Uma Viswanathan joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in 2018 as a Senior Program Officer. She brings fifteen years of passion for and experience in leadership and community-driven change for equity to support the Foundation in supporting leadership that builds a Culture of Health. Viswanathan’s guiding mission is to “invest in people as catalysts of their own transformation,” and she brings into philanthropy her experience strengthening and connecting leadership in diverse US and international communities.
Viswanathan believes that leadership is an expression of people asserting their dignity and agency as whole human beings living in a community. Committed to equity, she pays particular attention to whose voice is heard and amplified, who sets the agenda, and who is valued. She is deeply curious about how leadership is understood, nurtured, and manifests itself differently across cultures, communities, and life experiences, and how philanthropy can best invest and support conditions that allow leadership to grow and thrive.
Prior to joining RWJF, Viswanathan served as a program officer of Racial Equity and Community Engagement for the Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Through grant investments and strategic partnerships, she supported communities within and across Latino, API, Native, African, and African-American communities to galvanize cross-racial movements and cross-sector coalitions rooted in cultural and historical integrity, to strengthen democracy, and to build collective power towards equity. She served as Director of Leadership Development for Urban Habitat, leading the Board and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI), which recruits, trains, and places social and racial justice advocates to serve on local and regional boards and commissions in the Bay Area. Viswanathan founded and directed Nouvelle Vie Haiti, a leadership initiative of the International Association for Human Values. She developed a network of 300+ young Haitian leaders who empower their communities to manage their own trauma, establish greater food security, and develop healthier sexual and community relationships.
The daughter of South Indian immigrants, Viswanathan holds a BA in Psychology and a MA in History of Science, both from Harvard University. She has been inspired by both her grandfathers. Her maternal grandfather was a doctor who dedicated his retirement to providing free medical services to local farmers and villagers in Coimbatore, India. Her paternal grandfather was a civil architect who challenged colonial rule in India, and served as an advisor and elder in his agraharam (village). Born in Westchester, N.Y., Viswanathan currently resides in Philadelphia with her husband Johann. She enjoys drawing, painting, singing, and international travel, and is a certified volunteer meditation teacher with the Art of Living Foundation. She has taught meditation and restorative breathing programs to thousands of community members across the country.