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I was recently invited to speak at Secretary Clinton’s 2nd Global Diaspora Forum in Washington DC on July 25-26, 2012. I had a really wonderful time sharing MentorCloud’s vision and technology during events at US Dept of State and US AID, and seeing incredible response to the idea of people coming together to empower others by sharing their knowledge and expertise.

Dr. Ravi Gundlapalli @ GDF 2012 – Delivering plenary talk

Our visionary and highly inspiring Secretary Clinton called this initiative itself as an ‘IdEA – International Diaspora Engagement Alliance,’ to unleash the ‘Smart Power’ of over 62 M US diaspora members. She made this powerful statement at the 2011 Global Diaspora Forum: “Diaspora communities have the potential to be the most powerful people-to-people asset we can bring to the world’s table.” And during her keynote address this year, she added – “By tapping into the experiences, the energy, the expertise of diaspora communities, we can reverse the so-called “brain drain” that slows progress in so many countries around the world, and instead offer the benefits of the “brain gain.” What an innovative idea!

Hon. Secretary Clinton delivering her keynote address @ GDF 2012

The theme of this year’s forum was ‘Moving Forward By Giving Back’, with distinguished speakers and panelists sharing how new technology can empower and increase diaspora philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and social innovation. The energy and positiveness that I experienced at the Forum was very inspiring. Over 500 delegates representing diaspora organizations from all over the world engaged very actively, forged new friendships and partnerships that will undoubtedly lead to tremendous results in the years to come.

US AID administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah summed it up so nicely. He said during his opening remarks on Day 2 – “One of the things that makes this country great is the fact that there are 62 million of us.  And the fact that so long as we’re the country where people aspire to come to succeed, we’ll be the greatest country in the world.  And so long as we connect that success back to where we came, that’s the embodiment of our humanity and our commitment to ourselves.

MentorCloud is proud and privileged to be a strategic partner for this historic initiative. Our sincere appreciation and plaudits to Romi Bhatia, Thomas Debass, Kris Balderston, Kathleen Newland, Deena Shakir, Malina Dumas and others from the IdEA team for organizing such a fantastic, inclusive and highly inspiring conference. Thanks to Vuyo Dunjwa (Executive Chairman of the Board, Sub-Saharan Africa Chamber of Commerce), Greg Buie (Chief Operating Officer, People to People), and Francis Robles (Chief Financial Officer, FUPEC-CA) and Elmer Arias, (President, FUPEC-CA) for joining me during my presentation and sharing your remarks on how you envision leveraging and complementing this platform for your organizations’ development programs in your respective communities and countries of origin/heritage.

In closing, I like to add that Knowledge and Experience are those rare things that grow on you when you share with others. Make a pact with yourself today to

a) Be a mentor and share what you know

b) Be a mentee and seek to learn from others who have been there done that, and accelerate your own career.

Here are some other photos from my memorable visit to DC.

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I was recently talking to my good friend Jacqui when these statements just popped out of me during our insightful conversation: “We shouldn’t leave this planet like we leave a casino – made some money, lost some, met some interesting people, had a good time for sure, bye bye”. This blog is a further reflection of those statements.

It is well-known and proven time and again that individuals who make an Impact get recognized as heroes. CEOs who constantly innovate and take their companies to new heights (e.g. Steve Jobs – RIP), social entrepreneurs who come up with new models for empowering millions of people (e.g. Mohammed Yunus), leaders who work tirelessly to bring freedom and social justice (e.g. Gandhi, Mandela), Teachers who inspire students to learn and Doctors/Scientists who develop new cures to alleviate human suffering (e.g. millions of such individuals around the world). In all these cases, the individual’s actions have left permanent footprints on the people and environment around them.

What kind of footprints do we want to leave behind? Those left on a sandy beach can get eroded easily by wind or waves washing ashore. Those left on ‘settling concrete’ are likely to stay much longer.

