ReThink Media Board Member, Reva Patwardha

A Message from Our Board Chair

Jul 7, 2023
Please join me in welcoming ReThink Media's incoming Executive Director, Mark Reading-Smith!

The following letter from our board chair, Reva Patwardhan, was shared with ReThink's staff.

Dear ReThink Team and Family,

Together with the board of directors, I am pleased to announce Mark Reading-Smith as the next Executive Director of ReThink Media. He will begin onboarding in August and will officially start full-time on October 2. As a former staff member of ReThink and a leader in the Sikh Coalition for many years, Mark brings a deep understanding of ReThink’s model, perspective from a partner organization, and an unwavering dedication to lifting up the voices of underrepresented communities in the United States and beyond.

Mark Reading-Smith

After graduating from Michigan State University with degrees in political philosophy and international relations, Mark (he/him) started his career in journalism. He investigated and reported for the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism, co-writing “Iraq: The War Card”—the most widely viewed investigation in CPI’s 25-year history. 

He left the reporting business to join ReThink Media as an Associate and one of our earliest employees and spent six years here, including several as Managing Director of what was then the Security & Rights Collaborative (now known as Rights & Inclusion), working to challenge discrimination and hate crimes directed at American Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities. He was in charge of providing rapid response support to the Sikh Coalition in the weeks that followed the Oak Creek tragedy in 2012, as well as supporting the Boston area Muslim community following the marathon bombing and numerous other crises. During Mark’s time on staff that collaborative also worked on accountability for torture, closing the illegal detention site at Guantanamo Bay, opposing drone killing, and numerous other issues that are now in the Peace & Security space; as a result, he is well-connected and widely respected across a wide range of ReThink partner organizations. It’s worth noting, too, that he helped open and run the inaugural ReThink DC office and played a critical role in standing up ReThink’s media and opinion analysis work, partnering with Lynn and Peter on building in-house capacity.

In late 2014, he moved to the Sikh Coalition as Senior Director of Media and Communications. For nearly five years, he managed daily media work while successfully implementing communications plans in areas such as advocacy on civil and religious rights issues and building the organizational brand. During his leadership, he quadrupled the communications staff and budget, built lasting organizational credibility with US newsrooms nationwide, developed seminal narrative-shifting moments on programs like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and CNN’s United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell, and helped transform the organization into the leading Sikh educational institution in the United States. In 2019, Mark transitioned into the position of Senior Managing Director of Programs. In this role, he has been responsible for the strategic direction and daily management of the organization’s work and staff in the areas of advocacy, policy, community engagement, education and communications while deepening the organization’s commitment to building community power through new civic engagement projects, including scaling voter engagement.

Nearly everyone we spoke to used the phrase “hard working” to describe Mark. We also heard words like “dedicated,” “humble,” and “relentless.” In his interviews, Mark talked about ReThink and the Executive Director role as a “destination job,” emphasizing that this organization is special and represents a unique career opportunity. Mark is based in the Bay Area and just had his first child with his wife, Ali. 

Choosing an Executive Director

Our search began in earnest in 2022 with the selection of a search firm and the formation of a Search Committee. With the support of Sherry Ettleson and Omar Lopez from search firm DRG, we reviewed hundreds of names and engaged with dozens of inspiring leaders from around the country. We were looking for candidates who aligned with ReThink’s mission and culture, brought fundraising acumen, and could foster and support our spirit of collaboration and innovation. We wanted someone who was ambitious about the work and comfortable putting the spotlight on others; someone who had demonstrated their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice; someone with the strategic vision to shape the next decade of the organization. We had a very long wishlist but, above all, we sought a candidate who really “got” ReThink.

Our partners at DRG began by surveying and interviewing the staff. In addition to guiding our priorities in a new leader, what they found was enormously encouraging. Our staff overwhelmingly agreed on the (many) things that make ReThink a great organization and a great place to work, including our people, strategic approach, tight internal systems, ability to convene and connect, and our cultural competence. All of this provided a great foundation for the search and will be at the center of Mark’s leadership from the start.

As we narrowed the field to our front-runners, we pulled together an interview panel of longtime organizational partners from all of our issue areas including Shireen Zaman, Laicie Heeley, and Melissa Price-Kromm – each of whom have more than 10 years of experience working closely with ReThink Media. Finalists also spoke to a panel of our senior staff – Burt Edwards, Eva Galanes-Rosenbaum, and Fadwa Rashid – and a panel of board members who hadn’t previously interviewed the finalists. All told, the Search Committee used the feedback of more than a dozen stakeholders to inform their recommendation to the board.

In the end, we landed closer to home than we ever imagined. Mark was the consensus candidate across partners, staff, and board, demonstrating strategic thinking, ambition, humility, and deep commitment to the movements we are helping to build. He has worked tirelessly on behalf of underrepresented communities and shares the board and staff’s commitment to building capacity and fostering collaboration for long-term, lasting victories.

Our Founders

It’s impossible to overstate our gratitude to ReThink’s founders, Lynn Fahselt and Peter Ferenbach. They have built this organization from a notion to a powerhouse—all while navigating the exceptional challenges of political pendulum swings, a global pandemic, and persistent attacks on the core values of our country. Throughout their 16 years of leadership of ReThink and their unique 35 year partnership as movement organizers, Lynn and Peter have brought a values-based strategic lens to nearly every conversation they have.

This transition is, of course, no exception. True to form, Lynn and Peter have been preparing for this change for more than five years, building up the internal staffing and structures to ensure a smooth transition, building a board to govern the process and oversee ReThink’s next phase, and revising their plans dozens of times to respond to changing circumstances.

Generous to the last, they have also agreed to continue to play a role in ReThink’s future as advisors to Mark and as Senior Fellows and trainers. 

Gratitude to the Board

Finally, I want to offer a note of thanks to my fellow board members. An executive transition is a test of any board. This was a bigger test: replacing not one but two larger-than-life founders and leaders as a relatively young board still learning to work together. Each of my fellow board members gave generously of their time and skills, often going above and beyond. Every single member of the board has been involved in the search and transition process and I am confident in saying that we could not have done it without each of them.

Here’s to the next era in ReThink’s history!



Reva Patwardhan

Board Chair

Read a letter from Mark Reading-Smith here. Read a letter from our co-founders here.