Link to teaching case: 


Over the course of 20 years, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) has woven together a powerful network focused on refugee and immigration policy and practice. Based in Washington, D.C. and directed by former Hmong refugee, KaYing Yang, SEARAC arose from the political upheaval throughout Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War. It offers technical assistance and coordinates action on a wider scale with a national network of 182 mutual assistance associations and spiritual organizations. SEARAC builds the capacity of these grassroots groups to deliver services and strengthen their communities while serving as effective conduits for political advocacy. SEARAC's strategies include the following:

  • Support a Natural Network: The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center helps locally based mutual assistance associations to build their capacity and magnify their clout and influence. It has enabled groups, even those with deep histories of division and warfare to see that there is power in pulling together. A deep appreciation for the work of the mutual assistance associations drives SEARAC's efforts.
  • Pursue a Fundamental Vision: SEARAC sees itself as part of a broader movement that encourages the United States to be its "best self," says KaYing Yang, not only welcoming immigrants as part of its heritage, but truly valuing the experiences, perspectives, and skills they bring. SEARAC has moved beyond its Southeast Asian roots and now collaborates closely with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Pan African, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Caribbean-focused organizations.
  • Act on Two Tracks: SEARAC provides a forum for the full range of interests of Southeast Asians living in the U.S. while also specifically promoting their community and economic development. Its recent activities address systemic changes. Policy accomplishments include implementation of the Hmong Naturalization Law of 2000 and collaborating with the U.S. Department of Justice on its Limited English Proficiency guidelines.
  • Cultivate New Leaders: SEARAC challenges and also capitalizes on traditional concepts of leadership within the Southeast Asian community, bringing young people and women into leadership roles. Each year, SEARAC gathers fifty community leaders for four days of discussion about their communities. Topics include instruction in how the U.S. government works and strategic communications training. The trainings culminate when the trainees meet with government officials. According to KaYing Yang, "We need to identify more leaders, to grow leaders, and encourage them to lift their voices. That's the essence of social justice."

In this leadership story, KaYing Yang and her colleagues describe SEARAC's remarkable evolution.


Erica Gabrielle Foldy & Jonathan Walters; Connie Chaplin & David Harrison


Univeristy of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance: Electronic Hallway

Pub date: 

Thursday, January 1, 2009