In my opinion, every aspiration, ambition, goal in a person’s mind is analogous to ‘settling concrete.’ They must be noticed, attended to and nurtured at the right time. We all have the power to do so by being passionate and caring Mentors. I believe and have experienced it time and again personally, that we know more what we think we do (of course, there are some people who think they know more than they actually do and that is a topic for discussion at a later time, not here!!!).

Many a times, lessons you have learned from your life/career experiences, stories you have heard, challenges you have faced and creative solutions you came up with – all of this go into an archive someplace, so you always don’t know they are there. They tend to pop out and flow like a river when someone (Mentee) approaches you with a question or come to seek your insights. When that happens and the Mentee recognizes exactly what to do and actually accomplishes something, believe me, you have made an Impact – a lasting one at that.

So, make a pact today (Thanks Randy for pointing out the word Pact in Impact, you must thank your English Teacher) with yourself and time (that is ticking away non-stop) that you will make an Impact on as many people as you can by sharing your expertise as a Mentor. The Impact you will see yourself making will be very satisfying and rewarding. Be a Mentor and Connect with a Mentee, today, and begin the process of Impacting. The clock is ticking….and hundreds of millions of aspiring individuals are out there wanting to settle nicely.

One word to remove out of your vocabulary if you want to be a successful professional or an entrepreneur is ‘waiting‘. There are only a few occasions when you have no choice but to wait – board a train or plane, birthday, arrival of a friend or relative, being in a ‘waiting room’ at a hospital and so on. When it comes to growing professionally or building a successful enterprise, you move ahead only by “taking action.” When you take action, you are ‘leading’ and in the process creating a path to where you really want to go.

I have recently come across a great article by John Hagel & John Seely Brown about Serendipity, where the authors quote the famous Israeli Entrepreneur Yossi Vardi. “But serendipity doesn’t just happen in a serendipitous way,” says Yossi Vardi. “You have to work for it.” Hagel and Brown add: “Serendipity can be methodically, systematically shaped by our choices, behaviors, and dispositions.”

Choices, Behaviors and Dispositions involve ‘Taking Action’ not Waiting.

When you wait  –> you are watching time.

When you take action –> time is watching you.

Don’t be a squirrel…

April 15, 2012

I was taking my daughter to school recently when I spotted a squirrel running across the street from my right to the left. It was right in the middle of the road when I came real close to it. I began to slow down slightly to make sure I don’t run over it. The squirrel stopped in the middle of the road, spotted the oncoming car, thought for a second and decided to abandon its journey – it took a U-turn and went back.

The whole episode lasted only a couple of seconds but it triggered a very profound lesson in my mind. That we must not abandon our journey and revert back to a safety net when we encounter obstacles. The squirrel had many choices:

  • it could have just stayed steady (these last 2 words are anagrams:-) and hoped that I would stop and let it go, OR
  • it could have run faster to avoid getting run over, OR
  • it could have gone 90 degrees to the left and allowed me room on the right to pass.

It did none of these.

But in the face of such obstacles while building our career and brand, we must do something and not take a U-turn. We must explore creative ways to overcome those obstacles and find ways to go around them (remember the Life Lessons from Mountains and Rivers, from last week), and move forward. We may not end up at the same place we wanted to go in the first place, but we will end up somewhere close to it – a place that is newer and where we can feel a sense of accomplishment. Such a place I think, is always a better place to be, than where we started.

Luckily, obstacles in real life rarely come as fast as an oncoming car:-) If you have your ‘social antennas‘ up and have good mentors/coaches to share and bounce off what you are sensing, you can see them coming well in advance and develop a good plan.

I love nature and am passionate about preserving it. There is a wonderful native american quote that says: “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” So, we all share a responsibility to safely deliver our beautiful planet to our future generations.

Coming back to the topic of Mountains and Rivers, I did my undergraduate at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India where the ‘Mountains Move‘ and ‘Rivers Stay Still.’ Basically, our campus buses were named after famous mountains in India, and our dorms were named after famous rivers:-) This is more a nostalgic fact that came to my mind and not what I want to leave you with today.

