My Story of Discovering SDGs

Dhairya Pujara • 4 January 2019
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      When I first forayed in the world of international development, social innovation and entrepreneurship, I was 24 and had just graduated with a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. I had raw energy, unhindered ambition and relentless passion to change the world. I was baulked at the notion presented by all the realists in the world that one person’s ambition cannot make any change. Especially when they have no experience or educational expertise in understanding the scope of global challenges. That was the year of 2012. I was sitting on my bed inside a mosquito net using my limited range internet on a dongle USB reading about the unintended consequences and foundering of Millennium Development Goals. That moment brought a sardonic expression on my thinking face, as I had access to internet but still scared about being bitten by a tiny bloodsucking fly and getting infected. I was living two realities of our modern world, at once.

      I knew I found my purpose of being in that tiny coastal village in Mozambique. I wanted to fight Malaria. Being an engineer, my first thought was around using some kind of technology to do so. It took my 2 years, starting a company, organizing a hackathon to come up with one solution that I felt, could be the answer to the problem. That was the year of 2014, also a year before the official initiation and adoption of UN SDGs. I got connected to the work of Caux Roundtable who were one of the several agencies/think-tank groups working as a consulting arm to the final charter of UN SDGs. Something new was happening. UN was seeking opinions, best practice reports, failure reports, monitoring and evaluation methodologies from the smallest of the NGOs to large organizations, from activists to Bollywood actors, from politicians to young students. I was lucky enough to learn more about this first hand from a Caux Fellow Prof.Steven Pyser. In first half of 2015, we started testing our SMS based software for connecting patients with Malaria symptoms to nearest community health-workers and making RDT (Rapid Diagnostic Testing) kits more accessible for quick diagnosis and prevention of fatalities that may occur from Malaria.

Malaria project Africa Ycenter

      Being an Entrepreneur, I was passionate about creating a sustainable business model for this project. From being selected to present as a finalist at the Wharton Africa Business Forum to working as a Microsoft Bizspark selected startup partner, I tried multiple partnerships. Investors were confused if this project deserved charity dollars or was worth pursuing as a venture capital investment opportunity. I used metrics to show the dire need of solving the problem of Malaria, however, I still did not know what success would look like. How I can explain this to someone who has never traveled to this part of Africa, that this Malaria fighting initiative is not just a public health project but possibly a huge economic development initiative, improving the state of accessing education (more kids going to school) initiative and many more things.

      Later in 2015, when the SDGs were launched, I was excited that finally I had a framework to go to and use actual indicators to start creating my measurement of impact and definition of success around it. My efforts started to have purpose. A shot in the dark, suddenly had a clear target. Approaching new global partners was not just easy but actually one of the goals in the charter. As a humanitarian impact focused entrepreneur, I knew I had an official tool in my kit to be a better communicator of my work and vision.

Brown University Dhairya Pujara
Speaking about UN SDGS at the Brown university/Rhode Island School of Design by Change conference 2016

      As the Malaria project (Ola health) started growing amidst its own set of challenges, I was able to now focus on Employment issues in India through creating Entrepreneurship programs, focusing on health and nutrition by working with farmers and young people in Kenya. Back in USA, we have challenges ranging from gender parity (not just for salary but for titles, positions and functions), digital divide, economic gap widening, health issues from addiction and lifestyle, severe environmental threats and more. A part of me is scared on how I will go about solving these complex intertwined issues. The other part looks at SDGs and starts jumping into strategy, planning and execution mode. For 2019, my personal goal which also matches my professional goal at Ycenter, is to create a full cycle of programs and workshops for United Nations SDGs from Awareness to Action. I plan to begin with universities and other educational institutions and then take it to startup incubators and corporate companies. This is not just an ambition, but a plan. 

Ycenter university program
Our 2-day Impactathon modeled for students to hack and create solutions around UN SDGs

      Thanks for reading. Please let me know how SDGs helped you and are helping you, shape your story of impact. And if you are intrigued and excited about what you read, feel free to reach out to me to explore collaborations. I will be adding more posts, with sharing in-depth information of our programs, projects and partners working directly in context of UN SDGs.



The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the SDG Philanthropy Platform. The SDG Philanthropy Platform is a global initiative that connects philanthropy with knowledge and networks that can deepen collaboration, leverage resources and sustain impact, driving SDG delivery within national development planning. It is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), and supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation, Oak Foundation, Brach Family Charitable Foundation, and many others.