Leela Stake: A Journey of Service and Impact
Leela Stake’s exposure to service began at home. Raised in Paramus, NJ, and Sacramento, she was influenced by her family's commitment to community involvement and activism. Her father, a Unitarian Universalist minister, instilled in her the values of helping others and striving for a better society. On her mother’s side, Leela drew inspiration from her Indian heritage, where her great-grandparents had marched alongside Gandhi for India's independence, and her grandmother became the first woman elected to Mumbai’s city council.
When Leela arrived at Stanford, she found belonging at the Haas Center for Public Service.
“I very happily stumbled upon the Haas Center in my early weeks at school,” she said. “I had done a lot of service work in middle school and high school, and so being able to reconnect with that passion gave me a sense of community and home away from home while I was on campus.”
Leela embraced numerous programs and classes offered by the Haas Center and co-founded a student organization focused on social innovation and entrepreneurship. She was also a student member of the Haas Center’s National Advisory Board.
“I feel like part of me was born at the Haas Center, because it helped me transform what had been an extracurricular activity into my life’s work, opening up a whole new dimension to who I am,” she said.
After graduating in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies (with honors in Ethics in Society) and a master’s in sociology, Leela was supported in her first job in service through the Haas Center’s Tom Ford Fellowship in Philanthropy. Now, after two decades, she has returned to the Haas Center as vice chair of the National Advisory Board.
Reflecting on this full-circle experience, Leela emphasized with gratitude the incredible platform for impact that the Haas Center provides.
“We get to work with so many leaders of today and tomorrow,” she said. “If we can help students both broadly and deeply expand their ethos of service so they can take that forward in their careers and their lives, it is an exceptional way to have exponential impact.”
In her current role at FleishmanHillard, Leela collaborates with companies, foundations and nonprofits to achieve greater purpose and impact through environmental, social, and governance (ESG) approaches; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and community engagement initiatives. She has worked with more than 100 clients and leads a global team of more than 100 people with lived experience that is a true reflection of the diverse and dynamic world we live in.
Leela is inspired by initiatives like Cardinal Service and the public service theme dorm that now exist at Stanford, offering students even more avenues for engagement than when she was a student. But she cautions against treating service as a mere box-checking exercise.
“One of the lasting lessons I have taken with me is, ‘Nothing for us without us,’” she said. “Listen to people from the communities you want to support and work alongside them. People get a ton out of doing service work, and I believe engaging with the Haas Center and Cardinal Service will enrich every Stanford student’s experience. The Haas Center team works tirelessly to ensure the work that is done is really meaningful to the community as well as a meaningful opportunity for the students.”