Shiva Bidar is no stranger to change. Since childhood, the Madison alder has done her fair share of moving and adapting to new environments and new cultures. Influenced by her own experience as an immigrant, Bidar is an active member in the Madison community where she works to create opportunities for people of color.
Born in Iran, Bidar spent the first nine years of her life there. In the unrest of the Iranian revolution in 1978 and 1979, Bidar’s family relocated to Spain, where she began attending immersion school for Spanish and French speakers.
Bidar says the first six months were the hardest. In addition to not knowing the language she was often bullied for being the foreigner. It was during this time she “learned about resilience,” and the importance of standing up for yourself and using your voice. Bidar also says the experience gave her “perspective on what it feels like to be an immigrant.”
Her experience as an immigrant and her interest in communication drove Bidar to pursue a career in interpreting. Bidar attended college in Belgium where she received a degree in interpretation. She went on to graduate school in California where she earned her master’s in international policy and interpreting. In California Bidar first became involved with immigrant communities and noticed “a division” between white America and immigrant America — a divide that isn’t often discussed.
“People do not want to talk about things that are deep,” Bidar says.
Bidar works to create a dialogue in the community about these issues. After accepting a position as an interpreter at UW Health, Bidar moved to Madison where she has become an active participant and leader in the community.
It didn’t take her long to expand her influence beyond translation.
“I focus on empowerment” she says. As an interpreter at UW Health, Bidar was interested in creating greater access to healthcare for immigrants and people of color as well as creating housing and employment opportunities for them.
Since moving to Madison, Bidar has been involved in many organizations particularly in the Latino community. She served as co-chair of the Latino Health council and served as a member of the Latino Support Network.
All this involvement led Bidar to run for a position as the District 5 representative for the Madison Common Council in 2009. Bidar is well known in Madison as an activist and was a popular choice for the position.
The council focuses on the welfare and safety of the community. One of the most recent topics they have discussed is building trust between the police department and the community, an issue Bidar has been actively involved in.
The fatal police shooting of Tony Robinson and the violent arrest of Genele Laird were, Bidar says, “events that pushed the conversation.” After these events, the council appropriated a controversial $400,000 to find a firm to review the Madison Police Department’s policies and procedures. Since May the committee has been discussing improvements that can be made, including a greater focus on implicit bias training as well as training about mindfulness and mental illnesses.
Bidar’s role on the Madison Common Council and her work at UW Health are both positions that have given her a platform to enact change in the community, particularly for people of color.
Bidar was recently promoted to be UW Health’s first Chief Diversity Officer. In this role she “works on initiatives to reduce disparities in communities of color,” adding that “it is important for an organization to prioritize equity and diversity.”
As the Chief Diversity Officer, Bidar works to address topics such as workforce diversity, and creating health care careers for people of color. Solutions include creating an environment that Bidar calls “inclusive and non-judgmental,” and part of this is utilizing “implicit bias training.” UW Health also partners with organizations like the Boys & Girls Club and the PEOPLE Program to encourage young people to pursue careers in health care.
This past April, Bidar was re-elected to continue serving on the Madison Common Council. As an alder on this council and an active member of other community organizations, Bidar works to address the issue of equity for immigrants, LGBTQ+, and people of color. An immigrant herself, it is important to Bidar to create a dialogue about these issues.
Bidar will continue to work to enact change, and her piece of advice for young people who want to get involved is to “dream big and work locally.”
This profile was produced by a student journalist in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more and to support our educational programs, visit madison365.org/academy.