August Blog: Advocating for a Cause

August Blog: Advocating for a Cause

Nalini Mahadevan, JD; Owner of MLO Law LLC, A Certified Women-Owned Business specializing in Immigration, Estate Planning, and Business with Offices in St. Louis, Chicago, & Atlanta

Recently, much conversation has surfaced around finding your passion and knowing your "why." Simon Sinek and others have championed these ideas, inspiring many to be more purposeful in their work. What if you have an interest outside your work and want to do something about it… but don't know how? 

"Many people are passionate about causes surrounding pets, children, the environment, a disease or disorder. They want to do 'something' to help their cause," says Nalini Mahadevan, who has had a passion for political service in her community. Nalini has served as an alderwoman and in other civic leadership roles in Frontenac and St. Louis. 

"The first step is identifying the cause that excites you. Research the organizations promoting and supporting your espoused cause,” she says. “Then figure out your goal. Write down the steps, the pros and cons of your actions (what you would like to do) or what result you expect. To be effective, you have to have a direction for yourself." 

Nalini details the process below.

Researching Like-Minded Organizations or Spokespeople

Researching has been made a little more accessible through the internet, which is an important first step, especially if your cause has a greater reach than your local geography. Start with key word searches and sift through information and people that are relevant to your efforts.

It helps to talk to people in the space,” says Nalini. “For instance, I was interested in the leadership training that FOCUS St. Louis offered. I joined Leadership St. Louis in 2013 and graduated in 2014. (Best class ever!). I learned about causes and organizations supporting those causes I cared for. As I wanted to give back to the community I lived in, I volunteered in the City of Frontenac and served on the  Planning and Zoning Committee there.” 

The Mayor of Frontenac interviewed her for the position of treasurer, and she decided to run for office. “As an elected official, I gained insight into local ordinances and the economic challenges cities face. I later contested an election for City Alderwoman in Frontenac.” 

She won, and served until closing her term in 2023.  Last year, Governor Parsons recognized South Asian elected officials at a State function at the Governor's residence. “To my surprise, there were only two of us statewide,” she shared. Her passion for serving her community has now led to greater representation and diversity in leadership.

Defining Your Goal

When you know what your goal is, the other decisions are easier to make, so put in the effort to defining that. “Be introspective to determine your next actions. Is your goal to join an existing entity by volunteering or serving on a board? Or is it incorporating and starting a new foundation or non-profit, holding a fundraiser, or lobbying to change the law? Start there,” she recommends. “My overarching goal was to serve the community. I discovered my contribution could take many forms, such as volunteering on a committee or using my professional skills with non-profit organizations (e.g., a mentoring program, places of worship, support groups, etc.).”

You could also volunteer through your work. “We support a unique non-profit organization called Arya Foundation. It provides resources like adaptive equipment, information and assistance from agencies that work with special needs communities.” She is not involved at all levels in all directions, just the ones that correlate with her law practice, she notes.

After you find what you would like to do, narrow down your options. Nalini suggests writing the Pros and Cons of the location, time, commitment, financial obligation, networking, educational benefits, and timing (such as a seasonal opportunity). Advocating for a cause requires all of these, so identify your comfort level in terms of effort, time, and money. Be sure to consider both what can you give and what would you get by working to support your cause. 

There are vast opportunities to serve and enhance your own skills, even in unlikely places, she says. “For instance, I gained insight into governance and financial operations by serving on religious and secular non-profit boards. And by volunteering with SCORE and Business Journal’s Mentor Monday as a mentor, I get to pay it forward. I love connecting with people, talking about their passion, and providing them with guidance.”

Steps in the Right Direction

After you figure out a goal, you need to find a path to it, says Nalini. "For example, you can't just join a board. Most organizations have a path to that. You likely start as a volunteer, then a committee member, and then apply for board service, after which other board members may interview you for a board position. Usually the path is more involved, unless you have a champion.” 

The majority of us need to break the path down into smaller steps. I am a fan of mind-mapping tools that guide you to think deeper about each idea. I particularly like Coggle, a free mind-mapping tool. It is a project management tool that assists in identifying the next steps intuitively, component by component,” she recommends. 

Next, create a list of micro-actions to achieve your goals, with persons to contact and share your resume, passions, interests and skills you bring to the table. “For example, to volunteer at an organization, do your homework so you can identify skills they need, then use your skills to be a resource. Are your skills in marketing, PR, technology, or computer applications, or are you organized? You are in demand!  Involve others who can help you from your own network and earlier research. Conduct informational interviews with them and ask for introductions to form connections to achieve your ultimate goal.” 

Whatever your goal is, advocating for a cause is a project that requires time, energy, and passion. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” she concludes. “The rewards of giving are priceless.” 

If you’d like to discuss community involvement or other topics mentioned here, you can reach Nalini at


Bio: Nalini S. Mahadevan is the Principal Attorney with MLO Law LLC. She is a member of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the South Asian Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. She recently co-founded the Immigrant Professional Women's Network in the city. 

Nalini sits on the President's Advisory Council at the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy, St. Louis; on the Board of Directors for the Missouri Foundation for Health; as Division Chair, the Specialty Bar for the Missouri Bar; and as a member of the Board of Directors, FOCUS St. Louis.

She was recognized by the STL Business Journal with Most Influential Business Women Award in 2020 and the Champion for Diversity and Inclusion Award in 2022. She served in the publication’s Mentoring Monday program as a mentor during 2022 and 2023, and as a mentor with SCORE.