The Oval Room and leading four-star Rasika. Most recently in August 2016, Bajaj merged Ardeo+Bardeo into one restaurant and bar, giving him the space to open his casual Indian street food and craft cocktails oasis, Bindaas. The restaurant quickly earned high praise in The Washington Post’s Fall Dining Guide as one of the best in the city, and it garnered 3 stars (out of four) in the November 2016 issue of Washingtonian. Bajaj’s collection of power, neighborhood and fine dining establishments captured 10 RAMMY nominations from Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington in 2012, and Rasika captured Chef of the Year. Then in 2013, Bajaj won Restaurateur of the Year and was named Washington Business Journal’s Most Admired CEO. His restaurants have also been consistently nominated for prestigious awards by the James Beard Foundation, including Best Chef-Mid Atlantic, Rising Star Chef, Outstanding Restaurant and Restaurateur of the Year. Rasika’s Group Executive Chef Vikram Sunderam captured the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in May 2014. Recognized among the best in the city, his restaurants are often featured in The Washington Post, Washingtonian, DC Modern Luxury, Forbes, CNN, Food & Wine, Washington Life and Capitol File. Community minded, Bajaj has served on the board of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and presently serves on the board for Arena Stage and on the Golden Triangle board.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

First Book

Transforms the lives of children in need. Through a sustainable, market-driven model, First Book is creating equal access to quality education — making everything from brand new, high quality books and educational resources, to sports equipment, winter coats, snacks, and more – affordable to its member network of more than 375,000 educators who exclusively serve kids in need. Since 1992, First Book has distributed more than 175 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low income families in more than 30 countries. First Book currently reaches an average of 3 million children every year and supports more than one in four of the estimated 1.3 million classrooms and programs serving children in need. With an additional 1,000 educators joining each week, First Book is the largest and fastest-growing network of educators in the United States exclusively serving kids in need. First Book members work in classrooms, after school and summer or early childhood programs, shelters and health clinics, libraries, community programs, military support programs, and other settings serving a majority of children in need. First Book’s financial model and its commitment to social sector collaboration, impact, and enterprise has been widely recognized by leading organizations.

Knightsbridge Restaurant Group

Was founded 1989 by Ashok Bajaj in Washington, DC and launched its first restaurant, The Bombay Club, to provide the city with an international restaurant, featuring gourmet regional Indian cuisine. Recognized among the best in the city Knightsbridge currently operates 10 restaurants in DC — 701, Sababa, Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca , The Oval Room, Rasika, The Bombay Club, Nopa and Bindass. They are often featured in The Washington Post, Washingtonian, DC Modern Luxury, Forbes, CNN, Food & Wine, Washington Life and Capitol File. The Bombay Club, Rasika and Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca have each been named by Esquire among the Best New Restaurants in the USA, and Worth Magazine featured Bibiana as one of the Best Restaurants for Power Dining in May 2011.

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