Nishesh Chalise connects research and community perspectives through equity work


Emily Sullivan

Person speaking with an engaged audience during a meeting.

Nishesh Chalise, Senior Manager, Institute for Economic Equity, St. Louis Fed

Books, a PhD, and years of dedicated research can teach you many things. However, the authentic voice of a community member can offer a lesson so invaluable that it reshapes your career path and influences the very essence of your life’s work.

This was an unforgettable early life experience for Nishesh Chalise. He is the senior manager of the community development team at the St. Louis Fed, supporting research for the Institute for Economic Equity.

As a 20-year-old undergraduate student studying environmental science in Nepal, Nishesh thought “he had all the answers,” and he was eager to participate in a community meeting to discuss national forest conservation.

He came prepared to advocate for what he thought was the obvious, right approach—protecting the forest—when a man humbly posed a question Nishesh had never considered. The man asked: “how am I supposed to think about conservation on an empty stomach?” This question taught Nishesh that when communities depend on the forest for food and shelter, their immediate needs may understandably take precedence over advocating for conservation.

It was here where Nishesh learned that community issues can be more complex than they appear at first glance, and he was inspired to shift his studies to social work—embarking on a lifelong journey to deepen his understanding of the community perspective. “Out of all of my academic pursuits, that man’s question was the best education I ever received,” says Nishesh.

Nishesh Chalise

“We facilitate connections between data and analysis, as well as the relationships within communities.”

Finding inspiration and a path forward at the Fed 

“Growing up in Nepal I witnessed a lot of other societal issues, including civil war. Through those experiences, it became very clear to me that whatever work I was involved in would be in service of underserved communities. The people who face social, economic, or political disadvantages.”

Nishesh didn’t have to look farther than his own family of dedicated public servants to draw further career path inspiration. His father, grandfather, and uncles had public service careers. His mother was an educator, and Nishesh himself was a student in her kindergarten class. Social work and academia were a natural fit.

“Nothing else made sense for me in terms of a job and waking up in the morning,” he said. “But this path always made sense.”

Nishesh came to the US in 2008, where he continued his education and career in academia. He holds master’s and PhD degrees in social work from Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to his work at the Fed, he held several instructor positions, including assistant professor at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He taught baccalaureate and graduate courses on research, program evaluation, and community development.

Nishesh has years of experience collaborating with communities and using systems thinking to better analyze community issues—exploring how problems persist over time and how well-intentioned policies and programs often do not have the desired impact. From adoption of cleaner cooking technologies in rural India, to improving access to high quality early childhood education in St. Louis, Nishesh has applied this approach across a variety of settings and topics.

Today, Nishesh works with a team of community development researchers who are passionate about using data and analysis to foster an economy where everyone can thrive at the Institute of Economic Equity.

The Institute for Economic Equity promotes a more equitable economy for households and communities in the Eighth Federal Reserve District and beyond. It works to support an economy that works for all, regardless of race or ethnicity, gender or where they live. Launched in 2021, the Institute builds on the research and activities conducted by its predecessor, the St. Louis Fed’s  Center for Household Financial Stability, which underscored how structural and historical factors—including racism and discrimination—contribute to economic inequities.

“We facilitate connections between data and analysis, as well as the relationships within communities. By doing so, we help move conversations forward.”

Man holding a puppy
Nishesh Chalise holding a four-legged friend.

For example, Nishesh and the community development team often engage in roundtable events across the district to learn about the structural barriers people are facing in low-to-moderate-income (LMI) communities. By collaborating with the community, Nishesh and fellow researchers gain a deeper understanding of economic data and the ability to ask better questions. This enables meaningful conversations with community members and drives progress towards addressing community obstacles.

Strengths and solutions lie within communities

Nishesh joined the St. Louis Fed in the midst of the pandemic when the spread of COVID-19 impacted communities throughout the country. To continue responding to pandemic-related disruptions, information was needed about the scope and scale of the crisis.

Nishesh led the COVID-19 Community Impact survey report, which collected information about pandemic effects on LMI communities and the entities serving them. The survey, fielded by seven national partners and the Federal Reserve System’s community development function, seeks to promote economic resiliency and mobility among LMI and underserved households and communities across the US.

“In community development, we don’t do research for research’s sake. We attempt to ask the right questions, questions that are relevant to the communities. We ask, what is the problem communities are trying to solve and how can we be part of the solution?”

Nishesh emphasizes that as a researcher, “It’s important to not take the position that you have all of the answers to community issues. Instead, we must ask, how do we get the community the information, resources, and tools it needs to be empowered. Because it’s the community that holds the strengths and solutions.”

Off the clock, brain breaks, and greens

When he’s not deep into community research and analysis work, Nishesh has several pastimes. He enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, going on walks, dabbling in music, and yes, he even enjoys watching a bit of TV.

“As a researcher I should probably say that I love reading in my free time, but when I have the time, I love sitting back and watching shows. Put on a Netflix comedy or a historical fiction, and I’m golden.”

However, the hobby that brings him the most joy is tending to his home garden. Ask him about what he is growing and watch Nishesh light up. “How much time do you have? It’s a beloved family affair and project,” he says with a smile.

The Chalise family grows everything from greens, snap peas, potatoes, cucumbers, chilis, and tomatoes. This year, Nishesh is especially excited, and patiently waiting to see how his crop of garlic turns out (a long nine-month process).

Person presenting to an audience at a recent meeting.
Nishesh Chalise gives a presentation on the Community Development Outlook Survey at a recent St. Louis Fed Community Advisory Council meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

Advice for next gen community researchers

Patience isn’t only for gardening. When asked what advice he would give to someone pursuing a path as a community development researcher, Nishesh advises to “take the time to try to learn about institutions, communities, and people” and most importantly, to “be the catalyst for good, impactful work.”

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  • Emily Sullivan

    Emily Sullivan is a senior content strategist and developer for FedNow® Services at the Boston Federal Reserve, and a contributing editor and writer for Fed Communities.

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