Lessons from the Mountains: 

  • They stand tall and strong. As professionals, we must stand tall by having high ideals and values, and demonstrating strength of character as we build our professional brand and progress in our career journey.
  • Mountains are the first to receive water when it rains, but they do not keep the water for themselves. They retain enough to sustain the local vegetation, and allow all the remaining water to flow down the mountain. Similarly, we must also inculcate the habit of holding on to whatever minimum we need, money or things, and share the rest freely with others. Just like how we enjoy watching a beautiful waterfall, others will recognize when you share what you have, passionately and sincerely.

Lessons from the Rivers:

  • Rivers flow hundreds and thousands of miles, and nourish the land along the way. The land becomes richer because of the river flowing by it. We can do the same by making a positive impact on the people we come across everyday.
  • Rivers never flow in a straight line – they crisscross the landscape and find the best path to reach their destination. Similarly, as professionals and entrepreneurs, we also need to be prepared to navigate through life’s challenges and stay the coarse until we reach our goals.

Final words to take home –

  • Rise and Share like a Mountain.
  • Enrich and Persevere like a River.

Old proverb: Birds of the same feather flock together.

My version: Birds with the same destination fly together.

To reach your destination, it is very important to identify other people like yourself who share your destination or those who have already reached there. For example: if you want to be an entrepreneur, find other aspiring and serial entrepreneurs and hang out with them. Make them your peers and mentors. Share with them what you know, and learn from them what you don’t. Help others, be helped.

Think of life journey like getting on a bus. As long as the right people are in the bus with you who also wish to reach the same destination as you, the bus will reach its destination and with it you will reach yours too. Knowing which bus to catch comes from clarity of your vision and courage to take on the journey.

Coming back to birds, here is a nice video I came across….

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” – Mark Twain

“People who are sighted but have no vision for their life have no advantage over those who have no sight” – Me

I learned this from my mentee who I met serendipitously in 2008 after I delivered a keynote at ‘Igniting the Genius Within’ conference at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, India. Srikanth was one of the youth leaders who spoke about their leadership experiences, and I was impressed by his level of confidence and passion to lead the youth of India.

It was 11 PM by the time the conference and dinner were over, when he approached me to share his life’s goal of studying in MIT, the #1 university in the world. The fact that he had such an audacious goal intrigued me so I was curious to know more about him. He had a stellar academic and extra-curricular record, including an award he received from the President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Apparently, engineering colleges in India do not allow visually challenged students to study science and engineering, so he set himself a goal to study at #1 technology university in the world.

Impressed by his past accomplishments, clarity of vision, persistence and docility, I decided to take him on as my mentee and started sharing everything I knew about taking the SAT and applying to MIT. I have come to realize in this process a beautiful aspect about mentoring – the knowledge we possess may seem obvious to us but can be a game changer and eye-opener for someone else, when delivered with the right intent at the right time. This is exactly why I truly believe each and every one of us can be a mentor to someone in the world.

Srikanth did well in his SAT, got interviewed by an MIT alum, and by his own merit and hard work got admitted into MIT Class of 2013, with full financial aid. Today, he is a proud Junior at MIT with a 4.8/5.0 GPA, and is preparing for grad school. There could not have been a better place for him than MIT to nurture his ambitions and bring out his ‘genius.’ He, along with other well wishers and mentors, has also launched a social venture called Samanvai, an NGO dedicated to promoting accessible education, digital and brail materials, financial support, rehabilitation training, employment help and mobility training for students with multiple disabilities. I continue to mentor him even today on a very regular basis, and it is a pure joy to see him cross milestone after milestone towards his ultimate ambition of pursuing an MBA at one of the top schools and becoming an entrepreneur.

Nothing in my career comes close to the satisfaction I derive mentoring Srikanth and watching him grow. This experience opened my eyes and further convinced me to create MentorCloud, whose mission is to connect millions of aspirants like him with suitable mentors and resources. Why should the opportunity to connect with a knowledgeable and caring mentor be left to serendipity, in today’s flat world?