Members reflect back on energizing work in CA FWD’s Young Leaders Advisory Council

1024 576 Nadine Ono

Sauntharya Manikandan (left) and Mark Borges (middle) speaking at the 2021 California Economic Summit (Photos: CA FWD). Mayor Alexander Walker Griffin (right) was sworn in as mayor of Hercules in 2022.

Spring is a season of change and renewal. It’s also the time of year when we say farewell to members of the CA FWD Young Leaders Advisory Council (YLAC) who have completed their terms — and when we open recruitment for the next cohort of members. Get more information about YLAC and apply to join at

As they move to the next chapter of their careers, several members reflected about their YLAC experience and offered advice to incoming members.

Sauntharya Manikandan joined YLAC in 2021 after graduating from University of California, Irvine. A double major in psychology and criminology, she was interested in researching the implications of bias relating to jury trials. She became active in student government and led a legal clinic that connected people to resources.

She heard about YLAC through a friend. “I thought it was a really good fit because I was graduating, but I still wanted to stay connected to the youth community and leadership that was taking place,” she said.

Manikandan recalled in her first year, she and her cohort had a lot of opportunity to reflect and think about their vision strategy. But after months of meeting virtually due to the pandemic, it clicked as members were able to meet at the California Economic Summit in Monterey. “I think that was a really pivotal moment for me coming out of the Economic Summit feeling really energized and having a better understanding of what our council could do and I was excited to be a part of it.”

Over the past year, she and her fellow members have made a push to become more involved in CA FWD. She participated in a broadband access project in the Central Sierra Region. “We were tasked with doing outreach to youth and elderly in that region to get a better sense of broadband and provide a report to the county.”

Manikandan has advice for the incoming cohort: “Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of what exists as the youth council. I encourage newer members to think creatively and think about different ways the organization might not be involved and things that they would like to see get involved with and make the pitch and be brave about it.”

She is currently a capitol fellow at the Strategic Growth Council. Her next move is law school in the fall to complete the work she started as an undergrad.

Mark Borges became a YLAC member in 2020 upon graduation from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). “I joined the council because I saw a gathering of young leaders who wanted to dedicate their time and energy to creating change.”

He has seen a lot of growth and change during his tenure, especially in the past year. “We have done so much in terms of creating structure within the council,” he said. “We have co-chairs. We have swimming lanes for different work streams. We have a better interface with the rest of CA FWD, the Regional Stewardship Network, the Action Fund – just things that we did not have my first year.” To Borges, these changes are necessary to the YLAC mission, which is to create intergenerational policy solutions and have a regional statewide presence.

“What I’ve come to realize in my current job and through being involved with organizations like CA FWD and YLAC is that my impact in this world can be made through the ability to build strong relationships with people.” He added, “I would attribute a lot of that realization and also relevant work experience to being involved in YLAC.”

His advice for the next cohort? “I would say the opportunity is there – go for it.” He said there are many avenues of participation from policy solutions, communications, relationship-building and much more. “I think there are a lot of rich connections at CA FWD to really enact change in a meaningful way that is not performative.”

Borges is currently an account executive at Lucas Public Affairs in Sacramento working on a variety of policy issues, including natural resources, aging and education issues.

Mayor Alex Walker-Griffin joined YLAC in 2021, a year after he was elected to the Hercules City Council. A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California, he has been active in his community since he was a teen. Joining YLAC was a natural step for him.

As a civic leader, Mayor Walker-Griffin sees how his experience with YLAC has taught him that collaboration is key to being an effective leader for the City of Hercules. “It’s a great skill to have and it’s something I think that if more elected officials were involved in these spheres, we would see a lot more productivity out of all levels of government.”

He reflected on his YLAC tenure, saying, “I would definitely say that one of the most notable things for me as a two-year member is the involvement that YLAC can partake in now. Before, we were kind of secret, but now there’s a lot more effort to showcase us and show that we’re actually doing what our title says – Young Leaders Advisory Council.”

His advice to the incoming cohort is simple. “The biggest thing I would say is keep an open mind. There tends to be a common theme that people who gravitate toward YLAC tend to be in the political sphere.” But, he said, there is more to experience, “especially to those you may not ordinarily interact with if you’re involved with politics or just maybe industries you’ve never come across.”

He is currently a senior policy specialist at Arnold & Porter. He plans to run for re-election to the Hercules City Council when his term ends in 2024.

Applications are now open to join the next CA FWD Young Leaders Advisory Council cohort. Learn more about the Council, qualifications for members and how to apply at If you are interested, you are invited you to submit your application by the end of the day Friday, May 7, 2023.


Nadine Ono

All stories by: Nadine Ono