Ai-jen Poo and Palak Shah have drawn the blueprint for organizing domestic workers, some of our most isolated workers, into a force that could achieve economic dignity and power.
Now they’re taking on the future of work and care in the US.
Ai-jen Poo is the co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her widely acclaimed book The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America helps Americans make meaning of the needs and opportunities in the elder boom — to improve access to care for all families while ensuring a strong care workforce for the future.
Ai-jen works to catalyze system change for the 100 million Americans who are directly affected by the need for elder care and childcare. In 2011, she launched Caring Across Generations to unite American families in a campaign to achieve bold solutions to the nation’s crumbling care infrastructure. In 2019 along with Cecile Richards and Alicia Garza, Ai-jen co-founded SuperMajority, a new home for women’s activism dedicated to training and mobilizing a multiracial, intergenerational community to fight for gender equity together. Ai-jen also serves as a Senior Advisor to Care in Action, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to fighting for a civic voice for millions of women of color voters in the United States.
Ai-jen and her organization have also pioneered a cultural organizing strategy to build a narrative about the dignity of work and the full humanity of women. She has been an influential voice the #metoo movement, and attended the 2018 Golden Globe Awards with Meryl Streep as part of the launch of #TimesUp. In 2019, NDWA partnered with Participant Media and Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón to shine a spotlight to the over 2.5 million domestic workers in the United States with the film, Roma. These innovative partnerships with cultural leaders have elevated women’s leadership and organizing to a global stage.
Ai-jen has been recognized among Fortune’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders and Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. She has been a featured speaker at TEDWomen, Aspen Ideas Festival, and Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, and has made TV appearances on Nightline, MSNBC, and Morning Joe. In 2014, she received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship for “combining a deep understanding of the complex tangle of human relations around domestic work with keen strategic skills.”
Palak Shah is the Social Innovations Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Founding Director of NDWA Labs, the innovation arm of the domestic worker movement. Palak is a leader in the movement for workers’ rights in the new economy, a thought leader on the future of work, and a social entrepreneur. Her groundbreaking work wrestles with the ways in which technology continues to disrupt entire systems, including the way we access work and our livelihoods, and how it can be harnessed for the benefit of workers, placing them at the center of innovation and change.
At NDWA and NDWA Labs, Palak is focused on ensuring the future of work does not leave workers behind. She leads national strategy on engaging private sector companies entering the domestic work industry and organizing workers who are increasingly migrating online to find employment. In 2015, she founded NDWA Labs to experiment with new ways to use technology products to improve job access and job quality for these workers.
In 2018, NDWA Labs launched Alia, the nation’s first portable benefits platform that finally expands the social safety net to independent workers, starting with domestic workers.
As a sought-after media commentator on the future of work and labor issues in the new economy, she has spoken at TEDx, NPR Boston’s IdeaLab, and Personal Democracy Forum. She currently serves on the Advisory Council for the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy, as well as the Institute for the Future’s Equitable Futures Lab. She is currently a Beck Visiting Social Innovator at the Harvard Kennedy School where she is leading an effort to develop a 21st-century policy framework to address the privatization and digitization of the labor markets.
Previously, she has served as an advisor for Blue Ridge Labs and a Board Member of Carina Care. In 2017, Palak was awarded an Aspen Institute Job Quality Fellowship, where she was able to collaborate with leaders of other social movements on expanding the availability of quality work throughout the economy.
About the National Domestic Workers Alliance
The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is one of the most dynamic and successful social change organizations in the world. Dedicated to bringing quality work, dignity, and fairness to the growing numbers of workers who care and clean in our homes, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color, NDWA has expanded rights for domestic workers in nine states and brought over 2 million home care workers under minimum wage protections in only 12 short years.
This year, through NDWA Labs, it launched the first technology platform designed to provide benefits such as paid time off and life insurance to domestic workers who have previously been unable to access a safety net. Because domestic work has always existed outside of traditional frameworks of labor organizing, creativity and innovation are embedded into the DNA of NDWA. The experiences and innovation of the National Domestic Workers Alliance are instructive for shaping a dignified future of work for all.